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(ärsĕs'ĭlā`əs), c.316–c.241 B.C., Greek philosopher of Pitane in Aeolis. He was the principal figure of the Middle Academy. Despite his position in the AcademyAcademy,
school founded by Plato near Athens c.387 B.C. It took its name from the garden (named for the hero Academus) in which it was located. Plato's followers met there for nine centuries until, along with other pagan schools, it was closed by Emperor Justinian in A.D. 529.
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, his teachings diverged from Platonic doctrine. By emphasizing the doubt expressed by Socrates as to the possibility of gaining knowledge, he took a position comparable to that of the Skeptics (see skepticismskepticism
[Gr.,=to reflect], philosophic position holding that the possibility of knowledge is limited either because of the limitations of the mind or because of the inaccessibility of its object. It is more loosely used to denote any questioning attitude.
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). He argued that knowledge and opinion could not be distinguished from each other, so that what anyone claims to know may be more or less probable but not certain. In denying the possibility of certainty he was a major opponent of the Stoics (see StoicismStoicism
, school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium (in Cyprus) c.300 B.C. The first Stoics were so called because they met in the Stoa Poecile [Gr.,=painted porch], at Athens, a colonnade near the Agora, to hear their master Zeno lecture.
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). Arcesilaus indirectly influenced CarneadesCarneades
, 213–129 B.C., Greek philosopher, b. Cyrene. He studied at Athens under Diogenes the Stoic, but reacted against Stoicism and joined the Academy, where he taught a skepticism similar to that of Arcesilaus.
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 and his school.


See A. A. Long, The Hellenistic Philosophers (2 vol. 1987).

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References in classic literature ?
Peneleos, Leitus, Arcesilaus, Prothoenor, and Clonius were captains of the Boeotians.
Cicero describes Arcesilaus, his own philosophical predecessor, as denying "that anything could be known, not even the residual claim [...
'Ancient scepticism' is a term that standardly encompasses two philosophical traditions stretching from the third century BCE to approximately the second century CE: Pyrrhonism, named after its eponymous founder Pyrrho of Elis (360-270 BCE), and Academic scepticism, a sceptical movement which arose in the Platonic Academy around 268 BCE, when Arcesilaus of Pitane (316/5-241/0) became its head.
Cicero knows, for example, that Plato's Socrates (let alone Xenophon's) never said: "I know that I know nothing" (77) (Arcesilaus had indicated that it would be self-contradictory to do so) (78) but "Cicero" does not.
(82) The ancient Skeptics, Arcesilaus and Carneades in particular, however, showed clearly that no subjective impression purporting to reveal anything about the world beyond consciousness can bear its own warrant.
If there should ever be anyone who could argue pro and contra on all subjects, in the Aristotelian manner, and with knowledge of Aristotle's rules deliver two opposing speeches in every case, or should argue, in the manner of Arcesilaus and Carneades, against every thesis, anyone who combined that methodology and training with this rhetorical experience and practice of speaking [which I mentioned before] would be the only true and perfect orator.
(2) There are passing references such as that to "Academic and Pyrrhonian enquirers" on page 1, that to Arcesilaus's interpretation of Socrates on page 140, and the disclaimer on page 139 that nothing in what is said in the final chapter either confirms or precludes influences of Aristippus of Cyrene on Pyrrho or of Pyrrho on Aristippus the Younger.
(13) Later biographical sources, although not always trustworthy, suggest numerous teacher-student relationships of a pederastic nature: the philosophers Parmenides and Zeno, Xenocrates and Polemon, Polemon and Crates, Crantor and Arcesilaus, the sculptors Pheidias and Agoracritus of Paros, the physician Theomedon and Eudoxus of Cnidus.
Although there is some similarity in the names of the consuls for 269 (Claudius and Paternus), Duchesne's 268 (Paternus 11 and Marinianus), and my 267 (Paternus and Arcesilaus), the cause of error is more likely to be miscounting on the list of names than palaeographical corruption.
Philosophandi rationem Academicam, quam tenuit Carneades, eandem fere fuisse, quam secutus est Arcesilaus, assensus introducta suspensione, rerum nixa incertitudine ...