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Greek Philosopher: Carneades

Updated on October 22, 2009

Carneades, Greek philosopher, born Cyrene, northern Africa, about 213 BC. Carneades was considered to be the founder of the so-called "New Academy" in which Platonism was redirected toward skepticism in epistemology and eclecticism in ethics and politics.

He taught that neither the mind nor the senses may be relied on and that consequently there can be no knowledge of truth, good, or evil. Since it is not possible in practice to suspend judgment on all things, Carneades said, one should act on the basis of the most probable opinions.

Carneades studied philosophy with the Stoics in Athens. In 155 BC, Carneades was sent on an embassy to Rome. While on the diplomatic mission from Athens to Rome Carneades seized the opportunity to give public lectures. His most adroit performance was two addresses given on successive days, one in favor of justice, one against. The sensation produced by the philosopher's ability to argue on both sides of a question marked the beginning of Roman interest in (and distrust of) Greek philosophy.

He lectured so brilliantly on Skepticism that Cato the Elder urged the Senate to banish him from the city before he destroyed the beliefs of the Roman youth.

Carneades believed only in oral teaching and published no writings. But his opinions were carefully noted down and passed on by his pupils. His influence on Cicero is evident in Cicero's Republic, On the Nature of the Gods, and On Fate.

Opposing the dogmatism of the Stoic school, Carneades insisted that only probability is attainable, and man, therefore, should cultivate susĀ­pension of judgment. On this basis, he criticized the Stoic arguments in favor of the existence of the gods, divine providence and divination, and absolute determinism. He also opposed the notion of an eternal and unbroken chain of causality, maintaining that the self on its own initiative may change many of the conditions imposed from without, and was skeptical of the idea of natural law in politics because of the great variety in human customs.

Carneades died in 129 BC.


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    • Laurel Oakes profile image

      Laurel Oakes 8 years ago

      Very interesting Hub.

    • dusanotes profile image

      dusanotes 8 years ago from Windermere, FL

      Carneades looks like a got into a brawl - his nose is crooked. He didn't write, but spoke a lot because he didn't believe in anything by oral learning. That would discriminate against a lot of us who don't learn well orally and need to see and touch things. Nice Hub. Don White

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      Nancy's Niche 8 years ago

      Philosophers are a breed of their own---they really do think outside the box…