Carneades of Cyrene

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Karneades, Roman copy of a Greek original from the late 2nd century BC. Chr., Glyptothek , Munich

Carneades of Cyrene ( Greek  Καρνεάδης Karneádēs , Latinized Carneades ; * 214/213 BC in Cyrene ; † 129/128 BC in Athens ) was a famous Greek philosopher in Hellenism . The name Karneades the Elder , which was sometimes used in the past, is obsolete, since it has been known since 2019 that his alleged student of the same name and successor " Karneades the Younger " did not exist.

Karneades lived in Athens and was there director ( scholarch ) of the Platonic Academy . His students were numerous, and although he did not write any scriptures, his extraordinary authority shaped the discourse in the academy until its demise in the 1st century BC. He belongs to the direction that has ruled the academy since Arkesilaos , which is known as the "younger academy". It differs from the "older academy" in the introduction of skepticism , the fundamental doubt about the provability of philosophical statements. Sometimes a distinction is also made between a “middle” academy beginning with Arkesilaos and a “new” or “third” academy initiated by Karneades. But that hardly makes sense, because Karneades has not initiated a change of course, but has kept the direction taken by Arkesilaos.

In the confrontation with “dogmatic” doctrines, Karneades expanded the instruments of skepticism and used them skillfully to refute opposing claims without committing to any particular doctrine. The focus was on dealing with the Stoa , a rival school of philosophy. The main subject of controversy was the question of criteria for determining the truthfulness of statements. Karneades denied the valid justification of truth criteria. He caused a sensation in Rome , where he successfully promoted his philosophy in public during a trip he undertook as envoy in his hometown; his relativization of traditional values ​​fascinated the youth, but also met with decided resistance.


The main biographical source is the not very productive biography of Carnead by the doxographer Diogenes Laertios , who mainly reproduces anecdotes . The Academica (Academicorum index) of Philodemos , which has only been preserved in fragments, offers isolated information .

Origin and education

Karneades came - like a number of other eminent scholars - from the city of Cyrene in what is now Libya . He was named in 214 or 213 BC. Born in BC. Nothing is known about his family background and his youth. Presumably he came to Athens early on, where he joined the academy and later acquired citizenship.

In Athens he studied with Hegesinus of Pergamon , who at that time headed the academy as a scholarch. Karneades dealt intensively with the teachings of the Stoa, especially with the work of the well-known Stoic Chrysippos, who had already died . He also attended lectures on dialectics with Diogenes "the Babylonian" (Diogenes of Seleukia), who was then head of the Stoic School. At an unknown date before 155 he became the successor of Hegesinus Scholarch.

Legation trip to Rome

In 155 the Athenian authorities sent the so-called "Philosophers' Embassy" to Rome. This delegation included the heads of three of the four great schools of philosophy in the city: Karneades represented the academy, Diogenes of Seleucia the Stoa and Critolaos of Phaselis the Peripatos . The dispatch of the philosophers shows that the Athenians could count on a positive attitude of the Roman upper class towards Greek culture. The occasion was a conflict between Athens and the city of Oropos , which led to the Athenians occupying and looting Oropos. They were then sentenced to a heavy fine of 500 talents . The task of the ambassadors was to obtain a remission or at least a reduction in the sentence. To this end they appeared before the Roman Senate , where they reached their destination; the fine was reduced to 100 talents. The philosophers also gave lectures in the city, and the public appearance of Carnead attracted a great deal of attention. It was the first contact of the Roman public with prominent representatives of Greek philosophy and rhetoric, although at least in the Senate the services of an interpreter who translated into Latin were required.

In Rome, Karneades pleaded, in accordance with his skeptical methodology, one after the other for two opposing convictions in order to clarify their subjectivity, one-sidedness and questionability. One day he gave a speech for justice , the next day a speech against it. He is said to have represented both positions so effectively that the Roman youth were enthusiastic about the dialectical art of argumentation. It is possible that the information that has been handed down to us about this is literarily embellished, but it can be assumed that the appearance of Carnead gave a major impetus to the naturalization of philosophy in Rome. However, the embassy also provoked violent protests; Conservative-Roman-minded circles disliked both the foreign cultural influence and the undermining of traditional, traditionally accepted values ​​such as justice through skepticism and the power of rhetoric. The spokesman for this tendency hostile to Greece, rhetoric and philosophy, Cato the Elder , urged the ambassadors to be swiftly dismissed because he believed that their behavior was harmful to young people.

In his only partially preserved work De re publica, Cicero presents an argument that he puts into the mouth of a speaker who allegedly follows the explanations of Carnead in his second speech on justice. It contains, among other things, remarks that can be interpreted as severe criticism of Roman imperialism , although the speaker himself does not appear as a critic, but approves of imperialism in the context of his argument against the idea of ​​justice. Probably these are additions by Cicero; it is very unlikely that Carneades, as the Athens envoy in Rome, expressed himself so carelessly.

Head of the Academy

Engraving of a lost antique Carneades bust

As head of the academy, the skeptic Karneades fought incessantly against the “dogmatic” teachings of rival philosophical schools, but with some of their representatives he had a good, respectful relationship. He was close friends with the Epicurean Philonides, and another Epicurean, Zenon of Sidon , was among his listeners and admirers. His discussion of the doctrine of the Stoic Chrysippus he owed so important impetus that he often used to say: "If it were not Chrysippos, there would not be me." Despite the since Plato's time traditional rhetoric hostile attitude of the Academy also visited rhetorician his lectures , because his oratorical talent deeply impressed his contemporaries. He was a feared debater; one of his main philosophical opponents, Antipater of Tarsus , the successor of Diogenes of Seleukia as Scholarch of the Stoa, did not enter into an oral argument with him, but only responded in writing to his arguments.

His zeal for work was legendary, which led him to decline all invitations to banquets. He remained unmarried and is said to have devoted himself to philosophical studies with such exclusivity that he neglected his appearance: he supposedly let his hair and fingernails grow carelessly.

His appearance is known from several portrait busts and a relief. These are copies that can probably be traced back to an original that was probably only made after the death of the philosopher in the late 2nd century BC. Was made. The original was probably a Karneades monument that Cicero found there when he was in Athens. The monument can probably be identified with a bronze seated statue, the base of which was excavated in 1880. It was placed on the agora , which was a great honor; apparently Karneades was the only philosopher ever to be honored with a statue there. The base is inscribed with an Athenian pair of brothers, Attalus and Ariarathes, as the donors. These otherwise unknown persons were erroneously equated in older research with the kings Attalus II of Pergamon and Ariarathes V of Cappadocia .

Karneades officiated as a scholarch until he had to give up the management of the school 137/136 for health reasons - allegedly he was blind. Probably thanks to his authority, he continued to have significant influence in the academy until his death (129/128). According to one anecdote, when he was seriously ill, he considered taking his own life along the lines of his philosophical opponent Antipater of Tarsus, but shrank from it.



Karneades did not write any philosophical works, but only expressed himself orally. A collection of letters to King Ariarathes V of Cappadocia, of which nothing has survived, was, according to the report of Diogenes Laertios, his only written legacy. Therefore, ancient posterity was dependent on the subjectively colored notes of his students, who interpreted his statements differently, and on opposing literature from the era of the Younger Academy. These works are also lost except for quotations and summaries in recent literature. For the attempt to reconstruct the philosophy of Karneades, modern research only has later writings at its disposal whose authors did not know him personally.

The main source is Cicero, who himself professed academic skepticism. In several of his philosophical works, Cicero deals in detail with the conceptions of Carnead; however, his relevant statements have only been partially preserved. Sextus Empiricus , a representative of extra-academic skepticism (" pyrrhonic skepticism"), also provides valuable information, but his presentation (or that of the older literature he used, which is now lost) is not free from misinterpretation. The main difficulty in evaluating the sources is that, although they occasionally mention Carneades by name, they usually deal with academic skepticism in general, without distinguishing between the views of the individual skeptics. Even where names are mentioned, the delimitation of the associated text parts is often unclear. The assignment of certain utterances to the relevant philosophers is therefore partly hypothetical.

Basics of the skeptical critique of knowledge

Under the direction of Arkesilaos, who was a scholarch from 268/264 to 241/240, the academy had taken a radical turn towards skepticism. The academic skeptics did not see this as a turning away from Socrates and Plato , but only as the consistent continuation of a tradition of thought, the principles of which were already laid out in Plato's aporetic dialogues . Under aporia - literally "hopelessness" - one understood the perplexity that arises when all efforts to clarify a philosophical question have led to guesswork instead of reliable knowledge. When such experiences are generalized, they lead to a principled skepticism.

Academic skepticism developed from the confrontation with the concept of knowledge and the model of knowledge of the Stoa. According to the Stoic doctrine, all knowledge goes back to ideas (phantasíai) that stem from impressions from the outside world. An idea is correct when it starts from something that actually exists and when it faithfully reproduces this reality. When an idea comes up, the person decides whether to give or deny consent (synkatáthesis) to the idea . A "grasping" (katálēpsis) exists when one agrees to a correct idea and therefore grasps a fact correctly. Both wise and common people can do this. The characteristic of the wise man is that he only agrees with correct ideas and can moreover meaningfully combine the individual understandings into a philosophical system, with which he attains real knowledge (epistḗmē) . A correct idea that enables an unmistakable apprehension of reality is called a "apprehension mediating idea" (katalēptikḗ phantasía) . It can be recognized by its clarity and unambiguity, by the indisputable evidence (enárgeia) with which it imposes itself immediately and plausibly. Since every possibility of error must be excluded in this absolutely reliable knowledge of truth, a correct, truthful idea is defined as one that is such that there can be no false one that is so similar to it that it can be confused with it. Nothing other than the actual facts can produce such an idea. If an idea does not meet this requirement, it cannot lead to knowledge, but only to a philosophically worthless opinion. Consent to such opinions is generally prohibited.

Academic skepticism adopts this terminology and the truth criterion of the Stoa to show that all such attempts to advance to the truth are doomed to failure. The core thesis of skepticism is that there is not a single demonstrably reliable idea. Therefore, every claim to truth that is made for a statement is to be rejected as unfounded. There are just different opinions that are inadequately justified and therefore all equally philosophically useless. From this arises the obligation for a philosopher to abstain from all judgments. He should never adopt a certain opinion as his own, because whoever agrees to an uncertain assumption is inadmissibly treating it as a certain knowledge. The task of the skeptical philosopher is rather to expose the pseudo-knowledge of the "dogmatists" and to refute their claims. He does not make his own (object-language) claims about real facts for which he would have to prove the truth, but only metalinguistic claims about statements of the opponents.

Karneades' elaboration of the critique of knowledge

As with Arkesilaos, the main objection to the Stoic epistemology in Karneades is that it is not possible in a single case to prove that an idea fulfills the stoic truth criterion, because no characteristic of a correct idea is known, not even with a deceptive one could occur. Karneades refines the arguments of the Arkesilaos, expands them and illustrates them with additional examples. In doing so, he takes into account the counter-arguments of the Stoic Chrysippos. He begins with ideas in the area of ​​sensory perception and denies that there is a useful criterion for its reliability. Then he goes over to thinking and points out that the mind can only judge that which is presented to it by the perception. Therefore it must be just as prone to error as its basis in sensory perception. He argues that a wrong idea seems equally plausible to the individual and is just as stimulating to action as a correct one. What triggers the same reactions is indistinguishable, because a sensory perception is only relevant to the perceiver through the way it affects the perceiver. In addition, ideas that reflect sensually perceptible facts are determined by the respective point in time of perception. Therefore, they are also affected by the incessant changes to the objects, for example in terms of appearance, which is subject to constant change. To this end, Karneades refers to changes in color, size, external shape and movement that make an object look different at different times. Depending on the observer's perspective, an object creates very different impressions. Thus, the properties of the object cannot be determined with certainty.


The skeptical critique of knowledge was confronted with the objection that there was a self-contradiction, because the statement that certain knowledge is inaccessible is itself a factual assertion that is inadmissible from a skeptical point of view. As a consistent skeptic, Karneades took this objection into account by expressly affirming self-inclusion, i.e. also subjecting his own premises to the reservation that nothing would be recognized with certainty. These premises include, for example, the assumption that there are objectively truths and falsities, which gives meaning to the designation of a statement as “right” or “wrong”.

The inclusion of one's own premises and statements in the skeptical doubts leads to the question of the extent to which Karneades could take his position seriously, if in the end he saw it as just one of the unproven opinions. Ultimately, skepticism would have to lead to the skeptic's own statements not being understood as genuine assertions, but rather as hypotheses discussed for the purpose of argumentation. Then the sole purpose of these statements is to show the opponent the inconsistency and inadequacy of his system by arguing within the framework of the premises of this system without actually accepting it. Whether Karneades did not actually take his position in this sense, but only fictitiously, was already unclear to his contemporaries and is also controversial in modern research. If one assumes this attitude to him, then his philosophy appears to be consistent, but exhausts itself in the purely oppositional and destructive. If one assumes that he believed his premises to be correct, his philosophy receives its own content, but is subject to the charge of inconsistency.

One possible solution is fallibilism , a position that allows opinions on condition that one always keeps an eye on their susceptibility to errors. Fallibilism is well compatible with the self-inclusion of skepticism, since a fallibilist can also hold the assumption that nothing will be recognized with certainty as such an error-prone opinion. Attempts have been made to interpret Carneades as fallibilists in this sense. This, however, amounts to assuming that he is rehabilitating the acceptance of unproven opinions, which in turn threatens to contradict himself.

Plausibility and action model

Objections to Skepticism

A weighty objection of the ancient “dogmatists” to skepticism was that if all opinions were equally worthless, there could no longer be any criterion for decisions. But nobody can live according to such a principle, because even skeptics are constantly forced to choose between different options for action, which in fact amounts to approval of opinions. This results in a fundamental contrast between skeptical philosophy and life practice. If implemented consistently, the skeptical critique of knowledge leads to apraxía (“inaction”). From the opposing point of view, skepticism missed the actual goal of philosophy of conveying comprehensibly well-founded criteria for a rational lifestyle to people. In addition, it was argued that the formation of general terms already requires consent to the recorded facts.

Tiered Credibility Model

In response to the accusations of the critics, Karneades developed a theory of action in which the concept of the plausible , believable or probable plays a central role.

Karneades considers everything to be “inexplicable” in the sense of the stoic concept of comprehension, but in contrast to the earlier academic skeptics, he differentiates between the intangible and the unclear. Something incomprehensible is not necessarily unclear, and it is absurd to consider everything to be insecure to the same degree. For Karneades, ideas are true or false in relation to the presented object, but in relation to the person presenting them they appear more or less clearly as "believable". The technical term pithanón (“believable”) is also translated as “convincing” or “trustworthy”, very often with “likely”. Whether the concept of the probable, which at that time (in the modern sense) did not yet exist, adequately reflects what was meant is a matter of dispute in research. Believable is something that plausibly presents itself as true, but can also be false. With the gradation of credibility, Karneades introduces a new idea compared to the older skepticism; the two possibilities “true” and “false” do not have the same weight because of the lack of differentiation criteria, but rather a weighing up is permissible. The balance shows that some assumptions deserve more trust than others. In the case of ideas that “seem true” to a particularly high degree, one can trust that they only turn out to be false in rare exceptional cases. They can be used to direct decisions and actions by sticking to what usually occurs. Karneades therefore also assumes a probability in the “statistical” sense.

Whether one can describe his position as probabilism (philosophy based on probability assumptions) is controversial, however, as opinions differ as to the extent to which Karneades' concept of credibility is to be interpreted in terms of probability. In addition, one understands under probabilism a certain doctrine and thus something "dogmatic"; therefore the compatibility of such a position with a consistently skeptical attitude is doubtful.

Criteria for the credibility of an idea are that it does not contradict other plausible ideas and that it has been thoroughly checked. If both conditions are met, the highest degree of probability is present. In the case of a visible object, for example, the perceptual ability of the examiner, the perceptibility of the object (which must not be too small, for example) and the circumstances of the perception (such as the clarity of the air, the distance, and possibly the speed of the object) must be checked. The other plausible ideas, which the idea to be checked must not contradict, are stored in the memory. If, for example, a person appears who is known to have passed away or to be elsewhere, one has to assume that it is an illusion. If an idea does not contradict any other plausible idea, it is considered to be "unhindered" or "not disturbed (by contradiction)" (ἀπερίσπαστος aperíspastos ).

The gradation of plausibility does not mean that one approaches a philosophically ascertainable truth as the probability increases. Rather, the only purpose of weighing up credibility is to establish an orientation framework for the practice of lifestyle.

The probability model was primarily applied to simple questions from the field of sensory perception that are relevant for practical decisions. For complex problems of an abstract nature and philosophical doctrines it could not be considered in the context of a skeptical worldview, since the credibility criteria are not sufficiently available there.

Reactions to the concept of credibility

The concept of credibility of Carnead appears to be a softened variant of skepticism compared to the view of the earlier academic skeptics around Arkesilaos and the radical “Pyrrhonian” skeptics. This position has been subject to both dogmatic and radically skeptical criticism. Most of all, she was attacked as inconsistent. The main objection was that the purpose of statements about credibility or likelihood is to determine the relationship of those statements to the truth. But anyone who declares the truth to be inaccessible is also lacking any criterion for statements about how similar something is to the truth or how far it is presumably removed from it. It was further objected that accepting different, sometimes high degrees of probability amounts to the frowned upon approval of mere opinions.

Karneades' answers to these objections are not reliably recorded in detail. Apparently, he made a distinction between inadmissible consent in theory and acceptable pragmatic compliance in practice (without commenting on the truth). The information in the sources reflects the different interpretations of his philosophy by his students, who were partly radical, partly moderate skeptics. Radicals like Kleitomachos claimed that Karneades consistently abstained from any agreement and therefore from any opinion. Kleitomachus formulated this drastically: Karneades had exterminated the approval of opinions in the human mind "like a wild, terrible animal", and this was an achievement comparable to the heroic deeds of Heracles . Moderate respondents countered that in some cases he had approved of deriving an opinion from a plausible idea and then adopting it.

Disputes and their methods

Both sides represented

First and foremost, Karneades dealt with the critical examination of the doctrines of "dogmatic" philosophers. He was happy to cite the absurd consequences of opposing positions. Sometimes he proceeded in a conventional way, trying to point out weaknesses and contradictions, sometimes he used a method he perfected, known under the Latin name in utramque partem dicere ("to plead for both sides"). It consists in putting together the arguments for different mutually exclusive opinions and thus advocating one after the other for the opposing viewpoints. This is to demonstrate that no position is clearly superior and that there are weighty objections to all doctrinal opinions. This leads to the conclusion, as is the skeptical view, that the question must ultimately remain open despite all efforts.

The arguments that Karneades put forward in the context of such investigations were sometimes so convincing that the impression arose that he preferred one of the opinions. However, this impression was deceptive because, true to his convictions, he never committed himself. Hence, Kleitomachus, his most prominent student, remarked that he had never been able to find out what Karneades' own view was.

Divisio Carneadea

Another method is the so-called Divisio Carneadea by Cicero (“classification according to Carneades”). It consists of collecting and classifying not only all previously expressed, but also all possible solutions to a problem. Cicero illustrates this using the example of the theory of goods . The individual arts or techniques such as medicine (healing art) or navigation (helmsman's art) have reference points for the sake of which they are studied and practiced (health or safe seafaring). Reason is “art”, the reference point of which is “life”, that is, according to the Hellenistic understanding, the right life, eudaimonia (bliss, happy life, Latin vita beata ). The nature of eudaimonia and thus the way to it is, however, controversial among philosophers. Here, first of all, there is a classification of the doctrine of goods according to the different views on the nature of eudaimonia. Some seek eudaimonia in the experience of pleasure, others in a state of painlessness, and still others in the realization of the natural. Another classification principle that is combined with the first is the distinction according to the type of goal pursued. Either the goal is something strived for (for example, pleasure), the attainment of which eudaimonia is supposed to bring about, or the striving itself at the same time contains the goal in itself, so that eudaimonia is realized even if there is no final success. For example, the Stoics regard the pursuit of the natural as an end in itself. The combination of both classifications results in six possible Eudaimony teachings. Additional possibilities arise when virtue is included as something aimed at. The multiplicity of the possibilities put together should lead to the relativization of all teachings and thus to the insight that none of them may claim general validity.

Criticizing arbitrary assumptions

In his argument against widespread, conventional teachings, Karneades tries in particular to show that central concepts of these traditions do not have a clearly and coherently definable content. In the justice debate, for example, he attacks the idea of ​​natural law by denying that there are useful defining features for a super-positive law. The legal statutes of the peoples are different and partly contradicting and moreover subject to changes; there is no criterion according to which one could assign an absolute rank to individual determinations. In a similar way, he takes action against the different theological concepts by attacking their conceptions of God or gods and pointing out contradictions and lack of consistency in the descriptions and definitions of the deity. For example, he opposes the connection between theology and the doctrine of virtue. He argues that if God is happy and happiness is unthinkable without virtue, then God must have all virtues. But this could not be the case, since some virtues presuppose a defect in whose mastery they consist. So God could not be brave, because otherwise there would be something that could frighten him, and he could not be steadfast either, since steadfastness implies that one must strive for something. Furthermore, Karneades criticizes arbitrary aspects of god worship that show up in the selection of the gods to be worshiped.

A popular argumentation method at Karneades is the heap (Greek sōreítēs , Latinized sorites ). He attacks the terminology of the opponents by trying to show that their terms are not meaningful and clearly delimitable, since with smooth transitions every delimitation is arbitrary and lacks convincing justification. The delimitation of the scope of their statements is also arbitrary. For example, a natural justice (natural law) is accepted as a binding norm, according to which everyone should get what he is entitled to ( suum cuique ) . However, it is unclear whether “everyone” also means animals, i.e. whether justice also has to extend to the handling of the animal world. The philosophers disagree on this. With this, Karneades refers to the Stoic conviction that there are no human obligations towards animals; he points out that Pythagoras and Empedocles took the opposite view.

Determinism and Free Will

The doctrines that Karneades combats also include determinism , the postulate of divine providence, and the assumption of predictability of events in human life. In particular, he argues that a deterministic model can only be plausibly justified if its representatives can demonstrate the impossibility of spontaneous impulses of will, which they are, however, unable to do.

The sources do not ascribe arguments against free will to him, but only against their justification in the case of the Epicureans. However, the lack of corresponding reports does not allow the conclusion that he deviated from the abstention in this regard and that he took the doctrine that there is indeed free will .


Pupil and successor

List of disciples of Carnead in the Academica des Philodemos ( Papyrus Herculanensis 1021, column 23 of the Oxford copy)

The Scholarchen following Carneades, Polemarchus of Nicomedia († 131/130) and his successor Krates of Tarsus († 127/126), were apparently relatively colorless personalities. As a student of Carnead, they continued his tradition after his resignation, where he probably continued to exert influence. His most prominent student, Kleitomachos, initially stayed away from the academy during this transition period. Only after the death of the elder Carnead did he return in 129/128; 127/126 he took over the office of Scholarchen.

The numerous disciples of Carneade appealed to his authority after his death. The more prominent among them appeared as guardians of his spiritual heritage, which they interpreted differently. Some, of whom Kleitomachos was the best known, advocated a radical variant of skepticism, others, such as Metrodorus of Stratonikeia , distinguished themselves as representatives of relatively moderate positions. Of the more than 40 students, mostly only the names and places of origin have survived. From their list it can be seen how attractive the academy led by Karneades was as a training center throughout the Greek-speaking world. Some of the more well-known names include: Charmadas , who was at times one of the leading academics after Karneades' death, Hagnon of Tarsos, the tragedy poet Melanthios of Rhodes , Aeschines of Neapolis and Metrodoros of Skepticism. The sources report little about them either. A Roman hearer of Carnead was Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus , who lived in 109 BC. Became consul.

Aftermath after the fall of the academy

With the fall of the "younger academy" in the turmoil of the First Mithridatic War ended in the eighties of the 1st century BC. The teaching tradition of Carnead. But he remained in the memory of posterity as an astute thinker and skilled speaker, especially thanks to Cicero, who extensively praised him and referred to his utterances on various occasions. Valerius Maximus narrates an anecdote in which Karneades appears as an absent-minded scholar who would have forgotten to eat if his housekeeper Melissa hadn't taken care of his food.

Since the Middle Platonists viewed skepticism as the wrong path, a negative image of Carneades was formed in their circles. Numenios , a prominent Middle Platonist of the 2nd century AD, insulted him in his treatise "On the turning away from Plato by the academics" as a pirate and swindler who seduced his audience thanks to his rhetorical superiority. Numenios also claimed that Karneades had deliberately concealed the truth that was known to him. This legend was also known to the church father Augustine , who fought against skepticism. He believed that Karneades, like the other academic skeptics, advocated a secret dogmatic doctrine which he had hidden from the public.

Middle Ages and Early Modern Times

Carneades picture in the Schedelschen Weltchronik, 1493

When a wider public interest in ancient philosophy awoke in the 13th century, Karneades also came back into focus. At that time, special attention was paid to edifying and entertaining incidents from the life of thinkers. Authors such as the Dominican Vincent de Beauvais and the Franciscan Johannes Guallensis included anecdotal material about Carneades in their popular manuals. In the early 14th century the Liber de vita et moribus philosophorum was created , a collection of messages about ancient philosophers that was wrongly attributed to Walter Burley . In this extraordinarily influential work, which has been translated into several languages, a chapter is devoted to Karneades, although it is largely limited to anecdotal material. Carneades is also briefly treated in this way in Schedel's world chronicle of 1493; he appears there as "Carmeides".

In the early modern period , ancient skepticism aroused interest in humanistic circles, with the non-academic “Pyrrhonic” skepticism mostly in the foreground. In the 16th century, there was hardly any difference in content between academic and Pyrrhonic skepticism, but some authors kept the two directions apart. Pierre Galland and Guy de Brués made explicit reference to academic skepticism in the titles of their antiskeptical writings. In a philosophical treatise published in 1581, the Portuguese thinker Francisco Sanches tied in with Karneades, although he did not seek the way out of the dilemma of fundamental uncertainty, as the ancient philosopher did by abstaining from judgment, but on the contrary pleaded for a pragmatic renunciation of excessive claims to truth. Michel de Montaigne and, in the early 17th century, Jean-Pierre Camus and John Donne ascribed a “dogmatic” skepticism without self-inclusion to the skeptical academics ( “I know that I don't know” ), and to the Pyrrhonics a consequent skepticism, which is also his own Includes statements in the doubt. With this interpretation of academic skepticism, which does not apply to Karneades, they followed the portrayal of the ancient Pyrrhonian Sextus Empiricus.

In the preface to his work De jure belli ac pacis libri tres (“Three books on the law of war and peace”), the legal philosopher Hugo Grotius referred to Karneades as the best representative of the opponents of natural law. He summarized the position of the Greek thinker, which he only knew from the presentation of the church father Laktanz , and tried to refute it and to prove the existence of a naturally existing international law .


The judgments in modern times have been very different. Hegel went into detail on Carneades. He saw in its skepticism the fruit of a quest for knowledge, which in Rome initially appeared outwardly as "perdition" and "the fall of man" through the skeptical argument against traditional values. This was inevitable. As a result, thought fell to the task of overcoming the crisis caused by Karneades, for which the administrative intervention demanded by conservative circles was an unsuitable means. The “evil of thinking” can and must “only heal itself through itself”. The historian Theodor Mommsen judged from a completely different perspective . He said that Karneades had wanted to bring about in Rome that "the very shameful trade" of the occupation of Oropos appeared to be justified. He was able to do this because he “understood the art of making right wrong and wrong right”. His appearance was a "formal declaration of war against belief and morality" by the Romans, which, however, was unsuccessful in the long run, because such "sophistry could only flourish where, as in Athens, witty mouth skills were at home".

The assessment of the important historian of philosophy Eduard Zeller was marked by admiration . He was of the opinion that Karneades had "brought this whole way of thinking" (of skepticism) "to its scientific perfection". Hermann Mutschmann thought similarly . He stated that Karneades " anticipated the modern notion of scientific hypothesis ".

Edwin L. Minar saw Karneades as a materialist and atheist . Anthony A. Long believed that he was able to establish a closeness between the ancient skeptic and modern British philosophy, which can be seen in the appeal to normal language and empirical observation .

Source collections and translations

  • Anthony Arthur Long / David N. Sedley (Eds.): The Hellenistic Philosophers. Texts and comments . Metzler, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-476-01574-2 , pp. 523–558 (translation of source texts with commentary)
  • Hans Joachim Mette : Other academics today: From Lakydes to Kleitomachos . In: Lustrum 27, 1985, pp. 39–148 (compilation of the source texts on Carneades with commentary, pp. 53–141)


Web links

Commons : Karneades  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Kilian Fleischer: Carneades: The One and Only. In: The Journal of Hellenic Studies 139, 2019, pp. 116–124.
  2. ^ Tiziano Dorandi in: Tiziano Dorandi, François Queyrel: Carnéade de Cyrène. In: Richard Goulet (ed.): Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques , Vol. 2, Paris 1994, pp. 224-227, here: 225; a deviating tradition according to which he was born in 219/218 is considered less credible in research.
  3. Giovanna Garbarino: Roma e la filosofia greca dalle origini alla fine del II secolo a. C. , Vol. 2, Torino 1973, p. 363; Martin Jehne : Cato and the preservation of the traditional res publica . In: Gregor Vogt-Spira , Bettina Rommel (eds.): Reception and Identity , Stuttgart 1999, pp. 115-134, here: 119.
  4. Carsten Drecoll: The Carnead legation and its effects in Rome . In: Hermes 132, 2004, pp. 82–91, here: 82–84; Martin Jehne: Cato and the preservation of the traditional res publica . In: Gregor Vogt-Spira, Bettina Rommel (eds.): Reception and Identity , Stuttgart 1999, pp. 115-134, here: 119 f .; Peter Robert Franke : Interpreting in the Hellenistic Period . In: Carl Werner Müller u. a. (Ed.): On dealing with foreign languages ​​in the Greco-Roman antiquity , Stuttgart 1992, pp. 85–96, here: 95. On the knowledge of Greek of the Romans see Erich S. Gruen : The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome , Vol. 1, Berkeley 1984, pp. 258 f.
  5. ^ Woldemar Görler: Carneades. In: Hellmut Flashar (ed.): Outline of the history of philosophy. The philosophy of antiquity , Vol. 4/2: The Hellenistic Philosophy , Basel 1994, pp. 849–897, here: 853; Carsten Drecoll is much more skeptical about the effect: The Carnead Embassy and its effects in Rome . In: Hermes 132, 2004, pp. 82–91, here: 85–91.
  6. On the motifs of Catos see Martin Jehne: Cato and the preservation of the traditional res publica . In: Gregor Vogt-Spira, Bettina Rommel (eds.): Reception and Identity , Stuttgart 1999, pp. 115–134, here: 120–126; on the negative reaction of part of the public Giovanna Garbarino: Roma e la filosofia greca dalle origini alla fine del II secolo a. C. , Vol. 2, Torino 1973, p. 365.
  7. Jean-Louis Ferrary: Philhellénisme et impérialisme , Rome 1988, pp. 351-363.
  8. a b Diogenes Laertios 4.62.
  9. For details see Gisela MA Richter : The Portraits of the Greeks , Vol. 2, London 1965, pp. 248–251 (and illustrations 1681–1696) and Supplement , London 1972, p. 16 fig. 1696a and François Queyrel in: Tiziano Dorandi, François Queyrel: Carnéade de Cyrène. In: Richard Goulet (ed.): Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques , Vol. 2, Paris 1994, pp. 224–227, here: 226 f .; on the art-historical classification Adrian Stähli: The dating of the Carneades portrait . In: Archäologischer Anzeiger 1991, pp. 219-252, here: 232-252.
  10. Adrian Stähli: The dating of the Karneades image . In: Archäologischer Anzeiger 1991, pp. 219–252, here: 222 f.
  11. IG II 2 3781.
  12. Stephen V. Tracy, Christian Habicht : New and Old Panathenaic Victor Lists . In: Hesperia 60, 1991, pp. 187-236, here: 217; Adrian Stähli: The dating of the portrait of Carneades . In: Archäologischer Anzeiger 1991, pp. 219–252, here: 224–231 (reflections on the identity of the donors).
  13. Diogenes Laertios 4.66.
  14. Diogenes Laertios 4.64-66.
  15. For the representation of the Sextus see Anna Maria Ioppolo: La testimonianza di Sesto Empirico sull'Accademia scettica , Napoli 2009, pp. 131–189.
  16. For details see Anna Maria Ioppolo: La critica di Carneade al criterio stoico di verità in Sesto Empirico, Adversus mathematicos VII . In: Mauro Bonazzi, Vincenza Celluprica (ed.): L'eredità platonica. Studi sul platonismo da Arcesilao a Proclo , Napoli 2005, pp. 79-113, especially 86-91.
  17. For Karneades' examples of deceptive ideas see Hans Joachim Mette: Further academics today: From Lakydes to Kleitomachos . In: Lustrum 27, 1985, pp. 39-148, here: 124-126.
  18. Cicero, Academica 2.28-29.
  19. ^ Woldemar Görler: Carneades. In: Hellmut Flashar (ed.): Outline of the history of philosophy. The philosophy of antiquity , Vol. 4/2: The Hellenistic Philosophy , Basel 1994, pp. 849–897, here: 858 f.
  20. Suzanne Obdrzalek: Living in Doubt: Carneades' Pithanon Reconsidered . In: Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 31, 2006, pp. 243-279; Richard Bett: Carneades' Pithanon: A Reappraisal of its Role and Status . In: Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 7, 1989, pp. 59–94; Anna Maria Ioppolo: Carneade e il terzo libro delle Tusculanae . In: Elenchos 1, 1980, pp. 76-91; Carlos Lévy: Opinion et certitude dans la philosophie de Carnéade . In: Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire 58, 1980, pp. 30-46; Gisela Striker : Skeptical Strategies . In: Malcolm Schofield et al. a. (Ed.): Doubt and Dogmatism. Studies in Hellenistic Epistemology , Oxford 1980, pp. 54–83, here: 64–66.
  21. ^ Harald Thorsrud: Cicero on his Academic Predecessors: the Fallibilism of Arcesilaus and Carneades . In: Journal of the History of Philosophy 40, 2002, pp. 1–18, here: 1–5, 11–18; Thomas Grundmann : Tracking down the truth , Paderborn 2003, pp. 84–96.
  22. ^ Woldemar Görler: Carneades. In: Hellmut Flashar (ed.): Outline of the history of philosophy. The philosophy of antiquity , Vol. 4/2: The Hellenistic Philosophy , Basel 1994, pp. 849–897, here: 861–865; Suzanne Obdrzalek: Living in Doubt: Carneades' Pithanon Reconsidered . In: Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 31, 2006, pp. 243–279, here: 265–270.
  23. ^ Woldemar Görler: Carneades. In: Hellmut Flashar (ed.): Outline of the history of philosophy. The philosophy of antiquity , Vol. 4/2: The Hellenistic Philosophy , Basel 1994, pp. 849–897, here: 862; Suzanne Obdrzalek: Living in Doubt: Carneades' Pithanon Reconsidered . In: Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 31, 2006, pp. 243–279, here: 248.
  24. Klaus Geus : Hasdrubal von Karthago - Kleitomachos von Athen. Notes on Academic Skepticism . In: Klaus Geus, Klaus Zimmermann (eds.): Punica - Libyca - Ptolemaica. Festschrift for Werner Huss , Leuven 2001, pp. 345–354, here: p. 348, note 10, 350–354; Malcolm Schofield: Academic epistemology. In: Keimpe Algra et al. (Ed.): The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy , Cambridge 2005, pp. 323–351, here: 324, 345–350.
  25. On the credibility criteria see Suzanne Obdrzalek: Living in Doubt: Carneades' Pithanon Reconsidered . In: Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 31, 2006, pp. 243–279, here: 247–249; James Allen: Academic probabilism and Stoic epistemology . In: The Classical Quarterly NS 44, 1994, pp. 85-113, here: 90-103. For Karneades' examples see Hans Joachim Mette: Further academics today: From Lakydes to Kleitomachos . In: Lustrum 27, 1985, pp. 39–148, here: 126 f.
  26. ^ Sextus Empiricus, Adversus mathematicos 7, 175-189.
  27. ^ Woldemar Görler: Carneades. In: Hellmut Flashar (ed.): Outline of the history of philosophy. The philosophy of antiquity , Vol. 4/2: The Hellenistic Philosophy , Basel 1994, pp. 849-897, here: 863 f., 869 f.
  28. ^ Richard Bett: Carneades' Distinction Between Assent and Approval . In: The Monist 73, 1990, pp. 3-20. For the Greek and Latin terminology for dealing with graduated plausibility (consent, approval, compliance, etc.) see Woldemar Görler: A linguistic coincidence and its consequences: 'Probable' in Karneades and Cicero . In: Carl Werner Müller u. a. (Ed.): On dealing with foreign languages ​​in Greco-Roman antiquity , Stuttgart 1992, pp. 159–171, here: 162–165.
  29. Cicero, Lucullus 108.
  30. ^ Woldemar Görler: Carneades. In: Hellmut Flashar (ed.): Outline of the history of philosophy. The philosophy of antiquity , Vol. 4/2: The Hellenistic Philosophy , Basel 1994, pp. 849–897, here: 870.
  31. Cicero, Lucullus 139.
  32. See also Keimpe Algra : Chrysippus, Carneades, Cicero: the ethical divisiones in Cicero's Lucullus . In: Brad Inwood , Jaap Mansfeld (ed.): Assent and argument , Leiden 1997, pp. 107-139, here: 120-130.
  33. See Gisela Striker: Following Nature: A Study in Stoic Ethics . In: Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 9, 1991, pp. 1–73, here: 53–58.
  34. For the individual arguments see Hans Joachim Mette: Further academics today: From Lakydes to Kleitomachos . In: Lustrum 27, 1985, pp. 39-148, here: 133-135, 137 f.
  35. See Pierre Couissin: Les sorites de Carnéade contre le polythéisme . In: Revue des études grecques 54, 1941, pp. 43–57.
  36. See also Myles F. Burnyeat: Gods and heaps . In: Malcolm Schofield, Martha C. Nussbaum (eds.): Language and Logos , Cambridge 1982, pp. 315–338, here: 326–338.
  37. Cicero, De re publica 3, 11, 19; see Karl Büchner : M. Tullius Cicero, De re publica, Commentary , Heidelberg 1984, p. 298.
  38. For the individual arguments see Hans Joachim Mette: Further academics today: From Lakydes to Kleitomachos . In: Lustrum 27, 1985, pp. 39-148, here: 135-140.
  39. List by Hans Joachim Mette: Further academics today: From Lakydes to Kleitomachos . In: Lustrum 27, 1985, pp. 39-148, here: 122 f.
  40. Valerius Maximus, Facta et dicta memorabilia 8,7 ext. 5.
  41. Numenios, Fragment 27 Des Places .
  42. Gualteri Burlaei liber de vita et moribus philosophorum , ed. Hermann Knust, Tübingen 1886, pp. 212-214.
  43. ^ Copy of the relevant passage from the World Chronicle .
  44. Pierre Galland, Contra novam academiam Petri Rami oratio , Paris 1551; Guy de Brués, Dialogues contre les nouveaux académiciens , Paris 1557.
  45. ^ Francisco Sanches, Quod nihil scitur , Toulouse 1581.
  46. Michael Albrecht: Skepticism, Skepticism II. Modern Times . In: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , Vol. 9, Basel 1995, Sp. 950–974, here: 952.
  47. ^ Hugo Grotius, De jure belli ac pacis , Prolegomena 5-18. On Grotius' analysis of the arguments of Carnead see Benjamin Straumann: Hugo Grotius und die Antike , Baden-Baden 2007, pp. 96–110, 129–139.
  48. Hegel: Lectures on the History of Philosophy , ed. Eva Moldenhauer , Karl Markus Michel , Volume 2, Frankfurt a. M. 1986, pp. 348-358.
  49. Hegel: Lectures on the History of Philosophy , ed. Eva Moldenhauer, Karl Markus Michel, Volume 2, Frankfurt a. M. 1986, p. 349.
  50. Theodor Mommsen: Römische Geschichte , Vol. 2, 8th edition, Berlin 1889, pp. 413-415.
  51. ^ Eduard Zeller: The philosophy of the Greeks in their historical development , 3rd part, 1st section, 5th edition, Leipzig 1923, p. 518.
  52. Hermann Mutschmann: The levels of probability at Karneades . In: Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 66, 1911, pp. 190–198, here: 197.
  53. ^ Edwin L. Minar: The positive beliefs of the skeptic Carneades . In: The Classical Weekly Vol. 43 (No. 1107), 1949, pp. 67-71.
  54. ^ Anthony A. Long: Hellenistic Philosophy , New York 1974, p. 106.
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