(159 bc — 184 ad)

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Of Larissa (159/8–84/3 bc), the last undisputed head of the Academy. Philon studied in his native town under a pupil of Carneades before he went to Athens, to study under Clitomachus, whom he succeeded as head of the Academy in 110/9. In 88, during the Mithradatic wars (see mithradates), he left for Rome, where he numbered among his pupils Cicero, who became his most devoted follower.

Under Philon, the sceptical Academy modified its attitude of strict suspension of judgement and adopted Carneades' account of the ‘plausible impression’ as a theory that would allow philosophers to accept the views they found most convincing, with the proviso that certain knowledge could not be achieved. Towards the end of his life Philon went a step further and claimed that knowledge was indeed possible, though not by the stringent standards of the Stoic definition.

In accordance with the new fallibilism of his school, Philon also taught other philosophical subjects. Like the Stoics, he compared the philosopher to a doctor, and divided the teaching of ethics into five parts corresponding to the stages of a medical therapy, from persuading the pupil of the benefits of philosophy through the elimination of erroneous beliefs and the implanting of healthy views about goods and evils to teaching about the goal of life and advice for everyday living. Cicero tells us that Philon also taught rhetoric alongside philosophy; a combination that Cicero obviously found congenial.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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