Polemo, Champion of Ethical Praxis

John Dillon

in The Heirs of Plato

Published in print January 2003 | ISBN: 9780198237662
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191597336 | DOI:
 Polemo, Champion of Ethical Praxis

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Polemo, who was converted to philosophy after hearing Xenocrates lecture, presided over the Academy for much longer than either of his predecessors (from 314–276 B.C.). Polemo is best known for emphasizing the practical application of ethics over theory, and for his doctrine that the purpose of life is to live ‘in conformity with nature’, which he may well have adopted from Xenocrates. While it is difficult to disentangle Polemo's ethical theory from that of Xenocrates, Polemo tends to be credited with an increase in the austerity of ethical theory, which anticipates and may have influenced the ethical theory of Zeno of Citium, who had been a pupil of Polemo. There is also a possibility that Polemo anticipated Stoic materialism. Dillon draws upon Cicero's De Finibus to point to many subtle distinctions between the ethics of Polemo and Zeno; nevertheless, it is clear that Polemo was an important bridge between Platonism and Stoicism.

Keywords: Cicero; De Finibus; practical ethics; Stoicism; Xenocrates; Zeno of Citium

Chapter.  9283 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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