Pyrrhonism

Last updated

Pyrrhonism is a school of philosophical skepticism founded by Pyrrho in the fourth century BCE. It is best known through the surviving works of Sextus Empiricus, writing in the late second century or early third century CE. [1]

Philosophical skepticism is a philosophical school of thought that questions the possibility of certainty in knowledge. Skeptic philosophers from different historical periods adopted different principles and arguments, but their ideology can be generalized as either (1) the denial of possibility of all knowledge or (2) the suspension of judgement due to the inadequacy of evidence.

Pyrrho Ancient Greek philosopher

Pyrrho of Elis was a Greek philosopher of Classical antiquity and is credited as being the first Greek skeptic philosopher and founder of Pyrrhonism.

Sextus Empiricus ancient Greek philosopher

Sextus Empiricus, was a physician and philosopher, who likely lived in Alexandria, Rome, or Athens. His philosophical work is the most complete surviving account of ancient Greek and Roman Pyrrhonism.

Contents

Origins

Pyrrho of Elis (c. 360-c. 270 BCE) usually is credited with founding this school of skeptical philosophy. He traveled to India with Alexander the Great's army and studied with the magi and the gymnosophists. Pyrrhonism as a school was either revitalized or re-founded by Aenesidemus in the first century BCE.

Alexander the Great King of Macedon

Alexander III of Macedon, commonly known as Alexander the Great, was a king (basileus) of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon and a member of the Argead dynasty. He was born in Pella in 356 BC and succeeded his father Philip II to the throne at the age of 20. He spent most of his ruling years on an unprecedented military campaign through Asia and northeast Africa, and by the age of thirty he had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from Greece to northwestern India. He was undefeated in battle and is widely considered one of history's most successful military commanders.

Magi group of people who follow Mazdaism or Zoroaster

Magi denotes followers of Zoroastrianism or Zoroaster. The earliest known use of the word magi is in the trilingual inscription written by Darius the Great, known as the Behistun Inscription. Old Persian texts, predating the Hellenistic period, refer to a magus as a Zurvanic, and presumably Zoroastrian, priest.

Aenesidemus was a Greek Pyrrhonist philosopher, born in Knossos on the island of Crete. He lived in the 1st century BC, taught in Alexandria and flourished shortly after the life of Cicero. Photius says he was a member of Plato's Academy, but he came to dispute their theories, adopting Pyrrhonism instead. Diogenes Laërtius claims an unbroken lineage of teachers of Pyrrhonism through Aenesidemus, with his teacher being Heraclides. However, little is known about the names between Timon of Phlius and Aenesidemus, so this lineage is suspect. Whether Aenesidemus re-founded the Pyrrhonist school or merely revitalized it is unknown.

Philosophy

Pyrrhonism's objective is principally psychological, although it is best known for its epistemological arguments, particularly the problem of the criterion and the problem of induction. Through epoché (suspension of judgment) the mind is brought to ataraxia, a state of equanimity. As in Stoicism and Epicureanism, eudaimonia is the Pyrrhonist goal of life, and all three philosophies placed it in ataraxia or apatheia. [2] According to the Pyrrhonists, it is one's opinions about non-evident matters that prevent one from attaining eudaimonia.

Epistemology A branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.

In the field of epistemology, the problem of the criterion is an issue regarding the starting point of knowledge. This is a separate and more fundamental issue than the regress argument found in discussions on justification of knowledge.

The problem of induction is the philosophical question of whether inductive reasoning leads to knowledge understood in the classic philosophical sense, highlighting the apparent lack of justification for:

  1. Generalizing about the properties of a class of objects based on some number of observations of particular instances of that class or
  2. Presupposing that a sequence of events in the future will occur as it always has in the past. Hume called this the principle of uniformity of nature.

The main principle of Pyrrho's thought is expressed by the word acatalepsia , which connotes the ability to withhold assent from doctrines regarding the truth of things in their own nature; against every statement its contradiction may be advanced with equal justification.

In metaphysics, the noumenon is a posited object or event that exists independently of human sense and/or perception. The term noumenon is generally used when contrasted with, or in relation to, the term phenomenon, which refers to anything that can be apprehended by or is an object of the senses. Modern philosophy has generally been skeptical of the possibility of knowledge independent of the senses, and Immanuel Kant gave this point of view its canonical expression: that the noumenal world may exist, but it is completely unknowable through human sensation. In Kantian philosophy, the unknowable noumenon is often linked to the unknowable "thing-in-itself", although how to characterize the nature of the relationship is a question yet open to some controversy.

Pyrrhonists withhold assent with regard to non-evident propositions, that is, dogma. They disputed that the dogmatists had found truth regarding non-evident matters. For any non-evident matter, a Pyrrhonist tries to make the arguments for and against such that the matter cannot be concluded, thus suspending belief. According to Pyrrhonism, even the statement that nothing can be known is dogmatic. They thus attempted to make their skepticism universal, and to escape the reproach of basing it upon a fresh dogmatism. [2] Mental imperturbability ( ataraxia ) was the result to be attained by cultivating such a frame of mind. [2]

Dogma is an official system of principles or doctrines of a religion, such as Roman Catholicism, or the positions of a philosopher or of a philosophical school such as Stoicism.

Ataraxia is a Greek term first used in Ancient Greek philosophy by Pyrrho and subsequently Epicurus and the Stoics for a lucid state of robust equanimity characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry. In non-philosophical usage, the term was used to describe the ideal mental state for soldiers entering battle.

Pyrrhonians (or Pyrrhonism) can be subdivided into those who are ephectic (a "suspension of judgment"), zetetic ("engaged in seeking"), or aporetic ("engaged in refutation"). [3]

Ephectics

An ephectic potentially describes three interrelated concepts: 1) a type of skeptic, 2) the practice of a type of skepticism, or 3) the general state of being "given to suspense of judgment".

In philosophy, Aporia is a puzzle or state of puzzlement. In rhetoric, it is a useful expression of doubt.

Pyrrhonism is credited with being the first Western school of philosophy to identify the problem of induction, and the Münchhausen trilemma.

Practice

Pyrrhonist practice is for the purpose of achieving epoché, i.e., suspension of judgment. The core practice is through setting argument against argument. To aid in this, the Pyrrhonist philosophers Aenesidemus and Agrippa developed sets of stock arguments.

The ten modes of Aenesidemus

  1. "The same impressions are not produced by the same objects owing to the differences in animals." [4]
  2. The same impressions are not produced by the same objects owing to the differences among human beings. [5]
  3. The same impressions are not produced by the same objects owing to the differences among the senses. [6]
  4. Owing to the "circumstances, conditions or dispositions," the same objects appear different. The same temperature, as established by instrument, feels very different after an extended period of cold winter weather (it feels warm) than after mild weather in the autumn (it feels cold). Time appears slow when young and fast as aging proceeds. Honey tastes sweet to most but bitter to someone with jaundice. A person with influenza will feel cold and shiver even though she is hot with a fever. [7]
  5. "Based on positions, distances, and locations; for owing to each of these the same objects appear different." The same tower appears rectangular at close distance and round from far away. The moon looks like a perfect sphere to the human eye, yet cratered from the view of a telescope. [8]
  6. “We deduce that since no object strikes us entirely by itself, but along with something else, it may perhaps be possible to say what the mixture compounded out of the external object and the thing perceived with it is like, but we would not be able to say what the external object is like by itself." [9]
  7. "Based, as we said, on the quantity and constitution of the underlying objects, meaning generally by "constitution" the manner of composition." So, for example, goat horn appears black when intact and appears white when ground up. Snow appears white when frozen and translucent as a liquid. [10]
  8. "Since all things appear relative, we will suspend judgement about what things exist absolutely and really existent. [11] Do things which exist "differentially" as opposed to those things that have a distinct existence of their own, differ from relative things or not? If they do not differ, then they too are relative; but if they differ, then, since everything which differs is relative to something..., things which exist absolutely are relative." [12]
  9. "Based on constancy or rarity of occurrence." The sun is more amazing than a comet, but because we see and feel the warmth of the sun daily and the comet rarely, the latter commands our attention. [13]
  10. "There is a Tenth Mode, which is mainly concerned with Ethics, being based on rules of conduct, habits, laws, legendary beliefs, and dogmatic conceptions." [14]

Superordinate to these ten modes stand three other modes:

Superordinate to these three modes is the mode of relation. [15]

The five modes of Agrippa

These tropes or "modes" are given by Sextus Empiricus in his Outlines of Pyrrhonism. According to Sextus, they are attributed only "to the more recent skeptics" and it is by Diogenes Laërtius that we attribute them to Agrippa. [16] The tropes are:

  1. Dissent – The uncertainty demonstrated by the differences of opinions among philosophers and people in general.
  2. Progress ad infinitum – All proof rests on matters themselves in need of proof, and so on to infinity.
  3. Relation – All things are changed as their relations become changed, or, as we look upon them from different points of view.
  4. Assumption – The truth asserted is based on an unsupported assumption.
  5. Circularity – The truth asserted involves a circularity of proofs.

According to the mode deriving from dispute, we find that undecidable dissension about the matter proposed has come about both in ordinary life and among philosophers. Because of this we are not able to choose or to rule out anything, and we end up with suspension of judgement. In the mode deriving from infinite regress, we say that what is brought forward as a source of conviction for the matter proposed itself needs another such source, which itself needs another, and so ad infinitum, so that we have no point from which to begin to establish anything, and suspension of judgement follows. In the mode deriving from relativity, as we said above, the existing object appears to be such-and-such relative to the subject judging and to the things observed together with it, but we suspend judgement on what it is like in its nature. We have the mode from hypothesis when the Dogmatists, being thrown back ad infinitum, begin from something which they do not establish but claim to assume simply and without proof in virtue of a concession. The reciprocal mode occurs when what ought to be confirmatory of the object under investigation needs to be made convincing by the object under investigation; then, being unable to take either in order to establish the other, we suspend judgement about both. [17]

With reference to these five tropes, that the first and third are a short summary of the earlier Ten Modes of Aenesidemus. [16] The three additional ones show a progress in the Pyrrhonist system, building upon the objections derived from the fallibility of sense and opinion to more abstract and metaphysical grounds.

According to Victor Brochard “the five tropes can be regarded as the most radical and most precise formulation of skepticism that has ever been given. In a sense, they are still irresistible today.” [18]

Texts

Except for the works of Sextus Empiricus and Diogenes Laërtius, the texts about ancient Pyrrhonism have been lost, except for a summary of Pyrrhonian Discourses by Aenesidemus, preserved by Photius, and a summary of Pyrrho's teaching preserved by Eusebius, quoting Aristocles, quoting Pyrrho's student Timon, in what is known as the "Aristocles passage":

Whoever wants eudaimonia (to live well) must consider these three questions: First, how are pragmata (ethical matters, affairs, topics) by nature? Secondly, what attitude should we adopt towards them? Thirdly, what will be the outcome for those who have this attitude?" Pyrrho's answer is that "As for pragmata they are all adiaphora (undifferentiated by a logical differentia), astathmēta (unstable, unbalanced, not measurable), and anepikrita (unjudged, unfixed, undecidable). Therefore, neither our sense-perceptions nor our doxai (views, theories, beliefs) tell us the truth or lie; so we certainly should not rely on them. Rather, we should be adoxastous (without views), aklineis (uninclined toward this side or that), and akradantous (unwavering in our refusal to choose), saying about every single one that it no more is than it is not or it both is and is not or it neither is nor is not. The outcome for those who actually adopt this attitude, says Timon, will be first aphasia (speechlessness, non-assertion) and then ataraxia (freedom from disturbance), and Aenesidemus says pleasure. [19]

Similarities with Buddhism

Adiaphora, astathmēta, and anepikrita are strikingly similar to the Buddhist Three marks of existence, [20] suggesting that Pyrrho's teaching is based on what he learned in India, which is what Diogenes Laërtius reported. [21]

Other similarities between Pyrrhonism and Buddhism include a version of the tetralemma among the Pyrrhonist maxims [22] and a parallel with the Buddhist Two Truths Doctrine. [23] In Pyrrhonism the Buddhist concept of "ultimate" (paramārtha) truth corresponds with truth as defined via the criterion of truth, which in Pyrrhonism is seen as undemonstrated, and therefore nothing can be called "true" with respect of it being an account of reality. The Buddhist concept of "conventional" or "provisional" (saṁvṛti) truth corresponds in Pyrrhonism to truth defined via the Pyrrhonist criterion of action, which is used for making decisions about what to do.

Influence

The Pyrrhonist school influenced and had substantial overlap with the Empiric school of medicine. Many of the well-known Pyrrhonist teachers were also Empirics, including: Sextus Empiricus, Herodotus of Tarsus, Heraclides, Theodas, and Menodotus. However, Sextus Empiricus said that Pyrrhonism had more in common with the Methodic school in that it “follow[s] the appearances and take[s] from these whatever seems expedient.” [24]

Because of the high degree of similarity between the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka philosophy and Pyrrhonism, particularly as detailed in the surviving works of Sextus Empiricus [25] Thomas McEvilley suspects that Nagarjuna was influenced by Greek Pyrrhonist texts imported into India. [26]

A revival of the use of "Pyrrhonism" as a synonym for "skepticism" occurred during the seventeenth century. [27]

Fallibilism is a modern, fundamental perspective of the scientific method, as put forth by Karl Popper and Charles Sanders Peirce, that all knowledge is, at best, an approximation, and that any scientist always must stipulate this in her or his research and findings. It is, in effect, a modernized extension of Pyrrhonism. [28] Indeed, historic Pyrrhonists sometimes are described by modern authors as fallibilists and modern fallibilists sometimes are described as Pyrrhonists. [29]

List of Pyrrhonist philosophers

See also

Related Research Articles

Anaxarchus was a Greek philosopher of the school of Democritus. Together with Pyrrho, he accompanied Alexander the Great into Asia. The reports of his philosophical views suggest that he was a forerunner of Pyrrhonism.

Skepticism or scepticism is generally a questioning attitude or doubt towards one or more items of putative knowledge or belief or dogma. It is often directed at domains, such as the supernatural, morality, theism, or knowledge. Formally, skepticism as a topic occurs in the context of philosophy, particularly epistemology, although it can be applied to any topic such as politics, religion, and pseudoscience.

Arcesilaus ancient Greek philosopher

Arcesilaus was a Greek philosopher and founder of the Second or Middle Academy—the phase of Academic scepticism. Arcesilaus succeeded Crates as the sixth head (scholarch) of the Academy c. 264 BC. He did not preserve his thoughts in writing, so his opinions can only be gleaned second-hand from what is preserved by later writers. He was the first Academic to adopt a position of philosophical scepticism, that is, he doubted the ability of the senses to discover truth about the world, although he may have continued to believe in the existence of truth itself. This brought in the sceptical phase of the Academy. His chief opponents were the Stoics and their dogma of katalepsis.

Timon of Phlius ancient Greek philosopher

Timon of Phlius was a Greek Pyrrhonist philosopher, a pupil of Pyrrho, and a celebrated writer of satirical poems called Silloi. He was born in Phlius, moved to Megara, and then he returned home and married. He next went to Elis with his wife, and heard Pyrrho, whose tenets he adopted. He also lived on the Hellespont, and taught at Chalcedon, before moving to Athens, where he lived until his death. His writings were said to have been very numerous. He composed poetry, tragedies, satiric dramas, and comedies, of which very little remains. His most famous composition was his Silloi, a satirical account of famous philosophers, living and dead; a spoudaiogeloion in hexameter verse. The Silloi has not survived intact, but it is mentioned and quoted by several ancient authors.

Epoché is an ancient Greek term typically translated as "suspension of judgment" but also as "withholding of assent". The term is used in slightly different ways among the various schools of Hellenistic philosophy.

Agrippa was a Pyrrhonist philosopher who probably lived towards the end of the 1st century CE. He is regarded as the author of "The Five Tropes of Agrippa", which are purported to establish the necessity of suspending judgment (epoché). Agrippa's arguments form the basis of the Münchhausen trilemma.

Richard Arnot Home Bett holds a joint appointment in Philosophy and Classics at the Johns Hopkins University. He received his BA from Oxford University and his PhD from UC Berkeley. He spent 1994-5 as a Fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, D.C. From January 2000 to June 2001 he was Acting Executive Director of the American Philosophical Association, and he was Secretary-Treasurer of its Eastern Division from 2003 to 2013.

Münchhausen trilemma A thought experiment used to demonstrate the impossibility of proving any truth

In epistemology, the Münchhausen trilemma is a thought experiment used to demonstrate the impossibility of proving any truth, even in the fields of logic and mathematics. If it is asked how any knowledge is known to be true, proof may be provided. Yet that same question can be asked of the proof, and any subsequent proof. The Münchhausen trilemma is that there are only three options when providing proof in this situation:

The tetralemma is a figure that features prominently in the logic of India. It states that with reference to any a logical proposition X, there are four possibilities:

Quietism (philosophy) Concept in philosophy

Quietism in philosophy is an approach to the subject that sees the role of philosophy as broadly therapeutic or remedial. Quietist philosophers believe that philosophy has no positive thesis to contribute, but rather that its value is in defusing confusions in the linguistic and conceptual frameworks of other subjects, including non-quietist philosophy. By re-formulating supposed problems in a way that makes the misguided reasoning from which they arise apparent, the quietist hopes to put an end to humanity's confusion, and help return to a state of intellectual quietude.

Hellenistic philosophy is the period of Western philosophy that was developed in the Hellenistic period following Aristotle and ending with the beginning of Neoplatonism.

Monimus

Monimus of Syracuse, was a Cynic philosopher who endorsed skepticism, denying that there was a criterion of truth.

Nausiphanes, a native of Teos, was attached to the philosophy of Democritus, and was a pupil of Pyrrho.

Benson Mates was an American philosopher, noted for his work in logic, the history of philosophy, and skepticism. Mates studied philosophy and mathematics at the University of Oregon, Cornell University, and the University of California at Berkeley. Some of his teachers included J. Barkley Rosser, Harold Cherniss, and Alfred Tarski. From 1948 until his retirement in 1989, he was a professor of philosophy at Berkeley. He remained Professor Emeritus of philosophy at University of California at Berkeley until his death.

Academic skepticism refers to the skeptical period of ancient Platonism dating from around 266 BC, when Arcesilaus became head of the Platonic Academy, until around 90 BC, when Antiochus of Ascalon rejected skepticism, although individual philosophers, such as Favorinus and his teacher Plutarch continued to defend Academic skepticism after this date. Unlike the existing school of skepticism, the Pyrrhonists, they maintained that knowledge of things is impossible. Ideas or notions are never true; nevertheless, there are degrees of probability, and hence degrees of belief, which allow one to act. The school was characterized by its attacks on the Stoics and on their belief that convincing impressions led to true knowledge. The most important Academic skeptics were Arcesilaus, Carneades, and Philo of Larissa.

References

  1. 1923-, Popkin, Richard Henry, (2003). The history of scepticism : from Savonarola to Bayle. Popkin, Richard Henry, 1923- (Rev. and expanded ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN   0198026714. OCLC   65192690.
  2. 1 2 3 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Pringle-Pattison, Andrew Seth (1911). "Scepticism"  . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica . 24 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  3. Pulleyn, William (1830). The Etymological Compendium, Or, Portfolio of Origins and Inventions. T. Tegg. p. 353.
  4. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Trans. R.G. Bury, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933, p. 27
  5. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Trans. R.G. Bury, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933, p. 47
  6. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Trans. R.G. Bury, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933, p. 55
  7. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Trans. R.G. Bury, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933, p.61
  8. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Trans. R.G. Bury, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933, p.69
  9. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Trans. R.G. Bury, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933, p.73
  10. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Trans. R.G. Bury, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933, p.77
  11. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Trans. R.G. Bury, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933, p. 79
  12. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Trans. R.G. Bury, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933, p. 81
  13. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Trans. R.G. Bury, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933, p. 83
  14. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Trans. R.G. Bury, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933, p. 85
  15. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Trans. R.G. Bury, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933, pp. 25–27
  16. 1 2 Diogenes Laërtius, ix.
  17. Sextus Empiricus, Pyrrhōneioi hypotypōseis i., from Annas, J., Outlines of Scepticism Cambridge University Press. (2000).
  18. Brochard, V., The Greek Skeptics.
  19. Beckwith, Christopher I. (2015). Greek Buddha: Pyrrho's Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia (PDF). Princeton University Press. pp. 22–23. ISBN   9781400866328.
  20. Beckwith, Christopher I. (2015). Greek Buddha: Pyrrho's Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia (PDF). Princeton University Press. p. 28. ISBN   9781400866328.
  21. "The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers". Peithô's Web. Retrieved 23 March 2016.
  22. Sextus Empricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism Book 1, Section 19
  23. McEvilley, Thomas (2002). The Shape of Ancient Thought. Allworth Communications. ISBN   1-58115-203-5., p. 474
  24. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism I.237, trans. Etheridge (Scepticism, Man, and God, Wesleyan University Press, 1964, p. 98).
  25. Adrian Kuzminski, Pyrrhonism: How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism 2008
  26. Thomas McEvilley, The Shape of Ancient Thought 2002 pp499-505
  27. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, page 7, section 23.
  28. Powell, Thomas C. "Fallibilism and Organizational Research: The Third Epistemology", Journal of Management Research 4, 2001, pp. 201–219.
  29. "Ancient Greek Skepticism" at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy