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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.
Pyrrho of Elis (c. 360 – c. 270 BCE) and his teacher Anaxarchus, both Democritean philosophers, traveled to India with Alexander the Great's army where Pyrrho was said to have studied with the magi and the gymnosophists,and where he was influenced by Buddhist teachings, most particularly the three marks of existence. After returning to Greece, Pyrrho started a new line of philosophy now known as "Pyrrhonism." His teachings were recorded by his student Timon of Phlius, most of whose works have been lost.
Pyrrhonism as a school was either revitalized or re-founded by Aenesidemus in the first century BCE. This phase of Pyrrhonism, starting with Aenesidemus and going through the last known Pyrrhonist of antiquity, Saturninus, is sometimes referred to as "neo-Pyrrhonism."Others use the term "neo-Pyrrhonism" to refer to modern Pyrrhonists such as Robert Fogelin.
The recovery and publishing of the works of Sextus Empiricus in the sixteenth century ignited a revival of interest in Pyrrhonism.
Pyrrhonism is the earliest Western form of philosophical skepticism,As with other Hellenistic philosophies such as Stoicism, Peripateticism and Epicureanism, eudaimonia is the Pyrrhonist goal of life. According to the Pyrrhonists, it is one's opinions about non-evident matters (i.e., dogma) that prevent one from attaining eudaimonia. As with Epicureanism, Pyrrhonism places the attainment of ataraxia (a state of equanimity) as the way to achieve eudaimonia. To bring the mind to ataraxia Pyrrhonism uses epoché (suspension of judgment) regarding all non-evident propositions. Pyrrhonists dispute that the dogmatists – which includes all of Pyrrhonism's rival philosophies – have found truth regarding non-evident matters. For any non-evident matter, a Pyrrhonist makes arguments for and against such that the matter cannot be concluded, thus suspending belief and thereby inducing ataraxia.
Although Pyrrhonism's objective is eudaimonia, it is best known for its epistemological arguments, particularly the problem of the criterion, and for being the first Western school of philosophy to identify the problem of induction and the Münchhausen trilemma.
Pyrrhonists (or Pyrrhonist practice) can be subdivided into those who are ephectic (engaged in suspension of judgment), zetetic (engaged in seeking), or aporetic (engaged in refutation).
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 known as "modes" or "tropes."
Aenesidemus is considered the creator of the ten tropes of Aenesidemus (also known as the ten modes of Aenesidemus)—although whether he invented the tropes or just systematized them from prior Pyrrhonist works is unknown. Sextus Empiricus attributed them simply to the earlier Pyrrhonists. Diogenes Laeritius attributed them to Aenesidemus. The title of a lost work of Plutarch's (On Pyrrho's Ten Modes) appears to attribute the modes to Pyrrho.The tropes represent reasons for epoché (suspension of judgment). These are as follows:
Superordinate to these ten modes stand three other modes:
Superordinate to these three modes is the mode of relation.
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.The five tropes of Agrippa are:
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.
With reference to these five tropes, that the first and third are a short summary of the earlier Ten Modes of Aenesidemus.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.”
Pyrrhonist decision making is made according to what the Pyrrhonists describe as the criteria of action holding to the appearances, without beliefs in accord with the ordinary regimen of life based on:
The Pyrrhonists devised several sayings (Greek ΦΩΝΩΝ) to help practitioners bring their minds to epoche.Among these are:
Pyrrhonism is often contrasted with Academic Skepticism, a similar but distinct form of Hellenistic philosophical skepticism.Dogmatists claim to have knowledge, Academic Skeptics claim that knowledge is impossible, while Pyrrhonists assent to neither proposition, suspending judgment on both. The second century Roman historian Aulus Gellius describes the distinction as follows:
"...the Academics apprehend (in some sense) the very fact that nothing can be apprehended, and they determine (in some sense) that nothing can be determined, whereas the Pyrrhonists assert that not even that seems to be true, since nothing seems to be true."
Following the death of Timon, the Platonic Academy became the primary advocate of skepticism until the mid-first century BCE.While early Academic Skepticism was influenced in part by Pyrrho, it grew more and more dogmatic until Aenesidemus broke with the Academics to revive Pyrrhonism in the first century BCE, denouncing the Academy as "Stoics fighting against Stoics. " Some later Pyrrhonists, such as Sextus Empiricus, go so far as to claim that Pyrrhonists are the only real skeptics, dividing all philosophy into the dogmatists, the Academics, and the skeptics.
The summary of Pyrrho's teaching preserved in the "Aristocles passage" shows signs of Buddhist philosophical influence. This text is:
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.
According to Christopher I. Beckwith's analysis of the Aristocles Passage, adiaphora (anatta), astathmēta (dukkha), and anepikrita (anicca) are strikingly similar to the Buddhist three marks of existence,indicating that Pyrrho's teaching is based on Buddhism. Beckwith contends that the 18 months Pyrrho spent in India was long enough to learn a foreign language, and that the key innovative tenets of Pyrrho's skepticism were only found in Indian philosophy at the time and not in Greece. Other scholars, such as Stephen Batchelor and Charles Goodman question Beckwith's conclusions about the degree of Buddhist influence on Pyrrho.
Other similarities between Pyrrhonism and Buddhism include a version of the tetralemma among the Pyrrhonist maximsand a parallel with the Buddhist Two Truths Doctrine. 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.
Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka philosophy is particularly similar to Pyrrhonism.According to Thomas McEvilley this is because Nagarjuna was likely influenced by Greek Pyrrhonist texts imported into India.
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."
The balance scale, in perfect balance, is the traditional symbol of Pyrrhonism. The Pyrrhonist philosopher Montaigne adopted the image of a balance scale for his motto.
Pyrrhonism so influenced Arcesilaus, the sixth scholarch of the Platonic Academy that Arcesilaus reformed the teaching of the Academy to be nearly identical to Pyrrhonismthus initiating the Academic Skepticism of the Middle Academy.
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.”
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,Thomas McEvilley suspects that Nagarjuna was influenced by Greek Pyrrhonist texts imported into India.
Pyrrhonism regained prominence in the late fifteenth century.The publication of the works of Sextus Empiricus played a major role in Renaissance and Reformation thought. Philosophers of the time used his works to source their arguments on how to deal with the religious issues of their day. Major philosophers such as Michel de Montaigne, Marin Mersenne, and Pierre Gassendi later drew on the model of Pyrrhonism outlined in Sextus Empiricus’ works for their own arguments. This resurgence of Pyrrhonism has been called the beginning of modern philosophy.
Pyrrhonism also affected the development of historiography. Historical Pyrrhonism emerged during the early modern period and played a significant role in shaping modern historiography. Historical Pyrrhonism questioned the possibility of any absolute knowledge from the past and transformed later historians' selection of and standard for reliable sources.
A revival of the use of "Pyrrhonism" as a synonym for "skepticism" occurred during the seventeenth century.
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.Indeed, historic Pyrrhonists sometimes are described by modern authors as fallibilists and modern fallibilists sometimes are described as Pyrrhonists.
Diogenes Laërtius recorded the following list of scholarchs of the Pyrrhonist school of philosophy.
270-235 Timon of Phlius
???-??? Euphranor of Seleucia
???-??? Eubulus of Alexandria
???-??? Ptolemy of Cyrene
c. 100 Heraclides of Tarentum
c. 50 Aenesidemus
???-??? Antiochus of Laodicea on the Lycus
c 100 Menodotus of Nicomedia
c. 120 Herodotus of Tarsus
c. 160 Sextus Empiricus
c. 200 Saturninus
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.
Skepticism or scepticism is generally a questioning attitude or doubt towards one or more putative instances of knowledge which are asserted to be mere belief or dogma. Formally, skepticism is a topic of interest in philosophy, particularly epistemology. More informally, skepticism as an expression of questioning or doubt can be applied to any topic, such as politics, religion, or pseudoscience. It is often applied within restricted domains, such as morality, theism, or the supernatural.
Dogma in the broad sense is any belief held unquestioningly and with undefended certainty. It may be in the form of an official system of principles or doctrines of a religion, such as Roman Catholicism, Judaism, or Protestantism, as well as the positions of a philosopher or of a philosophical school such as Stoicism. It may also be found in political belief systems, such as communism, progressivism, liberalism and conservatism.
Pyrrho of Elis was a Greek philosopher of Classical antiquity and is credited as being the first Greek skeptic philosopher and founder of Pyrrhonism.
Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BC, at a time when the inhabitants of ancient Greece were struggling to repel devastating invasions from the east. Greek philosophy continued throughout the Hellenistic period and the period in which Greece and most Greek-inhabited lands were part of the Roman Empire. Philosophy was used to make sense out of the world using reason. It dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including astronomy, epistemology, mathematics, political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric and aesthetics.
Arcesilaus was a Greek Hellenistic philosopher. He was the founder of Academic Skepticism and what is variously called the Second or Middle or New Academy — the phase of the Platonic Academy in which it embraced philosophical skepticism.
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.
Sextus Empiricus was a Pyrrhonist philosopher and a physician. His philosophical works are the most complete surviving account of ancient Greek and Roman Pyrrhonism, and because of the arguments they contain against the other Hellenistic philosophies they are also a major source of information about those philosophies.
Philosophical skepticism is a family of philosophical views that question the possibility of knowledge or certainty. Philosophical skeptics are often classified into two general categories: Those who deny all possibility of knowledge, and those who advocate for the suspension of judgment due to the inadequacy of evidence. This is modeled after the differences between the Academic skeptics and the Pyrrhonian skeptics in ancient Greek philosophy.
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.
Philo of Larissa was a Greek philosopher. He was a pupil of Clitomachus, whom he succeeded as head of the Academy. During the Mithridatic wars which would see the destruction of the Academy, he travelled to Rome where Cicero heard him lecture. None of his writings survive. He was an Academic sceptic, like Clitomachus and Carneades before him, but he offered a more moderate view of scepticism than that of his teachers, permitting provisional beliefs without certainty.
Timon of Phlius was a Greek Pyrrhonist philosopher, a pupil of Pyrrho, and a celebrated writer of satirical poems called Silloi (Σίλλοι). 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. It has been suggested that Pyrrhonism ultimately originated with Timon rather than Pyrrho.
Epoché is an ancient Greek term. In Hellenistic philosophy it is a technical term typically translated as "suspension of judgment" but also as "withholding of assent". In the modern philosophy of Phenomenology it refers to a process of setting aside assumptions and beliefs.
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 Agrippan 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.
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 given proposition 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 further proof in response to further questioning:
The tetralemma is a figure that features prominently in the logic of India.
Radical skepticism or radical scepticism is the philosophical position that knowledge is most likely impossible. Radical skeptics hold that doubt exists as to the veracity of every belief and that certainty is therefore never justified. To determine the extent to which it is possible to respond to radical skeptical challenges is the task of epistemology or "the theory of knowledge".
Academic skepticism refers to the skeptical period of ancient Platonism dating from around 266 BC, when Arcesilaus became scholarch 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 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 plausibility, and hence degrees of belief, which allow one to act. The school was characterized by its attacks on the Stoics, particularly their dogma that convincing impressions led to true knowledge. The most important Academics were Arcesilaus, Carneades, and Philo of Larissa. The most extensive ancient source of information about Academic skepticism is Academica, written by the Academic skeptic philosopher Cicero.
According to Edward Conze, Greek Skepticism can be compared to Buddhist philosophy, especially the Indian Madhyamika school. The Pyrrhonian Skeptics' goal of ataraxia is a soteriological goal similar to nirvana.
The History of ancient scepticism officially begins with the enigmatic character, Pyrrho of Elis
The Pyrrhonians withheld assent to every non-evident proposition. That is, they withheld assent to all propositions about which genuine dispute was possible, and they took that class of propositions to include both the (meta) proposition that we can have knowledge of EI-type propositions and the (meta) proposition that we cannot have knowledge. Indeed, they sometimes classified the Epistemists and the Academic Skeptics together as dogmatists because the Epistemists assented to the proposition that we can have knowledge, while the Academic Skeptics assented to the denial of that claim.
Those who believe they have discovered it are the "dogmatists," specially so called - Aristotle, for example, and Epicurus and the Stoics and certain others; Cleitomachus and Carneades and other Academics treat it as inapprehensible:the skeptics keep on searching. Hence it seems reasonable to hold the main types of philosophy are three- the dogmatic, the Academic, and the skeptic.
Both Academic and Pyrrhonian Scepticism develop in complicated ways in response to each other and in response to their common dogmatic opponents.
Skepticism: Those Academic thinkers who developed sets of arguments to show either that no knowledge is possible (Academic Skepticism) or that there is not sufficient or adequate evidence to tell if any knowledge is possible. If the latter is the case then these thinkers advocated suspending judgment on all questions concerning knowledge (Pyrrhonian Skepticism).
Pyrrhonism, in whatever form it might have taken after Timon's death in 230 BCE, was utterly neglected until Aenesidemus brought it back to public attention
So while Pyrrho's influence is significant, it does not shape the contours of Arcesilaus' scepticism nearly as much as the influence of Plato and Socrates.
Aenesidemus criticized his fellow Academics for being dogmatic...Aenesidemus committed his scepticism to writing probably some time in the early-to-mid first century BCE...leading Aenesidemus to dismiss them as "Stoics fighting against Stoics."
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