|Born||c. 160 CE|
|Died||c. 210 (aged 49–50) CE|
|School||Pyrrhonism, Empiric school|
Sextus Empiricus (Greek : Σέξτος Ἐμπειρικός; c. 160 – c. 210 CE, dates uncertain), 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.
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.
A physician, medical practitioner, medical doctor, or simply doctor, is a professional who practises medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining, or restoring health through the study, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of disease, injury, and other physical and mental impairments. Physicians may focus their practice on certain disease categories, types of patients, and methods of treatment—known as specialities—or they may assume responsibility for the provision of continuing and comprehensive medical care to individuals, families, and communities—known as general practice. Medical practice properly requires both a detailed knowledge of the academic disciplines, such as anatomy and physiology, underlying diseases and their treatment—the science of medicine—and also a decent competence in its applied practice—the art or craft of medicine.
A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term "philosopher" comes from the Ancient Greek, φιλόσοφος (philosophos), meaning "lover of wisdom". The coining of the term has been attributed to the Greek thinker Pythagoras.
In his medical work, as reflected by his name, tradition maintains that he belonged to the empiric school in which Pyrrhonism was popular. However, at least twice in his writings, Sextus seems to place himself closer to the methodic school. He may have been the same person as Sextus of Chaeronea.
The Empiric school of medicine was an ancient school of medicine in ancient Greece and Rome. They were so called from the word empeiria because they professed to derive their knowledge from experiences only, and in doing so set themselves in opposition to the Dogmatic school. Serapion of Alexandria, and Philinus of Cos, are regarded as the founders of this school in the 3rd century BC. Other physicians who belonged to this sect were: Apollonius of Citium, Glaucias, Heraclides, Bacchius, Zeuxis, Menodotus, Theodas, Herodotus of Tarsus, Aeschrion, Sextus Empiricus, and Marcellus Empiricus. The sect survived a long time, as Marcellus lived in the 4th century. The doctrines of this school are described by Aulus Cornelius Celsus in the introduction to his De Medicina.
Pyrrhonism was a school of skepticism founded by Pyrrho in the fourth century BC. It is best known through the surviving works of Sextus Empiricus, writing in the late second century or early third century AD.
The Methodic school of medicine was an ancient school of medicine in ancient Greece and Rome. The Methodic school arose in reaction to both the Empiric school and the Dogmatic school. While the exact origins of the Methodic school are shrouded in some controversy, its doctrines are fairly well documented. Sextus Empiricus points to the school's common ground with Pyrrhonism, in that it “follow[s] the appearances and take[s] from these whatever seems expedient.”
Sextus Empiricus's three surviving works are the Outlines of Pyrrhonism (Πυῤῥώνειοι ὑποτυπώσεις, Pyrrhōneioi hypotypōseis, thus commonly abbreviated PH), and two distinct works preserved under the same title, Against the Mathematicians (Adversus Mathematicos), one of which is probably incomplete as there are references in the text to parts that are not in the surviving text.
The first six books of Against the Mathematicians (Πρὸς μαθηματικούς, Pros mathematikous) are commonly known as Against the Professors, and each book also has a traditional title:
|Book||Traditional title||Original title|
|I||Against the Grammarians||Πρὸς γραμματικούς / Pros grammatikous|
|II||Against the Rhetoricians||Πρὸς ῥητορικούς / Pros rhetorikous|
|III||Against the Geometers||Πρὸς γεωμετρικούς / Pros geometrikous|
|IV||Against the Arithmeticians||Πρὸς ἀριθμητικούς / Pros arithmetikous|
|V||Against the Astrologers||Πρὸς ἀστρολόγους / Pros astrologous|
|VI||Against the Musicians||Πρὸς μουσικούς / Pros mousikous|
Against the Mathematicians I–VI is sometimes distinguished from Against the Mathematicians VII–XI by using another title, Against the Dogmatists ( Πρὸς δογματικούς, Pros dogmatikous) and then the remaining books are numbered as I–II, III–IV, and V, despite the fact that it is also commonly inferred that the beginning of such a separate work is missing and it is not known how many books might have preceded the extant books. The supposed general title of this work is Skeptical Treatises' (Σκεπτικὰ Ὑπομνήματα /Skeptika Hypomnēmata).
|VII–VIII||Against the Logicians||Πρὸς λογικούς / Pros logikous|
|IX–X||Against the Physicists||Πρὸς φυσικούς / Pros Physikous|
|XI||Against the Ethicists||Πρὸς ἠθικούς / Pros Ethikous|
Note that none of these titles except Against the Mathematicians and Outlines of Pyrrhonism, are found in the manuscripts.
Sextus Empiricus raised concerns which applied to all types of knowledge. He doubted the validity of inductionlong before its best known critic David Hume, and raised the regress argument against all forms of reasoning:
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:
David Hume was a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, who is best known today for his highly influential system of philosophical empiricism, scepticism, and naturalism. Hume's empiricist approach to philosophy places him with John Locke, George Berkeley, Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes as a British Empiricist. Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature (1738), Hume strove to create a total naturalistic science of man that examined the psychological basis of human nature. Against philosophical rationalists, Hume held that passion rather than reason governs human behaviour. Hume argued against the existence of innate ideas, positing that all human knowledge is founded solely in experience.
The regress argument is a problem in epistemology and, in general, a problem in any situation where a statement has to be justified.
Those who claim for themselves to judge the truth are bound to possess a criterion of truth. This criterion, then, either is without a judge's approval or has been approved. But if it is without approval, whence comes it that it is truthworthy? For no matter of dispute is to be trusted without judging. And, if it has been approved, that which approves it, in turn, either has been approved or has not been approved, and so on ad infinitum .
Ad infinitum is a Latin phrase meaning "to infinity" or "forevermore".
Because of these and other barriers to acquiring true beliefs, Sextus Empiricus advisesthat we should suspend judgment about virtually all beliefs; that is to say, we should neither affirm any belief as true nor deny any belief as false. This view is known as Pyrrhonian skepticism, as distinguished from Academic skepticism, as practiced by Carneades, which, according to Sextus, denies knowledge altogether. Sextus did not deny the possibility of knowledge. He criticizes the Academic skeptic's claim that nothing is knowable as being an affirmative belief. Instead, Sextus advocates simply giving up belief; in other words, suspending judgment about whether or not anything is knowable. Only by suspending judgment can we attain a state of ataraxia (roughly, 'peace of mind'). Sextus did not think such a general suspension of judgment to be impractical, since we may live without any beliefs, acting by habit.
Sextus allowed that we might affirm claims about our experience (e.g., reports about our feelings or sensations). That is, for some claim X that I feel or perceive, it could be true to say "it seems to me now that X." However, he pointed out that this does not imply any objective knowledge of external reality. Though I might know that the honey I eat at a certain moment tastes sweet to me, this is merely a subjective judgment, and as such may not tell me anything true about the honey itself.
Interpretations of Sextus's philosophy along the above lines have been advocated by scholars such as Myles Burnyeat,Jonathan Barnes, and Benson Mates.
Michael Frede, however, defends a different interpretation,according to which Sextus does allow beliefs, so long as they are not derived by reason, philosophy or speculation; a skeptic may, for example, accept common opinions in the skeptic's society. The important difference between the skeptic and the dogmatist is that the skeptic does not hold his beliefs as a result of rigorous philosophical investigation. In Against the Ethicists, Sextus in fact directly says that "the Skeptic does not conduct his life according to philosophical theory (so far as regards this he is inactive), but as regards the non-philosophical regulation of life he is capable of desiring some things and avoiding others." (XI, 165). Thus, on this interpretation (and as per Sextus' own words), the skeptic may well entertain the belief that God does or does not exist or that virtue is good. But he will not believe that such claims are true on the basis of reasons since, as far as the skeptic is aware, no reason for assenting to such claims has yet been shown to be "any more" credible than the reasons for their denial. (XIX)
It must also be remembered that by "dogma" Sextus means "assent to something non-evident [ἄδηλος, adēlos]" (PH I, 16). And by "non-evident" he means things which lie beyond appearances (and thus beyond proof or disproof), such as the existence and/or nature of causality, time, motion, or even proof itself. Thus, the skeptic will, for example, believe the proposition that "Dion is in the room" if sense-data and ordinary reasoning led to the emergence of such a belief. On the other hand, if he were to "strongly" assert that Dion was "really" in the room, then he may be met with opposing arguments of equal psychological force against the self-same proposition and experience mental disquietude as a result. Thus, the Pyrrhonian does not assent to the proposition "Dion is in the room" in a dogmatic way as that would purport to describe a non-evident reality which lies beyond the "appearance" [φαινόμενον, phainomenon] of Dion being in the room. The Skeptic simply goes along with the appearance just as "a child is persuaded by...his teacher." (PH I, 229). It is for this reason then that Sextus says the Skeptic lives undogmatically in accordance with appearances and also according to a "fourfold regimine of life" which includes the guidance of nature, compulsion of pathe (feelings), laws and customs, and instruction in arts and crafts. The Skeptic follows this course of life while suspending judgment concerning the ultimate truth of the non-evident matters debated in philosophy and the sciences (PH I, 17). Thus, the Pyrrhonian Skeptic is one who believes possibly many things, but yet does not dogmatize about those beliefs since he finds no ultimate justification for them. Thus, the Pyrrhonian achieves ataraxia not by casting certain judgments about appearances but rather through his refined ability to "oppose appearances to judgments" such that he is "brought firstly to a state of mental suspense and next to a state of 'unperturbedness' or 'quietude.'" (IV, 8)
Because of the high degree of similarity between the surviving works of Sextus Empiricus and those of the Buddhist philosopher, NagarjunaThomas McEvilley suspects that Nagarjuna and Sextus Empiricus were referencing some of the same earlier Pyrrhonist texts in developing their works.
Pyrrhonism is more a mental attitude or therapy than a theory. It involves setting things in opposition and owing to the equipollence of the objects and reasons, one suspends judgement. "We oppose either appearances to appearances or objects of thought to objects of thought or alternando."The ten modes induce suspension of judgement and in turn a state of mental suspense followed by ataraxia. If ever one is in a position in which they are unable to refute a theory, Pyrrhonists reply "Just as, before the birth of the founder of the School to which you belong, the theory it holds was not as yet apparent as a sound theory, although it was really in existence, so likewise it is possible that the opposite theory to that which you now propound is already really existent, though not yet apparent to us, so that we ought not as yet to yield assent to this theory which at the moment seems to be valid." These ten modes or tropes were originally listed by Aenesidemus.
Superordinate to these ten modes stand three other modes:
Superordinate to these three modes is the mode of relation.
An influential Latin translation of Sextus's Outlines was published by Henricus Stephanus in Geneva in 1562,and this was followed by a complete Latin Sextus with Gentian Hervet as translator in 1569. Petrus and Jacobus Chouet published the Greek text for the first time in 1621. Stephanus did not publish it with his Latin translation either in 1562 or in 1569, nor was it published in the reprint of the latter in 1619.
Sextus's Outlines were widely read in Europe during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, and had a profound effect on Michel de Montaigne, David Hume, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, among many others. Another source for the circulation of Sextus's ideas was Pierre Bayle's Dictionary. The legacy of Pyrrhonism is described in Richard Popkin's The History of Skepticism from Erasmus to Descartes and High Road to Pyrrhonism. The transmission of Sextus's manuscripts through antiquity and the Middle Ages is reconstructed by Luciano Floridi's Sextus Empiricus, The Recovery and Transmission of Pyrrhonism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). Since the Renaissance French philosophy has been continuously influenced by Sextus: Montaigne in the 16th century, Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Pierre-Daniel Huet and François de La Mothe Le Vayer in the 17th century, many of the "Philosophes," and in recent times controversial figures such as Michel Onfray, in a direct line of filiation between Sextus' radical skepticism and secular or even radical atheism.
Sextus is the earliest known source for the proverb "Slowly grinds the mill of the gods, but it grinds fine", alluded to in Longfellow's poem "Retribution".
Skepticism or scepticism is generally any questioning attitude or doubt towards one or more items of putative knowledge or belief. It is often directed at domains, such as the supernatural, morality, religion, 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 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.
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.
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.
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. 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, in hexameter verse. The Silloi has not survived intact, but it is mentioned and quoted by several ancient authors.
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.
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:
Julia Elizabeth Annas is a British philosopher who has taught in the United States for the last quarter-century. She is Regents Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona.
Myles Fredric Burnyeat is an English scholar of ancient 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.
Trivialism is the logical theory that all statements are true and that all contradictions of the form "p and not p" are true. In accordance with this, a trivialist is a person who believes everything is true.
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".
Robert Gregg Bury was an Irish clergyman, classicist, philologist, and a translator of the works of Plato and Sextus Empiricus into English.