Ancient Scepticism (Ancient Philosophies)

Harald Thorsrud

Language: English

Pages: 264

ISBN: 0520260260

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Scepticism, a philosophical tradition that casts doubt on our ability to gain knowledge of the world and suggests suspending judgment in the face of uncertainty, has been influential since its beginnings in ancient Greece. Harald Thorsrud provides an engaging, rigorous introduction to the central themes, arguments, and general concerns of ancient Scepticism, from its beginnings with Pyrrho of Elis (ca. 360 B.C. -ca. 270 B.C.) to the writings of Sextus Empiricus in the second century A.D. Thorsrud explores the differences among Sceptics and examines in particular the separation of the Scepticism of Pyrrho from its later form—Academic Scepticism—the result of its ideas being introduced into Plato's Academy in the third century B.C. Steering an even course through the many differences of scholarly opinion surrounding Scepticism, the book also provides a balanced appraisal of the philosophy's enduring significance by showing why it remains so interesting and how ancient interpretations differ from modern ones.

Copub: Acumen Publishing Limited

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Some biographical details provide a sketch of how Pyrrho might have arrived at his remarkable disposition. While in India with Alexander, Pyrrho’s teacher, Anaxarchus, was criticized for attending kings in their courts. Such behaviour, the Indian critic maintained, would make him unable to teach others what is good. While this probably did not trouble Anaxarchus, it did have an effect on Pyrrho, who had collected thousands of pieces of gold from Alexander for a poem he had written (M 1. 282). Pyrrho withdrew into solitude (DL 9.

To see our predecessors’ views too narrowly in terms of our own also ultimately limits our current array of choices. Studying the history of ideas may lead us to discover (or rediscover) an exciting philosophical approach that is not currently being discussed or practised. Of course, it may also lead to the conclusion that some particular idea is irretrievably foreign to us, a product of radically different times. But this should be as welcome a conclusion as a failed hypothesis in the natural sciences: should be, despite the fact that it generally is not.

So while the sceptic goes shopping, makes breakfast or argues against dogmatists, she is deluded if she thinks she has no beliefs. According to the objection, all intentional, purposeful action presupposes some sort of belief. There are two different types of response the sceptic might make, or that we might make on her behalf. First, we can deny that action presupposes belief. If so, the sceptic is able to act without holding any beliefs, and the scope of epochē may be unrestricted. Secondly, we can agree that action presupposes belief and claim that this is not a problem because the sceptic has the sort of belief necessary for the relevant action.

M. McPherran, “Ataraxia and Eudaimonia in Ancient Pyrrhonism: Is the Sceptic Really Happy? ”, Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 5 (1989), 135–71, esp. 158, notes that both the Stoics and Sextus describe reason as an active faculty that is itself in motion when it assents, and that such a goal-directed motion is just what it is to experience the disturbance of belief. Suspension of judgement eliminates the disturbing psychic motion and leaves a relatively untroubled, smooth motion.

Sextus Empiricus, Against the Ethicists, R. Bett (trans. ) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997). Sextus Empiricus, The Sceptic Way, Sextus Empiricus’ Outlines of Pyrrhonism, B. Mates (trans. ) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). Sextus Empiricus, Against the Grammarians [= M 1], D. L. Blank (trans. ) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998). Sextus Empiricus, Against the Musicians [= M 6], D. D. Greaves (trans. ) (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1986). Secondary literature Annas, J. “Sextus Empiricus and the Peripatetics”, Elenchos 13 (1992), 201–31.

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