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.
Pyrrho of Elis (c. 360-c. 270 BC) 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 BC.
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. According to the Pyrrhonists, it is one's opinions about non-evident matters that prevent one from attaining eudaimonia.
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.
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. Mental imperturbability (ataraxia) was the result to be attained by cultivating such a frame of mind.
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.
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 tropes 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.”
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.
Adiaphora, astathmēta, and anepikrita are strikingly similar to the Buddhist Three marks of existence, suggesting that Pyrrho's teaching is based on what he learned in India, which is what Diogenes Laërtius reported.
Other similarities between Pyrrhonism and Buddhism include a version of the tetralemma among the Pyrrhonist maxims and 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.
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.
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.
Adiaphoron (, plural: adiaphora from the Greek ἀδιάφορα, the negation of διάφορα - Latin differentia - meaning "not differentiable").In Cynicism "adiaphora" represents indifference to the vicissitudes of life. In Pyrrhonism, "adiaphora" indicates things which cannot be logically differentiated. Unlike in Stoicism, the term has no specific connection to morality. In Stoicism "adiaphora" indicates actions that morality neither mandates nor forbids. In the context of Stoicism "adiaphora" is usually translated as "indifferents."
In Christianity, "adiaphora" are matters not regarded as essential to faith, but nevertheless as permissible for Christians or allowed in church. What is specifically considered adiaphora depends on the specific theology in view.Aenesidemus
Aenesidemus (Ancient Greek: Αἰνησίδημος or Ancient Greek: Αἰνεσίδημος) 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.Agrippa the Skeptic
Agrippa (Greek: Ἀγρίππας) 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 (or Modes, in Greek: τρόποι) of Agrippa", which are purported to establish the necessity of suspending judgment (epoché). Agrippa's arguments form the basis of the Münchhausen trilemma.Aporia
In philosophy, Aporia (Ancient Greek: ᾰ̓πορῐ́ᾱ, romanized: aporíā, lit. 'impasse, difficulty in passage, lack of resources, puzzlement') is a puzzle or state of puzzlement. In rhetoric, it is a useful expression of doubt.Ataraxia
Ataraxia (ἀταραξία, literally, "unperturbedness", generally translated as "imperturbability", "equanimity", or "tranquillity") 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.
Achieving ataraxia is a common goal for Pyrrhonism, Epicureanism, and Stoicism, but the role and value of ataraxia within each philosophy varies in accordance with their philosophical theories. The mental disturbances that prevent one from achieving ataraxia vary among the philosophies, and each philosophy has a different understanding as to how to achieve ataraxia.Certainty
Certainty is perfect knowledge that has total security from error, or the mental state of being without doubt.
Objectively defined, certainty is total continuity and validity of all foundational inquiry, to the highest degree of precision. Something is certain only if no skepticism can occur. Philosophy (at least, historical Cartesian philosophy) seeks this state.Dogma
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.
In the pejorative sense, dogma refers to enforced decisions, such as those of aggressive political interests or authorities. More generally, it is applied to some strong belief whose adherents are not willing to discuss it rationally. This attitude is named as a dogmatic one, or as dogmatism; and is often used to refer to matters related to religion, but is not limited to theistic attitudes alone and is often used with respect to political or philosophical dogmas.Epoché
Epoché (ἐποχή epokhē, "suspension") 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.
The Pyrrhonists developed the concept of "epoché" to describe the state where all judgments about non-evident matters are suspended in order to induce a state of ataraxia (freedom from worry and anxiety). The Pyrrhonist philosopher Sextus Empiricus gives this definition: "Epoché is a state of the intellect on account of which we neither deny nor affirm anything." This concept is similarly employed in Academic Skepticism, but without the objective of ataraxia.
In Stoicism the concept is used to describe the withholding of assent to phantasiai (impressions). For example Epictetus uses the term in this manner: "If what philosophers say is true, that in all men action starts from one source, feeling, as in assent it is the feeling that a thing is so, and in denial the feeling that it is not so, yes, by Zeus, and in epoché, the feeling that it is uncertain: so also impulse towards a thing is originated by the feeling that it is fitting, and will to get a thing by the feeling that it is expedient for one, and it is impossible to judge."Epoché plays an implicit role in subsequent philosophical skeptic thought, as in René Descartes' epistemic principle of methodic doubt. The term was popularized in modern philosophy by Edmund Husserl. Husserl elaborates the notion of 'phenomenological epoché' or 'bracketing' in Ideas I. Through the systematic procedure of 'phenomenological reduction', one is thought to be able to suspend judgment regarding the general or naive philosophical belief in the existence of the external world, and thus examine phenomena as they are originally given to consciousness.Hellenistic philosophy
Hellenistic philosophy is the period of Western philosophy that was developed in the Hellenistic period following Aristotle and ending with the beginning of Neoplatonism.Moral skepticism
Moral skepticism (or moral scepticism) is a class of metaethical theories all members of which entail that no one has any moral knowledge. Many moral skeptics also make the stronger, modal claim that moral knowledge is impossible. Moral skepticism is particularly opposed to moral realism: the view that there are knowable and objective moral truths.
Some defenders of moral skepticism include Pyrrho, Aenesidemus, Sextus Empiricus, David Hume, J. L. Mackie (1977), Max Stirner, Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Joyce (2001), Michael Ruse, Joshua Greene, Richard Garner, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (2006b), and the psychologist James Flynn. Strictly speaking, Gilbert Harman (1975) argues in favor of a kind of moral relativism, not moral skepticism. However, he has influenced some contemporary moral skeptics.Münchhausen trilemma
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 circular argument, in which theory and proof support each other
The regressive argument, in which each proof requires a further proof, ad infinitum
The axiomatic argument, which rests on accepted preceptsThe trilemma, then, is the decision among the three equally unsatisfying options.
The name Münchhausen-Trilemma was coined by the German philosopher Hans Albert in 1968 in reference to a trilemma of "dogmatism versus infinite regress versus psychologism" used by Karl Popper. It is a reference to the problem of "bootstrapping", based on the story of Baron Munchausen (in German, "Münchhausen") pulling himself and the horse on which he was sitting out of a mire by his own hair.
It is also known as Agrippa's trilemma after a similar argument by Sextus Empiricus, which was attributed to Agrippa the Skeptic by Diogenes Laërtius. Sextus' argument, however, consists of five (not three) "modes". Popper in his original 1935 publication mentions neither Sextus nor Agrippa, but attributes his trilemma to Jakob Fries.In contemporary epistemology, advocates of coherentism are supposed to accept the "circular" horn of the trilemma; foundationalists rely on the axiomatic argument. The view that accepts infinite regress is called infinitism.Nagarjuna
Nāgārjuna (c. 150 – c. 250 CE) is widely considered one of the most important Buddhist philosophers. Along with his disciple Āryadeva, he is considered to be the founder of the Madhyamaka school of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Nāgārjuna is also credited with developing the philosophy of the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras and, in some sources, with having revealed these scriptures in the world, having recovered them from the nāgas (water spirits often depicted in the form of serpent-like humans). Furthermore, he is traditionally supposed to have written several treatises on rasayana as well as serving a term as the head of Nālandā.Noumenon
In metaphysics, the noumenon (, UK also ; from Greek: νούμενον) 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" (in Kant's German, Ding an sich), although how to characterize the nature of the relationship is a question yet open to some controversy.Peritrope
Peritrope (Greek: περιτροπή) is Socrates' argument against Protagoras' view of relative truth, as presented in Plato's book known as Theaetetus (169–171e). This formed part of the former's eighth objection, the "table-turning" argument that maintained Protagoras' doctrine was self-refuting.Pyrrho
Pyrrho of Elis (; Ancient Greek: Πύρρων ὁ Ἠλεῖος, romanized: Pyrrhо̄n ho Ēleios; c. 360 – c. 270 BC) was a Greek philosopher of Classical antiquity and is credited as being the first Greek skeptic philosopher and founder of Pyrrhonism.Sextus Empiricus
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.
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.Suspension of judgment
Suspended judgment is a cognitive process and a rational state of mind in which one withholds judgments, particularly on the drawing of moral or ethical conclusions. The opposite of suspension of judgment is premature judgment, usually shortened to prejudice, or in some philosophical systems such as Pyrrhonism the opposite is dogma. While prejudgment involves drawing a conclusion or making a judgment before having the information relevant to such a judgment, suspension of judgment involves waiting for all the facts before making a decision.Three marks of existence
In Buddhism, the three marks of existence are three characteristics (Pali: tilakkhaṇa; Sanskrit: trilakṣaṇa) of all existence and beings, namely impermanence (aniccā), unsatisfactoriness or suffering (dukkhā), and non-self (anattā). These three characteristics are mentioned in verses 277, 278 and 279 of the Dhammapada. That humans are subject to delusion about the three marks, that this delusion results in suffering, and that removal of that delusion results in the end of suffering, is a central theme in the Buddhist Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path.
According to Thich Nhat Hanh, the three seals are impermanence, non-self and nirvana. He says in "The heart of the Buddha's Teaching" that "In several sutras the Buddha taught that nirvana, the joy of completely extinguishing our ideas and concepts, rather than suffering, is one of the Three Dharma Seals."Two truths doctrine
The Buddhist doctrine of the two truths (Wylie: bden pa gnyis) differentiates between two levels of satya (Sanskrit), meaning truth or "really existing" in the discourse of the Buddha: the "conventional" or "provisional" (saṁvṛti) truth, and the "ultimate" (paramārtha) truth.The exact meaning varies between the various Buddhist schools and traditions. The best known interpretation is from the Madhyamaka school of Mahāyāna Buddhism, whose founder was Nagarjuna. For Nagarjuna, the two truths are epistemological truths. The phenomenal world is accorded a provisional existence. The character of the phenomenal world is declared to be neither real nor unreal, but logically indeterminable. Ultimately, phenomena are empty (sunyata) of an inherent self or essence, but exist depending on other phenomena (Pratītyasamutpāda).In Chinese Buddhism, the Madhyamaka position is accepted and the two truths refer to two ontological truths. Reality exists of two levels, a relative level and an absolute level. Based on their understanding of the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Chinese supposed that the teaching of the Buddha-nature was, as stated by that sutra, the final Buddhist teaching, and that there is an essential truth above sunyata and the two truths.The śūnyatā doctrine is an attempt to show that it is neither proper nor strictly justifiable to regard any metaphysical system as absolutely valid. It doesn't lead to nihilism but strikes a middle course between excessive naivete and excessive scepticism.