Odell_Phil100F07_Skepticism - HANDOUT FOR PHILOSOPHY 100 ON...

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1 HANDOUT FOR PHILOSOPHY 100 ON PHILOSOPHICAL SKEPTICISM Dr. Odell The Origins of Skepticism: Pyrrho, Aenesidemus, and Sextus Empiricus Although most ancient Greeks, like most contemporary human beings, used the Greek equivalent for ‘knowledge’ to denote what they felt certain about. It was Greek philosophers who called this usage into question. They called into question such beliefs as would be communicated by sentences like, ‘I am certain that the apple in my hand is red.’ There were many skeptical philosophers in ancient Greece, but Pyrrho was the most dedicated of them all, so great has been his influence that ‘Pyrrhonism’ is sometimes used as an equivalent to ‘philosophical skepticism.’ But our primary source for ancient skepticism of the Greek variety is Sextus Empiricus, who defines ‘skepticism’ as: An ability, or mental attitude, which opposes appearances to judgments in any way whatsoever, with the result that, owing to the equipollence (equal in force) of the objects and reasons thus opposed, we are brought firstly to a state of mental suspense and next to a state of ‘unperturbedness, or quietude. 1 The Greek equivalent of ‘skeptical’ is ‘ skeptikos ’ which means to inquire or investigate. According to the skeptic, the truly skeptical person is the one who suspends judgment, one who neither asserts as true p, nor not p, but who claims that an investigation into the grounds for believing any proposition reveals that it is not justified. According to Pyrrhonism, the acceptance of skepticism is a necessary condition for the attainment of contentment. The methodology which is used to produce “the state of mental suspense” or suspension of judgment consists of Modes, or arguments, which Sextus attributed not to Pyrrho, but to Aenesidemus, who likely first formulated 10 varieties in his Outline of Pyrrhonism , a work, unfortunately, lost to us. Some ancient Greek philosophers described 2 Modes, others 5, still others 8. At any rate, Modes are defined by Sextus as “arguments which lead to suspension of judgment.” 2 The Ten Modes he enumerates are, according to Sextus: the first, based on the variety in animals; the second, on the differences in humans; the third, on the different structures of the organs of sense; the forth, on the circumstantial conditions; the fifth, on positions and intervals and locations; the sixth, on intermixtures; the seventh, on quantities and formations of the underlying objects; the eight, on the fact of relativity; the ninth, on the frequency or rarity of occurrence; the tenth, on the disciplines and customs and laws, the legendary beliefs and the dogmatic convictions. 3 Sextus proceeds to elaborate on each of these Modes. Unfortunately, examination of these details of this exposition reveals much that is naïve, even false or nonsensical to our 21 st century ears. I will not pursue this form of skepticism any further at this point, though I will mention it from time to time when I discuss other skeptics.
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This note was uploaded on 04/29/2008 for the course PHIL 100 taught by Professor ? during the Spring '07 term at Maryland.

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Odell_Phil100F07_Skepticism - HANDOUT FOR PHILOSOPHY 100 ON...

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