Sextus Empiricus.docx

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Political Science
Political Science 2237E
Douglas Long

Sextus Empiricus Lecture 0 – Week One Forward: - the Universal Refuter - would you conclude, from your inability to defend your beliefs, that you don’t know anything? - that you have no better reason to believe any proposition than its opposite - if you think that the experience of having all your beliefs overturned would make quite a difference to your view of yourself, and hence to your life, it’s important to ask: is that change desirable or undesirable? - supposing a universal refuter exists, is he the sort of person one ought to go to, or run from? - could a universal refuter exist? - does one exist now? - has one ever existed? - was Socrates a universal refuter? - perhaps that is due to your own lack of skill - Modes – this made it possible for the Pyrrhonian sceptic to have a school in which Universal Refuters were trained, much as boxers and wrestlers are - the Modes of scepticism seemed to enable the Pyrrhonian sceptic to refute all opinions held by anyone, even his own - without it, refuter might reasonably think that, since he can refute everyone’s opinions except his own, his are right and theirs are wrong; that he is a Wise Man and they are Fools - with self-refutation, the Universal refuter is forced to the view that he has no better idea which opinions are right than anyone else and this self-acknowledged ignorance is what makes him a sceptic - claiming to know that nothing can be known is “dogmatic scepticism”; it is a scepticism that makes an exception for itself - Hallie emphasized the sceptics’ Practical Criterion, according to which their behavior will be guided by nature, feelings, tradition, and instruction in the arts - since reason’s influence will be gone, the sceptic’s behavior will be determined by whatever external influences are present – nature, feelings, tradition, and instruction - tradition’s influence on the sceptic has led people to claim that scepticism is inherently conservative - this claim is strengthened by the later examples of Montaigne and Hume - Pyrrho, Sextus, Montaigne, Bayle, Hume, Wittgenstein were all sceptics - living in different periods, having different intellectual and emotional concerns, and – one must not lose sight of this – employing different arguments in favor of their scepticism, these thinkers prove by their very diversity the richness and vigor of the sceptical tradition - understand both the continuities and the discontinuities in the sceptical tradition with as much penetration and exactitude as possible Preface: - scepticism has been a force in the history of philosophy, despite the fact that so few people know what it is - powerful, appealing position and that is has remained comparatively intact in these two important philosophers, as well as in many others - Greek Scepticism be treated as an important part of the history of Western thought - aids towards understanding Scepticism in relation to Aristotle, Plato, the Stoics, the Epicureans, St Augustine, St Thomas, Montaigne, Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, and others - help put this subtle and perennial movement into the publicly known history of philosophy where it belongs Translator’s Notes: - my chief endeavour, besides accuracy, has been to reproduce in English the dry, pragmatic style of the Greek original Classical Scepticism – A Polemical Introduction: - doubt is the nerve of all fresh and durable thinking - Aristotle linked doubt with wonder and progress in knowledge: men, he said, “wondered original at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters” - it is a feeling of puzzlement or ignorance - every new intellectual movement has its backbone stiffened by its doubts of other movements, as well as by its doubts of itself - it survives and thrives only if it anticipates and answers the doubt of both its enemies and its friends - the more powerful one’s capacity to doubt, the more powerful is one’s intellectual position - Greek Sceptics, doubt criticized or simply ignored more than any other major group of thinkers in the history of Western thought - because of this ignorance of the texts – among other reasons we shall presently be discussing – the word “sceptic” has become a rather empty but highly charged swear- word - Socrates before them doubted more subtly and with more originality and power than they did - Greeks used doubt better than they did, nobody looked at the nerve itself with more curiosity - doubt is dangerous as it is useful - the positive, constructive powers of reason that Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and the Epicureans extolled and exemplified are not potentially so omnivorous as doubt - sceptics – all we have of theirs worth sitting down with are the rather loosely, drily articulated works of a Greek doctor named Empirics - attack and defence, the agon, has a way of helping us to see positions more sharply, at least if the conflict is responsibly conducted Misconception: - the man wielding the stick tells poor Marphurius that a sceptic cannot be sure that he is being hit by a stick, nor can he be sure that he feels pain - Sceptic doubts everything, including his own everyday experience of sticks and pains, lives in total anaesthesia or aphasia - Moliere described the Sceptic as being somebody who “holds himself immobile and indifferent sso that the sleep of death may take him alive; … for there is one true Sceptic, and he insists that nothing is true; and he insists upon it dogmatically - Scepticism is “systematic negation,” “oriental indifference,” and that it sees life as a “vain illusion” - what interest the Greeks primarily was insight into the proper conduct of life - eudemonism  happiness in the conduct of life - what could stupidity and immobility, total indifference to human experience in its ordinary forms, have to do with ethics and action? - surely all anaesthesia could do is get one run over by carts and disqualified from living in human society - philosophical aphasia has nothing at all to do with scepticism as it actually is - the arche, or motivation cause, of Scepticism is the hope of living normally and peacefully without metaphysical dogmatism or fanaticism - this criterion states one should follow “the guidance of nature, the compulsion of the feelings, the tradition of laws and customs, and the instruction of the arts - ataraxia – peaceful living according to the institutions of one’s own country and the dictates of one’s own feelings, experience, and common sense - philosophies wanted tranquillity; a peaceful life - the function of doubt is to make room for a happy everyday life, not to do away with it - this is the “true” function of doubt, at least as far as our greatest authority on Scepticism, Sextus Empiricus, is concerned - the ultimate purpose of Scepticism is to make doubting unnecessary, to let the customs of our country, our needs for food and drink and so forth, and our plain everyday speech take over the direction of our thought and life after the doubting is done - for where there is no universally accepted criterion for deciding who is right and who is wrong, there the offensive and defensive passions of men flare up and spread - contending parties were not, of course, Roman catholic, and so on; they were Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Epicurean - these contenders were hopelessly, endlessly bickering with each other all around the Sceptics - to insist that all the participants are speaking falsely is to join them in their conflict - sceptical doubt is not denial; it is the suspension of judgement, the refusal to assert and the refusal to deny - then he turns his back upon the hole dispute, as well as upon his own suspension of judgement concerning it, and goes back to talking and acting like a civilized, commonsensical man instead of a pedantic dogmatist - scepticism in its classical form neither insisted that nothing is true nor used doubt to destroy normal life - doubt is not a monomaniacal denial but a process having a limited function and a limited subject-matter - true scepticism has two parts: the process of doubting and the Practical Criterion The History of Classical Scepticism: - scepticism ended its history in antiquity by becoming the adopted philosophy of hard- working medical researchers, like Sextus Empiricus himself - our history into three periods: pre-academic, academic, and post academic The Pre-Academics: - Pyrrho and Timon - he did not achieve frame by perfecting a system or even a systematic method; rather, he offered to his followers an agoge, a way of living tat was exemplary - Diogenes Laertius in his entertaining life of Pyrrho - he would not look where he was going, and that only his faithful common-sensical friends kept him alive in the face of his disregard for “carts, precipices, dogs or what not - it is hard for a man to strip himself of his humanity - showed black indifference only to the dogmatism and fanaticism of philosophers - he exercised moderation in the face of the massive, unyielding forces of nature that all men must meet - he pointed out for their instruction a little pug standing there on the deck calmly munching its food, and he told them that the unperturbedness of that pig was the mark of wisdom - moderation keeping our passions under control when confronted with natural forces that are beyond our control - it is a very different matter from the extinction of all awareness, all human sympathy - it is consistent with living a life in a community of men; in fact, it is quite useful for such a life - and the more or less “known” facts of Pyrrho’s life attest to the
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