The writings of Sextus Empiricus are the only surviving texts that expound the view of the Pyrrhonian Skeptical movement of ancient times. The movement takes its name from Pyrrho of Elis (c. 367-275 b.c.e.), who doubted that there is any way by which one can attain knowledge. He urged that judgment be suspended as to whether any particular assertion is true or false. He argued that to suspend judgment leads to a state of indifference toward the world and to a kind of inner tranquillity that enables one to live at peace in a troubled world.
The actual school of Pyrrhonian thought began much later, in the first century b.c.e. It developed out of the radical Skepticism that had been prevalent in Plato’s Academy under Arcesilaus and Carneades. The Academic Skeptics developed a series of brilliant arguments to show that nothing can be known; they recommended that one live by probabilities. The Pyrrhonists regarded the Academics as too dogmatic, and the former maintained their doubts, even about the skeptical contention that nothing can be known. Starting with Aenesidemus, who had been a student at the Academy, the Pyrrhonian movement developed in Alexandria, primarily among medical doctors. Aenesidemus and his successors set forth a series of arguments against various dogmatic philosophies, including the Academic Skeptics. The arguments purported to show that every dogmatic attempt to gain knowledge leads to difficulties that cannot be resolved. Instead of...
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