Greek Scepticism

Greek Scepticism: Anti-Realist Trends in Ancient Thought

Leo Groarke
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Greek Scepticism
    Book Description:

    In Greek Scepticism Leo Groarke presents a more sympathetic and accurate account of Greek scepticism and its relevance to modern and contemporary thought. He begins with an account of the development of scepticism in pre-Socratic times and concludes with a discussion of the relationship of scepticism to modern and contemporary epistemology. Groarke argues that the sceptics posed the problems central to both ancient and modern epistemology, and that in fact scepticism is the ancient analogue of anti-realist trends which are thought to be uniquely modern. He also shows that scepticism is not simply negative, but offers a positive philosophy which mitigates the sceptical critique of knowledge.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6244-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. I Toward a New Interpretation of the Sceptics
    (pp. 3-30)

    In the “Polemical Introduction” to his 1968 collection of selections Sextus Empiricus, Philip P. Hallie complains that philosophers have deprived the wordscepticismof its true meaning, making it “a rather empty but highly charged swear word.” There have been some significant developments in our understanding of the sceptics since he made that charge but the present book still substantiates his suggestion that they “have been fallaciously criticized or simply ignored,” more than any significant group of thinkers in the history Western thought.¹ In this chapter, we begin by introducing the sceptics, the main features of the interpretation that will...

  7. II Greek Epistemology before the Rise of Scepticism
    (pp. 31-48)

    Traditionally, the founders of Greek scepticism are said to be Pyrrho and Arcesilaus, both of whom founded later schools of scepticism. Their views, however, reflect prevailing themes and currents rather than original inquiry. In the present chapter, we trace the questions that motivate their philosophies, emphasizing the relevance of pre-Socratic thought to ancient and modern epistemology.

    It should be noted that many commentators look for the origins of scepticism in earlier claims that truth is difficult or impossible to know. Sedley, for example, argues that sceptical claims come first, and that reasons are then collected to support them.¹ In contrast,...

  8. III Rise of Scepticism
    (pp. 49-80)

    Historically, scepticism is the culmination of three trends in the views of the sceptics’ immediate forerunners. The first is a critique of realism. The second is the adoption of more subjective (anti-realist) notions of belief. The third is a commitment to the moral and psychological goal of equanimity. We have already discussed the first two trends in pre-Socratic thought. To see how they continue to evolve, to see how opposition becomes a vehicle for establishing equanimity, and to set the stage for scepticism, we need to turn to those philosophers who play important roles in the birth of scepticism.


  9. IV Pyrrho and Early Pyrrhonism
    (pp. 81-97)

    The most important school of ancient scepticism originates with Pyrrho. According to our sources, he is given a bad start by Metrodorus (Eus. 7650), studies with Anaxarchus in Alexander’s court, and admires Democritus above all others (D.L. 9.67). Such influences are very much in keeping with the details of his philosophy, which is a natural extension of the anti-realist side of Democritean thinking (Indian influence is also to be granted, but its importance has been exaggerated).¹ The standard prejudices suggest that Pyrrho and his followers adopt an unmitigated, self-defeating scepticism. We

    shall see that it is a mitigated scepticism that...

  10. V Scepticism in the Academy
    (pp. 98-123)

    Academic scepticism (and the “New” Academy)¹ begins with Arcesilaus. Born in Pitane in Aeolis, he is said to have studied mathematics, poetry, and philosophy, and to have become the head of the Academy Crates died in 262 B.C. Timon asserts that he mixed “sound sense with wily cavils.” Anecdotes point to a keen intellect and a sharp tongue.² Plutarch describes him as “the best loved” philosopher of the (Ad Col1121F).

    To understand how scepticism beomes a part of the Academy, we must recall that many ancient thinkers see Plato differently than we do. Rather than Stress his commitment to...

  11. VI Later Pyrrhonism
    (pp. 124-142)

    The Academy’s drift away from scepticism begins with Clitomachus’ successor, Philo of Larissa. He still attacks Stoic epistemology (PH1.235) but attempts to construe the New Academy as a continuation of the Old (Ac1.13, cf.Ac2.13-18), apparently holding that knowledge is least in theory possible (cf.PH1.35, Stob. 2.7.2). The drift to dogmatism becomes afait accompliwhen Philo’s own successor, Antiochus, renounces the New Academy, adopting many Stoic views.¹

    One result of these developments is Aenesidemus’ defection from Academy in the early years of the first century B.C. “The Academics,” he says, “especially the ones now, sometimes agree...

  12. VII Ancient Scepticism and Modern Epistemology
    (pp. 143-154)

    Our account of later Pyrrhonism completes the present history of the sceptics. From a general point of view, it suggests that the uniqueness of modern and contemporary epistemology has been exaggerated, that ancient philosophers had a long and involved debate on the possibility of realist epistemology, and that ancient scepticism and the views of some of its predecessors are a precursor to modern antirealism. In this chapter, we briefly look at ancient scepticism in the context of modern, and especially contemporary, thought. Scepticism, we shall see, is a plausible alternative to modern and contemporary epistemology.

    The connection between scepticism and...

  13. APPENDIX: Flourishing Dates of Ancient Thinkers
    (pp. 155-156)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 157-164)
    (pp. 165-172)
  16. General Index
    (pp. 173-176)