Pyrrhonian skeptics are known to (allegedly) suspend judgement on ALL matters, thereby being completely free of all presuppositions.

But could such a skeptic suspend judgment about their own omniscience? Omniscience here being defined as: "The state of knowing everything there is to know."

Given this definition, I'm not sure a pyrrhonian skeptic can actually suspend judgment about their own omniscience. Either:

  1. They actually know everything there is to know, in which case they are omniscient by definition. But a genuine skeptic would be unlikely to make such a claim lest they ceased to be a skeptic.

  2. They do not know everything there is to know, in which case they are not omniscient by definition. But a skeptic would be hard pressed to assert that they lack omniscience, since doing so would require them to judge themselves to be not omniscient. Suspending judgement seems to entail asserting one's own status as not being omniscient.

So in summary, the pyrrhonian skeptic can:

a) Refrain from positively asserting their own omniscience, due to the immodesty of such a claim. But they cannot meaningfully suspend judgment on this question, since either they are omniscient (by virtue of knowing everything) or they are not (by virtue of not knowing everything).

b) Remain agnostic about omniscience as a general conceptual possibility for human beings. But when it comes to their own cognitive state, a skeptic either does or does not meet the definition of omniscience, leaving no meaningful "middle ground" of suspended judgment.

Maybe I'm missing something here. It would strike me as odd that no one ever conceived of that argument against pyrrhonian skepticism - at least I've found nothing about it.

Your thoughts are much appreciated!

  • There an entire section about whether skeptics really "suspend judgement on ALL matters" on the SEP (Sextus Empiricus - 3.4. Does the Skeptic have any beliefs?), with views on either side.
    – NotThatGuy
    Aug 8 at 13:22
  • @NotThatGuy I know this SEP entry and I read Frede's article but it doesn't really touches on the matter at hand. Skeptics may hold "beliefs" in the sense that they acquiesce to what is apparent, habitual, customary etc. But that is primarily a practical decision. Notice how the skeptic drops a belief like "It's day outside." as soon as it becomes a matter of philosophical investigation instead of an involuntary sense perception. An ancient skeptic would also do sacrifice to the gods as a matter of custom while suspending judgement about the existence of gods in a philosophical sense.
    – Numa
    Aug 8 at 14:57
  • @NotThatGuy In short the "beliefs" a pyrrhonian skeptic would hold would arise from the impossibility of non-action and are not at all what we would call belief in a modern epistemologic sense.
    – Numa
    Aug 8 at 14:58
  • 10/10 for attempt! Pyrrhonism is, geologically, very young. I, however, am too old to process all that Pyrrhonism is. How very unfortunate for my friends. Aug 8 at 15:39
  • 1
    @AgentSmith Not sure what you're alluding to but thanks for commenting anyways.
    – Numa
    Aug 8 at 16:28

3 Answers 3


Don't go thinking you can trap ol' Pyrrho with your fancy logic puzzles. I've been around the block enough times to see through these games.

Omniscience? Knowing everything? Bah! No man can claim that, not even great Pyrrho. Though some may call me wise, true wisdom is admitting one's own ignorance. You claim there are only two options - either I know everything or I don't. But you forget the suspension between extremes that frees me from entangling assumptions.

I neither declare myself omniscient nor proclaim my ignorance. To assert anything definitively would be a dogmatic error. I simply continue inquiring with an open mind.

Your "dilemma" relies on the conceit that we can precisely define this supposed state of "omniscience." But have you measured the extent of what is knowable? Can you judge with certainty what constitutes knowledge?

You tie yourself in knots over abstract concepts, when true understanding requires embracing the flux of immediate experience. Stop playing with logic and start observing how little we can grasp. Even defining "knowledge" itself leads to paradox. The more I realize how much I don't know, the more I truly know. This "omniscience" you obsess over is but a shadowy notion.

So cease these idle mental gymnastics, my misguided friend. Join me for a drink and a stroll through the gardens instead. The fresh air and beauty of nature will clear your mind of sophistry. Leave aside fruitless theoretical debates and learn what skeptic inquiry is really about - being fully present in each ephemeral moment. This is the path to tranquility. hic Now where's that wine? My cup runneth empty...


It seems questionable to portray Pyrrhonian skepticism as if it were the conclusion of some argument, such that it could be overcome by some other argument with a different (opposite?) conclusion. And in this case, I don't see why the Pyrrhonian skeptic has to pass some fixed judgment on their own epistemic state. Maybe they flip back and forth inside when it comes to the extent of their knowledge, like some kind of application of the revision theory of truth to the knower paradox: at revision stage 1, they perceive themselves as relatively omniscient, at stage 2 they perceive themselves as suspending judgment about this relative omniscience, at stage 3 they're back to the former perception, and so on and on ad indefinitum. (See e.g. Lee[98].)

Then they never have a stable "knowledge value," just like the liar sentence lacks a stable truth value (on the revision theory), but isn't that the kind of standpoint that the Pyrrhonian skeptic is aiming for anyway?


Your logic doesn't stack-up. Skeptics see arguments for and against the possibility of things being true, and suspend judgement as a consequence. Why should they be forced to come off the fence in relation to the question of whether they know all there is to know? Why can't they adopt the same position in relation to that question as they do to all others?

Maybe I know everything there is to know. On the other hand, if there was something I didn't know, I might not know that I didn't know it. Given that, I had better keep an open mind about whether my knowledge is complete.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .