Firstly, Sextus states: "By way of preface let us say that on none of the matters to be discussed do we affirm that things certainly are just as we say they are: rather, we report descriptively on each item according to how it appears to us at the time,” (PH 1.4). Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/philosophy/comments/9fjyia/some_further_rough_and_loose_notes_on_pyrrho_or/

Isn't he making a determination that "we report descriptively", or does he say this with his judgment suspended about whether or not it's true or false?

I don't think I have a very good grasp on this philosophy because I feel as though I am so fixated on determining weather things are true or false that it is corrupting my mind. I really like his basic idea that the attempt is to reach tranquility by suspending judement (in certain areas?), I would really like to know.

Anywhere I can read about his translations without the commentary of a contemporary scholar would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

  • are you deliberately misunderstanding the phrase? idt there is anything self contradictory about saying "i'm not sure". i seem fairly able to suspend judgment, anyway. maybe it would help if you included reference to a descripton where SE does not seem to have suspended judgment as to it certainly being the case
    – user70707
    Commented Jan 8 at 0:52
  • @halp you are asserting (i.e. your sure) that "i'm not sure" so your both sure and not sure
    – Fraser Pye
    Commented Jan 8 at 0:56
  • 1
    this again! are you deliberately finding as many infinte regresses as possible to puzzle over? afaik, it's a pseudo contradiction. maybe you should ask "is SE sure that he lacks certainty in his descriptions"
    – user70707
    Commented Jan 8 at 0:58
  • 1
    @halp I have no clue anymore, I'm hoping someone can help
    – Fraser Pye
    Commented Jan 8 at 1:04
  • ok i'll add an answer. thanks for not biting me
    – user70707
    Commented Jan 8 at 1:06

3 Answers 3


some meta-sentences of this type can lead to paradoxes. "This is a sentence." can be considered to be a self-referential meta-sentence which is obviously true. However "This sentence is false" is a meta-sentence which leads to a self-referential paradox.


So self reference need not be problematic, it seems.

  • I doubt everything

You can doubt that too or, alternatively, construct a belief that you doubt everything except that you doubt things. It seems fairly straight-forward?

This reminds of empiricism and the charge of it being self refuting, by e.g. Russell


Of course it isn't logically self refuting, but it is weakened by self reference.

In what way is Sextus Empiricus weakened by the claim that he might be certain that he is unsure of the world? Not in any meaingful way, I would suggest.


Did you actually read the book, which I've heard of, but not had the time to peruse?

Sextus Empericus is (was?) a big name, just a few thousand suns ago, had the good sense, or was it sheer luck?, to record for posterity Pyrrho's sum-up of philosophy, as she is practiced.

I suppose it all boils down to some combo of isms.


From what I can understand, you have nailed it spot on.

People often times make claims that we can assert, or be sure, that we are to avoid assertions, or be unsure. The easiest way to see the philosophical exercise is via skepticism and even existentialism. Nihilism can creep its way in as well. In fact, if we see someone being the skeptically nihilistic existentialist, surely, we will never be able to get them to understand that their dedication to being anti-assertive is nothing but an assertion.

When one rejects this, they often times display cognitive dissonance, which is in reference to some sort of dissociation as per the matter at hand. It's truly an interesting expression but in my observation, I see no benefit from it, rather, it solely serves as a quantification that perpetuates fragmentation.

In regard to Sextus, I personally have not read his works, yet it seems to me he is following the lines of Socrates when he suggested: "The wise man knows that he knows nothing." (Paraphrase of: "I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.) Surely, this paradox is evident and frankly, not beneficial to wisdom nor knowledge, as by definition they both require each other. The only way this would not be the case, is if we are to eliminate the requirements of knowledge from the literal defining expression of wisdom. While Socrates has contributed greatly to philosophy, I'd argue this claim came from a stance of desperation. Perhaps a bridge to ensure that the "madman" does not truly seem as mad as he may be, as per the lens placed upon him via those around. I make this suggestion as we could potentially correlate the quote with his trial around 399BC. Unfortunately, I could not find an exact date regarding when the quote was uttered or even written.

To provide a direct and simple answer to your question, perhaps a cross analysis of Sextus and Socrates could be of benefit. You could do this yourself by trying to find the written works online. Internet archive is a great source for free literary access in regard to texts new and old. I use it frequently. Some further notes, the fixation of understanding truth and falsehood is nothing to be concerned about in a negative manner, on the contrary, we can see that such things are virtuous, as per Aristotles virtue ethics. It takes courage and even proper ambition to engage in such an endeavor. To provide you with a short little nugget of wisdom, that you may take as knowledge:

"Do not reject that which you know, for we may know many things, despite what those around suggest. Knowing is not ignorance, rather, it is the striving for certainty. To strive is not bad, nor is it going to destroy anything other than delusion so long as truth is understood in entirety. The only true rejection of such facts is the notion that there is no such thing as truth, to which I laugh and say, then have fun, you'll need it."

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