The Pyrrhonians believed that "ataraxia" can be obtained by suspending judgement upon anything non-evident. They also noted the senses are faulty and the intellect too obscure, to understand and convey truth (see the ten tropes).

But having no beliefs, in any way whatsoever, is very hard to live up to. If I see a car flying towards me, I'm not about to just stand there and debate epistemology with myself, I'm going to get out of the way.

So, are the Pyrrhonians, those great ancient skeptics, wrong about at least a few things? In other words, since they insist they do not dogmatize, but rather record things as they appear, how can they possibly be wrong? Finally, and more importantly, is this the way to 'ataraxia'? I understand it feels very good and it's free.

  • The point of phyrrics, so far as I see it, is not to have no beliefs, but not to be dogmatic about grand philosophical theories - I might be re-reading modern phyronnism aka post-modernity back into history; another way of looking at this is through the Jain doctrine of anekantevada, which asserts that competing philosophies each have some truth in them - they are not completely negatable and nor are they completely affirmable. Jun 21 '14 at 4:50
  • 1+, but please clarify: "So, are the Pyrrhonians, those great ancient skeptics, wrong about at least a few things?" Are you asking if the skeptics may have the false belief that they don't have beliefs? Or, simply, that Pyrrhonians may have some beliefs after all and that at least one of those might be wrong?
    – DBK
    Jun 22 '14 at 21:59
  • to have no believes would imply that you don't believe what is implied by pyrrhonians which would imply that you should infact hold beliefs. It's self-defeating post-modernism all over again. May 6 '15 at 12:06

Actually, the Pyrrhonist position is much more nuanced than that. They do allow for the evidence of the senses and reasonable inferences therefrom. As the saying goes, "if I see smoke, I judge there is fire".

Another way of looking at it is this; what KINDS of judgments are the Pyrrhonists avoiding? Often, it's phrased as avoiding judgment about philosophical things, but this may give the wrong impression about the scope of their epoche.

Have you read Sextus Empricus' Outlines of Pyrrhonism? It may shed more light on the matter. Another good resource is this book which goes into some serious detail about Pyrrhonism. It also compares it with a particular school of Buddhism which helps clarify both schools.

Another interesting angle you could use to shed some light on Pyrrhonism is Phenomenology. While aiming at a different goal, it adopted techniques and language that should be familiar to those versed in Pyrrhonism.

  • Re the rhetorical "what KINDS of judgments are the Pyrrhonists avoiding", what kinds ARE they avoiding? Jun 5 '15 at 4:58

One can ascribe wrongness/rightness to a person's judgement only in those cases where the person in question affirms/denies the truth/falsity of some proposition. If the Pyrrhonians neither affirm nor deny any propositions, then it is impossible for us to attribute them wrongness or rightness.

However, this wouldn't imply that Pyrhhonians can't be wrong if it so happens that they will commit themselves to some proposition. Judging from the extant records, the ancient Pyrhhonians did actually believe in a number of propositions that formed the cornerstone of their philosophical systems.

For example, 'The state of anaraxia is a good state' or 'The intellect is too obscure to make sense of things' are both propositions which can conceivably be accorded truth-values. If the truth-values will transpire to be false, then the Pyrrhonians can be wrong.

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