Sextus was no Eudaimonist

Abstract

Ancient Greek philosophical schools are said to share a common structure in their ethical theories which is characterized by a eudaimonistic teleology based in an understanding of human nature. At first glance, the skepticism of Sextus Empiricus as described in the Outlines of Pyrrhonism seems to fit into this model insofar as he describes the end of the skeptic as ataraxia, a common account of the expression of human happiness. I argue that this is a misunderstanding of Sextus’s philosophy for several reasons. “The end of skepticism” cannot be eudaimonistic or teleological in the way that other ancient ethical theories are typically understood; moreover, ataraxia is not an end derived from a theory about human nature. For these reasons, the skeptical way of life is radically different than the ethical theories proposed by other schools. I argue that this difference is a result of the character of the skeptical enterprise which involves the implicit rejection of norms in both the epistemological and the ethical spheres.

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