Richard Bett presents a ground-breaking study of Pyrrho of Elis, who lived in the late fourth and early third centuries BC and is the supposed originator of Greek scepticism. In the absence of surviving works by Pyrrho, scholars have tended to treat his thought as essentially the same as the long subsequent sceptical tradition which styled itself 'Pyrrhonism'. Bett argues, on the contrary, that Pyrrho's philosophy was significantly different from this later tradition, and offers the first detailed account of that (...) philosophy in this light. Bett considers why Pyrrho was adopted as the figurehead for that tradition: his answer suggests that we should distinguish two phases within Pyrrhonism, of which the initial phase is much closer to Pyrrho's own thought than is the better-known later phase. Bett also investigates the origins and antecedents of Pyrrho's ideas; in particular, Plato is singled out as an important inspiration. The result is the first comprehensive picture of this key figure in the development of philosophy. The new claims that Bett puts forward have major implications for the history and interpretation of ancient Greek thought. (shrink)
This volume offers a comprehensive survey of the main periods, schools, and individual proponents of scepticism in the ancient Greek and Roman world. The contributors examine the major developments chronologically and historically, ranging from the early antecedents of scepticism to the Pyrrhonist tradition. They address the central philosophical and interpretive problems surrounding the sceptics' ideas on subjects including belief, action, and ethics. Finally, they explore the effects which these forms of scepticism had beyond the ancient period, and the ways in (...) which ancient scepticism differs from scepticism as it has been understood since Descartes. The volume will serve as an accessible and wide-ranging introduction to the subject for non-specialists, while also offering considerable depth and detail for more advanced readers. (shrink)
Sextus Empiricus' Against the Logicians is by far the most detailed surviving examination by any ancient Greek sceptic of the areas of epistemology and logic. It critically examines the pretensions of non-sceptical philosophers to have discovered methods for determining the truth, either through direct observation or by inference from the observed to the unobserved. It is therefore a fine example of the Pyrrhonist sceptical method at work. It also provides a mine of information about the ideas of other Greek thinkers, (...) ideas that are in many cases poorly preserved in other sources. This volume presents Against the Logicians in a new and accurate translation, together with a detailed introduction that sets the work in its philosophical context. (shrink)
This volume contains a translation into clear modern English of an unjustly neglected work by Sextus Empiricus, together with introduction and extensive commentary. Sextus is our main source for the doctrines and arguments of ancient Scepticism; in Against the Ethicists he sets out a distinctive Sceptic position in ethics.
What was it like to be a practitioner of Pyrrhonist skepticism? This important volume brings together for the first time a selection of Richard Bett's essays on ancient Pyrrhonism, allowing readers a better understanding of the key aspects of this school of thought. The volume examines Pyrrhonism's manner of self-presentation, including its methods of writing, its desire to show how special it is, and its use of humor; it considers Pyrrhonism's argumentative procedures regarding specific topics, such as signs, space, or (...) the Modes; and it explores what it meant in practice to live as a Pyrrhonist, including the kind of ethical outlook which Pyrrhonism might allow and, in general, the character of a skeptical life - and how far these might strike us as feasible or desirable. It also shows how Pyrrhonism often raises questions that matter to us today, both in our everyday lives and in our philosophical reflection. (shrink)
This chapter, which analyses the ethical theories of Greek sceptic Sextus Empiricus, begins by considering other sceptical figures who preceded Sextus, both for their intrinsic interest and to set the context for Sextus's work. These include Pyrrho, Arcesilaus of Pitane, Carneades of Cyrene, and Philo of Larissa. The chapter then examines surviving works of Sextus Empiricus, the best known being Outlines of Pyrrhonism.
Ancient sceptics, unlike their modern counterparts, claim to live their scepticism. Nowadays scepticism, whether epistemological, moral, or of any other variety, is seen as a purely theoretical position, with no direct bearing on the actual living of one’s life; this is because philosophical theories and everyday attitudes are taken to be in some way “insulated” from one another. Serious questions may be raised about the character of this alleged “insulation,” but these are not my present concern; the fact is that (...) no such split between “the philosophical” and “the ordinary” was entertained in the ancient world. It follows that the viability of scepticism as a way of life is a crucial issue for ancient sceptics. It is no accident that one of the most enduring objections to ancient scepticism is to the effect that the sceptical attitude—that is, the posture of universal suspension of judgement—is incompatible with any kind of normal human action; this was known in antiquity as the charge of apraxia, “inaction.” The sceptics for their part, were just as persistent in arguing that suspension of judgement had no such damaging consequences. In as much as the assessment of actual or imaginable types of human life is the province of ethics, I take this debate between ancient sceptics and their detractors to be, in a broad sense, an ethical debate. (shrink)
Sextus Empiricus' Against the Physicists examines numerous topics central to ancient Greek inquiries into the nature of the physical world, covering subjects such as god, cause and effect, whole and part, bodies, place, motion, time, number, coming into being and perishing and is the most extensive surviving treatment of these topics by an ancient Greek sceptic. Sextus scrutinizes the theories of non-sceptical thinkers and generates suspension of judgement through the assembly of equally powerful opposing arguments. Richard Bett's edition provides crucial (...) background information about the text and elucidation of difficult passages. His accurate and readable translation is supported by substantial interpretative aids, including a glossary and a list of parallel passages relating Against the Physicists to other works by Sextus. This is an indispensable edition for advanced students and scholars studying this important work by an influential philosopher. (shrink)
ABSTRACT This article examines Nietzsche's interest in and appeal to the Romans in both his published and unpublished work. In most cases he shows little interest in specific figures from ancient Roman politics or military history, literature, or philosophy. Julius Caesar is the conspicuous exception among politicians and generals; he figures among Nietzsche's very short list of truly great human beings. In the literary and philosophical sphere, the major exceptions are Horace and Petronius, but the latter only at the end (...) of his working life. He admires both writers, Petronius especially, and this attitude is connected in some ways with his general estimation of the Romans. His attitude to the Romans in general becomes increasingly positive, and they serve in his writing increasingly as a foil for Christianity, over the course of his career, culminating in The Antichrist. (shrink)
The paper examines whether Gorgias’ On What Is Not should be considered an instance of skepticism. It begins with an analysis of the work as reported by the two sources, Sextus Empiricus and the anonymous author of On Melissus, Xenophanes and Gorgias. It is then argued that the Pyrrhonian skeptics did not regard On What Is Not as skeptical. Nonetheless, it is possible to read the work as offering counter-arguments to Parmenides, with a view to inducing suspension of judgment in (...) Pyrrhonian fashion. However, it is also possible to regard it as skeptical in a sense current in modern philosophy: that is, as posing challenges to our understanding of things with a view to forcing philosophers to come up with better theories. In this light, it can be seen as an important stimulus to the philosophical breakthroughs apparent in Plato’s Sophist. (shrink)
The opening chapter of this book presents the skepticism of Sextus Empiricus as far more interesting than any of the varieties of skepticism typically discussed today. It is claimed that the skeptic in Sextus’s understanding quite generally “denies our claim to have rationally justified beliefs” ; by contrast, contemporary skeptical worries about whether we can really have knowledge—whatever exactly that amounts to—are stigmatized as absurdly trivial, and also out of touch with skepticism’s historical origins. The remainder of the book promises (...) to justify this interpretation of Sextus’s skepticism, and to show that such a skepticism is not subject to the standard objections that it would be self-refuting and unlivable. (shrink)
Many of us have a prereflective sense--or at least, a hope--that there are reasons to be moral which apply to an agent regardless of what his or her existing motivations may be. The view that there are no such reasons may, then, be regarded as a form of moral scepticism. The philosophical position which seems most fit to refute this form of moral scepticism, and hence to support our prereflective sense, is a Kantian view of morality, according to which we (...) are required to be moral solely in virtue of being rational. I examine a number of recent arguments for this position; I conclude that all of them fail, and for similar reasons. Nor, I argue, is there any non-Kantian view which could succeed at the same task. It is thus very tempting to infer that this form of moral scepticism is immune to any simple refutation. However, perhaps the best way to combat scepticism is not to argue for its negation--as do the positions examined so far--but to show that there is something problematic in the sceptic's whole approach to the issue. At this point I turn for enlightenment to an analogy with epistemological scepticism. Here, too, if we try to argue for the negation of scepticism, we seem bound to fail; but here the more subtle strategy of attacking the sceptic's whole approach has actually been attempted. I sketch a number of versions of this more subtle strategy; I then sketch some analogous responses to moral scepticism, and consider whether any of them are successful. I argue that the attempt fails--that even if epistemological scepticism is indeed amenable to this kind of treatment , moral scepticism is not. This conclusion is only strengthened when I argue that another, related strategy, which employs an analogy between morality and mathematics, also falls short at the same point. Moral scepticism therefore survives intact. The appropriate reaction, I suggest, is neither complete despair nor complete equanimity. (shrink)
Machine generated contents note: Abbreviations; Introduction; Note on the text and translation; Outline of argument; Book 1; Book 2; Glossary; List of names; Parallels between Against the Physicists and other works of Sextus; Bibliography.