In this introductory chapter, I not only present the essays that make up this volume but also I offer an extensive critical overview of moral skepticism with the hope that it will turn out to be useful particularly to the uninitiated reader. I first provide a taxonomy of varieties of moral skepticism, then discuss the main arguments advanced in their favor, and finally summarize the ten essays here collected, which deal with one or more of those skeptical stances and arguments.
There are at least three different genealogical accounts of morality: the ontogenetic, the sociohistorical, and the evolutionary. One can thus construct, in principle, three distinct genealogical debunking arguments of morality, i.e., arguments that appeal to empirical data, or to an empirical hypothesis, about the origin of morality to undermine either its ontological foundation or the epistemic credentials of our moral beliefs. The genealogical account that has been, particularly since the early 2000s, the topic of a burgeoning line of inquiry in (...) the metaethical literature is the one that explains the origin of moral thinking by appealing to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection. For this reason, when it comes to genealogical debunking arguments, it is various types of evolutionary debunking argument (EDA) that are the focus of the current debate between moral skeptics and moral realists. Evolutionary moral debunkers maintain that the capacity to make moral judgments is an evolved trait—a view accepted by most of their detractors. They maintain, in addition, that such a capacity is an adaptation—i.e., a trait selected for because it enhances reproduction and survival—and not merely either a by-product of an adaptation or an evolutionary accident—a view accepted by fewer of their detractors. Roughly put, the thrust of EDAs is that biological evolution is aimed, not at moral belief-forming processes that are reliable, but at moral belief-forming processes that are adaptive. In other words, the evolutionary function of those processes is not that of tracking the moral truth: their general success at matching or accurately representing allegedly objective or attitude-independent moral facts, properties, or truths explains neither their emergence nor their persistence. Humans are therefore disposed to make moral judgments regardless of the evidence to which they are exposed, regardless of whether there are or are not objective moral facts, properties, or truths. In the contemporary scene, the most important and influential EDAs are those advanced by Richard Joyce and Sharon Street. Although Joyce’s EDA is more elaborate than Street’s inasmuch as it is based on a detailed evolutionary account of morality, it is Street’s EDA that has received the most attention among those seeking to defend moral realism against EDAs. If an EDA can establish at most an epistemological conclusion, then it could be argued that Joyce’s argument (at least the version defended in his later works) is superior to Street’s given that the conclusion of the former is epistemological whereas that of the latter is ontological. Indeed, while Joyce’s EDA is taken to support epistemological moral skepticism, according to which our moral beliefs are epistemically unjustified, Street’s is taken to support moral anti-realism (moral constructivism in particular), according to which attitude-independent moral facts do not exist. (shrink)
After presenting the current situation of epistemological research in Latin America and part of its history, this entry will address five topics: skepticism (especially in its Pyrrhonian stripe), core epistemology, formal epistemology, Wittgenstein’s thought in connection with epistemology and skepticism, and epistemology of law. It should be noted from the outset that the entry does not purport to provide a comprehensive account of epistemology in Latin America, but rather to paint a general picture of it by focusing on the main (...) issues that have been discussed within that field. (shrink)
It has been claimed that a key difference between ancient and contemporary skepticism is that, unlike the ancient skeptics, contemporary skeptics consider ordinary beliefs to be insulated from skeptical doubt. In the case of metaethics, this issue is related to the following question: what attitude towards ordinary moral thought and discourse should one adopt if one is a moral skeptic? Whereas moral abolitionists claim that one should do away with ordinary moral thought and discourse altogether, moral fictionalists maintain that, given (...) that morality produces practical benefits, one should continue to make moral utterances and have moral thoughts, while at the same time refraining from asserting such utterances and believing such thoughts. Focusing particularly on Mackie’s skeptical stance, the present essay considers whether the view that first-order moral beliefs are unaffected by moral skepticism is defensible, whether moral fictionalism is compatible with moral insulation, and whether contemporary moral skeptics are in general committed to there being insulation between first- and second-order levels. (shrink)
Skepticism: From Antiquity to the Present is an authoritative and up-to-date survey of the entire history of skepticism. Divided chronologically into ancient, medieval, renaissance, modern, and contemporary periods, and featuring 50 specially-commissioned chapters from leading philosophers, this comprehensive volume is the first of its kind.
My purpose in this article is to revisit an issue concerning the state of undisturbedness or tranquility (ἀταραξία) in ancient Pyrrhonism as this skeptical stance is depicted in Sextus Empiricus’s extant works. The issue in question is whether both the pursuit and the attainment of undisturbedness in matters of opinion should be regarded as defining features of Pyrrhonism not merely from a systematic standpoint that examines Pyrrhonism as a kind of philosophy, but mainly according to Sextus’s own account of that (...) skeptical stance. In exploring this issue, I will develop an interpretation defended in previous work, responding to some objections, discussing alternative interpretations, offering further textual support, and putting forward new arguments. It is my contention that examining whether both the pursuit and the attainment of undisturbedness in matters of opinion are essential to Pyrrhonism will make it possible to gain a more accurate understanding of this brand of skepticism. (shrink)
This paper argues for the following three claims. First, the Agrippan mode from disagreement does not play a secondary role in inducing suspension of judgment. Second, the Pyrrhonist is not committed to the criteria of justification underlying the Five Modes of Agrippa, which nonetheless does not prevent him from non-doxastically assenting to them. And third, some recent objections to Agrippan Pyrrhonism raised by analytic epistemologists and experimental philosophers fail to appreciate the Pyrrhonist's ad hominem style of argumentation and the real (...) challenge posed by the mode from disagreement. (shrink)
An objection that has been raised to the conciliatory stance on the epistemic significance of peer disagreement known as the Equal Weight View is that it is self-defeating, self-undermining, or self-refuting. The proponent of that view claims that equal weight should be given to all the parties to a peer dispute. Hence, if one of his epistemic peers defends the opposite view, he is required to give equal weight to the two rival views, thereby undermining his confidence in the correctness (...) of the Equal Weight View. It seems that the same objection could be leveled against those who claim to suspend judgment in the face of pervasive unresolvable disagreements, as do the Pyrrhonian skeptics. In this paper, I explore the kind of response to the objection that could be offered from a neo-Pyrrhonian perspective, with the aim of better understanding the intriguing character of Pyrrhonian skepticism. (shrink)
La présente étude a deux objectifs. Le premier est d’examiner les différentes formulations de l’objection de l’ἀπραξία telle qu’elle fut soulevée contre le scepticisme académicien et le pyrrhonisme, ainsi que les réponses à cette objection proposées par Arcésilas et Sextus Empiricus. Le second objectif consiste à évaluer la force de la version de l’objection de l’ἀπραξία selon laquelle le sceptique ne peut réaliser les actions rationnelles propres à l’être humain.
In his account of Pyrrhonism, Sextus Empiricus talks about the disturbance concerning matters of opinion that afflicts his dogmatic rivals and that he himself was afflicted by before his conversion to Pyrrhonism. The aim of the present paper is to identify the distinct sources of doxastic disturbance that can be found in that account, and to determine whether and, if so, how they are related. The thesis to be defended is that it is possible to discern three sources of doxastic (...) disturbance and that two of them are to be explained by reference to the third, which is the real cause of mental distress. The paper also considers whether the thesis in question entails that there is no reason for the Pyrrhonist to suspend judgment across the board, but only to suspend judgment about evaluative matters. (shrink)
My aim in this short essay is both to critically examine the nature and extent of Jonathan Matheson's disagreement-based skepticism in his book, The Epistemic Significance of Disagreement, and to consider three ways not discussed by him in which disagreement may pose, or contribute to posing, skeptical challenges. The essay will therefore be organized around four issues.
In his Pyrrhonian Outlines , Sextus Empiricus employs an argument based upon the possibility of disagreement in order to show that one should not assent to a Dogmatic claim to which at present one cannot oppose a rival claim. The use of this argument seems to be at variance with the Pyrrhonian stance, both because it does not seem to accord with the definition of Skepticism and because the argument appears to entail that the search for truth is doomed to (...) failure. In the present paper, I examine the passages in which Sextus utilizes the argument from possible disagreement and offer an interpretation that makes the use of this argument compatible with the Pyrrhonian outlook. (shrink)
My purpose in this paper is to examine whether Pyrrhonian skepticism, as this stance is described in Sextus Empiricus’s extant works, has practical or epistemic value. More precisely, I would like to consider whether the Pyrrhonist’s suspension of judgment (ἐποχή) and undisturbedness (ἀταραξία) can be deemed to be of practical or epistemic value. By ‘practical’ value I mean both moral value and prudential value. Moral value refers to moral rightness and wrongness; prudential value to the value of well-being, personal or (...) social. Hence, when I ask whether the Pyrrhonist’s suspension and undisturbedness have practical value, I mean whether they make us behave in a manner that is morally right or wrong, and whether they allow us to attain those goals that would make it possible to live well. As for ‘epistemic’ value, it refers basically to the values of attaining truth and avoiding error. Hence, when I ask whether the Pyrrhonist’s suspension has epistemic value, I mean whether it allows us to attain truth and avoid error. My main focus will be the practical value of both suspension and undisturbedness because this is the value on which ancient philosophy scholars critical of Pyrrhonism have laid emphasis. The reason for examining the epistemic value of suspension is that doing so will enable a fuller assessment of the significance of Pyrrhonism as a kind of philosophy, which is my primary concern. (shrink)
In this introductory chapter, I first offer an overview of the two themes addressed in the present collection - namely, disagreement and skepticism - and their connection, then present the purpose and content of the volume.
The purpose of the present paper is twofold. First, to examine what beliefs, if any, underlie (a) the Pyrrhonist’s desire for ataraxia and his account of how this state may be attained, and (b) his philanthropic therapy, which seeks to induce, by argument, ejpochv and ataraxia in the Dogmatists. Second, to determine whether the Pyrrhonist’s philanthropy and his search for and attainment of ataraxia are, as scholars have generally believed, essential aspects of his stance.
In this paper, I critically engage with Casey Perin's interpretation of Sextan Pyrrhonism in his book, The Demands of Reason: An Essay on Pyrrhonian Scepticism. From an approach that is both exegetical and systematic, I explore a number of issues concerning the Pyrrhonist's inquiry into truth, his alleged commitment to the canons of rationality, and his response to the apraxia objection.
The question of whether the Pyrrhonist adheres to certain logical principles, criteria of justification, and inference rules is of central importance for the study of Pyrrhonism. Its significance lies in that, whereas the Pyrrhonist describes his philosophical stance and argues against the Dogmatists by means of what may be considered a rational discourse, adherence to any such principles, criteria, and rules does not seem compatible with the radical character of his skepticism. Hence, if the Pyrrhonist does endorse them, one must (...) conclude that he is inconsistent in his outlook. Despite its import, the question under consideration has not received, in the vast literature on Pyrrhonism of the past three decades, all the attention it deserves. In the present paper, I do not propose to provide a full examination of the Pyrrhonist’s attitude towards rationality, but to focus on the question of whether he endorses the law of non-contradiction (LNC). However, I will also briefly tackle the question of the Pyrrhonist’s outlook on both the canons of rational justification at work in the so-called Five Modes of Agrippa and the logical rules of inference. In addition, given that the LNC is deemed a fundamental principle of rationality, determining the Pyrrhonist’s attitude towards it will allow us to understand his general attitude towards rationality. (shrink)
It is sometimes claimed that conciliatory views on disagreement ultimately lead to either global or widespread scepticism. This is deemed to be a serious problem for conciliationism either because scepticism of either kind is a patently untenable stance or because it poses a serious threat to our intellectual and social lives. In this paper, I first argue that the alleged untenability of both types of scepticism is far from being obvious and should therefore be established rather than taken for granted, (...) and then that those who reject them because of the threat they pose surprisingly confuse pragmatic reasons with epistemic reasons. (shrink)
This paper approaches the current epistemological debate on peer disagreement from a neo-Pyrrhonian perspective, thus adopting a form of skepticism which is more radical than those discussed in the literature. It makes use of argumentative strategies found in ancient Pyrrhonism both to show that such a debate rests on problematic assumptions and to block some maneuvers intended to offer an efficacious way of settling a considerable number of peer disputes. The essay takes issue with three views held in the peer (...) disagreement debate: there is an objective fact of the matter about at least most controversial questions; we possess theory-neutral evidence bearing on those questions which grants us access to the truth of the matter; and many peer controversies are resolved by attending to which disputant has correctly evaluated the objective evidence. With respect to the first two views, it is argued that the belief in both objective facts and theory-neutral evidence is subject to fierce dispute, and should not therefore be taken for granted in the discussion of peer disagreement. As for the third view, it is argued that from either a first- or a third-person perspective, there seems to be epistemic symmetry between the disputants which makes it necessary to suspend judgment. (shrink)
The Pyrrhonist’s argumentative practice is characterized by at least four features. First, he makes a therapeutic use of arguments: he employs arguments that differ in their persuasiveness in order to cure his dogmatic patients of the distinct degrees of conceit and rashness that afflict them. Secondly, his arguments are for the most part dialectical: when offering an argument to oppose it to another argument advanced by a given dogmatist, he accepts in propria persona neither the truth of its premises and (...) conclusion nor the validity of its logical form. Thirdly, he avails himself of arguments in his own open-minded inquiry into the truth about a wide range of topics. Fourthly, Pyrrhonian argumentation is oppositional inasmuch as it typically works by producing oppositions among arguments that appear to the Pyrrhonist to be equipollent. In this article, I focus on the first three features with the aim of both shedding some light on them and determining whether they are in tension or coherently relate to each other. (shrink)
The present paper has two, interrelated objectives. The first is to analyze the different senses in which arguments are characterized as persuasive in the extant writings of Sextus Empiricus. The second is to examine the Pyrrhonist’s therapeutic use of arguments in the discussion with his Dogmatic rivals – more precisely, to determine the sense and basis of Sextus’ distinction between therapeutic arguments that appear weighty and therapeutic arguments that appear weak in their persuasiveness.
Pyrrhonism was one of the two main ancient skeptical traditions. In this second paper of the three‐part series devoted to ancient skepticism, I present and discuss some of the issues on Pyrrhonian skepticism which have been the focus of much attention in the recent literature. The topics to be addressed concern the outlooks of Pyrrho, Aenesidemus, and Sextus Empiricus.
In recent years, there has been renewed interest in Pyrrhonism among both philosophers and historians of philosophy. This skeptical tradition is complex and multifaceted, since the Pyrrhonian arguments have been put into the service of different enterprises or been approached in relation to interests which are quite distinct. The diversity of conceptions and uses of Pyrrhonism accounts for the diversity of the challenges it is deemed to pose and of the attempts to meet them. The present volume brings together twelve (...) essays by leading specialists which explore the history and philosophical significance of this form of skepticism: they discuss some thorny questions concerning ancient Pyrrhonism, explore its influence on certain modern thinkers, and examine it in relation to contemporary analytic philosophy. The essays combine historical and exegetical analysis with an assessment of the philosophical merits of the Pyrrhonian outlook, with the aim of understanding it both in its historical context and in connection with contemporary concerns. This volume, the first entirely devoted to a detailed study of the Pyrrhonian tradition, is intended to open up new exegetical and philosophical perspectives on Pyrrhonism and to motivate further examination of certain difficult issues. It will be a valuable resource for scholars of ancient philosophy, historians of modern philosophy, and epistemologists, as well as for graduate students interested in skepticism. (shrink)
The purpose of this paper is twofold: to discuss some challenging issues concerning Sextus’ works and outlook, and to offer an overview of the influence exerted by Sextan Pyrrhonism on both early modern and contemporary philosophy.
Le scepticisme est une véritable constante de l’histoire de la philosophie depuis l’Antiquité. En se nourrissant des désaccords philosophiques, il ne cesse de se transformer pour mieux remettre en cause les certitudes du dogmatisme. Ce volume présente des contributions en langue française de spécialistes de la pensée sceptique dans l’antiquité, domaine qui s’est considérablement développé ces dernières années. Les études ici présentées portent aussi bien sur le pyrrhonisme que sur la nouvelle Académie ou l’empirisme médical ; elles utilisent une variété (...) d’approches (analytique, systématique et historiographique), toutes dans le même but : mieux comprendre l’énigme de la pensée sceptique. (shrink)
It is generally thought that suspension of judgment about a proposition p is the doxastic attitude one is rationally compelled to adopt whenever the epistemic reasons for and against p are equipollent or equally credible, that is, whenever the total body of available evidence bearing on p epistemically justifies neither belief nor disbelief in p. However, in a recent contribution to this journal, Jan Wieland proposes “to broaden the conditions for suspension, and argue that it is rational to suspend belief (...) on a certain issue even if one’s current evidence is not neutral (or even close to neutral)”. My aim in this paper is to point to a number of problems in Wieland’s position, some of which in connection with the account of Pyrrhonian skepticism found in the extant works of Sextus Empiricus. (shrink)
This translation of the two books that make up Against the Logicians is a valuable addition to the ever increasing literature on Pyrrhonism. The only previous complete English version of these two books is that of R. G. Bury, which appeared in 1935 in the Loeb Classical Library as the second volume of..
Pyrrhonism can safely be said to be the most prominent and influential form of skepticism in the history of Western philosophy. It was an important philosophical movement in the Hellenistic and Imperial ages, made a tremendous impact on modern philosophy, and some of its arguments continue to be a central topic of discussion in the contemporary philosophical scene. This can be taken to be a strong indication of the intriguing and challenging character of the Pyrrhonian outlook. After presenting the collections (...) entirely or primarily devoted to ancient Pyrrhonism and its presence in, or connection with, both modern and contemporary philosophy, this article deals consecutively with Pyrrhonian skepticism in the three historical periods. The reason for not including a part on Pyrrhonism in medieval philosophy is simply that knowledge of this type of skepticism was so limited in the Middle Ages that it exerted almost no influence whatsoever on medieval thinkers. Given that Pyrrhonian skepticism is essentially an ancient philosophy, the great majority of the citations concern ancient Pyrrhonism. This article focuses primarily on scholarship in English but also included are works in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. (shrink)
This paper engages with Svavar Svavarsson’s recent essay, “Sextus Empiricus on Persuasiveness and Equipollence,” arguing against both (i) his interpretation of whether two rival arguments appear equipollent to the Pyrrhonist because he himself is equally persuaded by both of them, and (ii) his interpretation of the way in which the argument from possible disagreement is supposed to induce suspension of judgment in the Pyrrhonist. In so doing, I aim to dispel some serious misunderstandings regarding key aspects of the Pyrrhonist’s skeptical (...) outlook and argumentative practice. (shrink)
Several scholars familiar with Sextus Empiricus’s Pyrrhonism who have attentively read his Against the Ethicists have gotten the impression that something strange is going on in this book. For, at variance with the ‘official’ Pyrrhonian attitude of universal suspension of judgment, a number of passages of Against the Ethicists seem to ascribe to the Pyrrhonist both a type of negative dogmatism and a form of realism, which together amount to what may be called ‘moderate ethical realism’. The purpose of this (...) paper is to determine whether Sextus does embrace such a position in Against the Ethicists. (shrink)
It is generally agreed that one of the key differences between ancient skepticism and modern and contemporary skepticism is that the ancient skeptic does not call into question the existence of the external world, but only our ability to know the properties or qualities of external objects. In this paper, I argue that in Sextus Empiricus's attack on the Epicurean criterion of truth one finds evidence that the ancient Pyrrhonist also suspends judgment about the existence of external objects.
Scholarship on ancient Pyrrhonism has made tremendous advances over the past three decades, thanks especially to the careful reexamination of Sextus Empiricus’ extant corpus. Building on this momentum, the authors of the eight essays collected here examine some of the most vexed and intriguing exegetical and philosophical questions posed by Sextus’ presentation of this form of skepticism. The essays explore in a new light the skeptical interpretation of Plato, the differences between Pyrrhonism and Cyrenaicism, the Pyrrhonist’s stance on ordinary life, (...) religion, language, and ethics, Sextus’ discussion of our access to our own mental states, and the relationship between Pyrrhonism and epistemic internalism and externalism. These new essays represent a substantial contribution to the advancement of scholarship on Pyrrhonian skepticism. (shrink)
Julia Annas has affirmed that the kind of modern moral skepticism which denies the existence of objective moral values rests upon a contrast between morality and some other system of beliefs about the world which is not called into doubt. Richard Bett, on the other hand, has argued that the existence of such a contrast is not a necessary condition for espousing that kind of moral skepticism. My purpose in this paper is to show that Bett fails to make a (...) good case against Annas’ thesis. To accomplish this, it will be helpful to consider the Pyrrhonean attitude towards morality as expounded in Sextus Empiricus’ work. (shrink)
Particularly during the past twenty five years, there has been an outstanding advance in the study of ancient skepticism, both in its Pyrrhonian and Academic varieties. This is reflected in the publication of a considerable number of works about the nature and consistency of those philosophical outlooks, as well as about their influence on the development of early modern philosophy and their relevance to present day epistemological discussions. Most of these works concern Pyrrhonian skepticism. This predominance of interest in Pyrrhonism (...) over Academic skepticism also manifests itself in the fact that, whereas in recent years several new translations of Sextus Empiricus' writings (our principal source for Pyrrhonism) have appeared in the most important European languages, the same has not happened with Cicero's Academica, which is our main source of information about the philosophy of the skeptical Academy. Even though Sextus'. (shrink)
Scholarship on ancient skepticism has undergone a remarkable renaissance in the last three decades. Specialists in ancient philosophy have explored the complex history of the Greco‐Roman skeptical traditions and discussed difficult philological and exegetical issues. But they have also assessed the philosophical significance of the various ancient skeptical outlooks. In this first paper, I provide a general presentation of this area of study, while in the two subsequent articles I will focus on some of the topics that have been the (...) object of much attention in the recent literature on ancient skepticism. (shrink)
Sextus Empiricus associates the skeptical stance with the activity of inquiry or investigation. My purpose in this paper is to examine the Pyrrhonist's involvement in that activity because getting an accurate understanding of the nature and purpose of skeptical inquiry makes it possible to delineate some of the distinctive traits of Pyrrhonism as a kind of philosophy. I defend the minority view among specialists according to which (i) Sextus describes both the prospective Pyrrhonist and the full-fledged Pyrrhonist as engaged in (...) open-minded and truth-directed inquiry, and (ii) the full-fledged Pyrrhonist can legitimately be portrayed as engaged in that kind of inquiry. (shrink)
In a recent article, Mario Attie-Picker maintains that a number of experimental studies provide evidence against Sextus Empiricus’s empirical claims about both the connection between belief and anxiety and the connection between suspension of judgement and undisturbedness. In this article, I argue that Sextus escapes unharmed from the challenge raised by the studies in question for the simple reason that he does not make the claims ascribed to him. In other words, I argue that Attie-Picker is attacking a straw man.