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)
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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
Sextus’s arguments against ethical theories are shorter and more general than those he brings against the other two parts of ancient philosophy, logic and physics. Until recently this part of his work, in Outlines of Pyrrhonism III and Adversus Mathematicos XI has been comparatively neglected. Now, as well as the splendidly scholarly book by Emidio Spinelli, Sesto Empirico: Contro Gli Etici we have Richard Bett’s translation with commentary in the Clarendon Later Ancient Philosophers series. Both books make Sextus’s sometimes elusive (...) work far more available and usable to the modern reader. (shrink)
The last several decades have witnessed an explosion of research in Platonic philosophy. A central focus of his philosophical effort, Plato's psychology is of interest both in its own right and as fundamental to his metaphysical and moral theories. This anthology offers, for the first time, a collection of the best classic and recent essays on cenral topics of Plato's psychological theory, including essays on the nature of the soul, studies of the tripartite soul for which Plato argues in the (...) Republic, and analyses of his varied arguments for immortality. With a comprehensive introduction to the major issues of Plato's psychology and an up-to-date bibliography of work on the relevant issues, this much-needed text makes the study of Plato's psychology accessible to scholars in ancient Greek philosophy, classics, and history of psychology. (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)
Against the Ethicists is the last book of a work by Sextus Empiricus that also contained two books entitled Against the Logicians, two entitled Against the Physicists, and probably one or more books preceding those, and now lost, in which Pyrrhonian scepticism was expounded in a general way. The work thus covered the same ground as Sextus's better-known work Outlines of Pyrrhonism, which survives complete; but it did so in considerably more detail. Its doxographical value has long been recognized; the (...) exposition of competing philosophical views is a central and obvious aspect of Sextus's skeptical procedure. But it, and particularly Against the Ethicists, has received far less attention in its own right than Outlines of Pyrrhonism. The appearance of this volume--as far as I know, the first ever book-length treatment of Against the Ethicists--is therefore especially welcome. (shrink)