Notebook, 1993-


Ancient Greek Philosophy
The Sceptics

Pyrrho 360-270 BC
Timon 320-230 BC

Pyrrho [360-270 B.C.] of Elis is the founder of the Sceptic school of thought, or which is often named after him Pyrrhonism. Tradition relates that Pyrrho accompanied Alexander to India where he met with the Indian gymnosophists or naked philosophers and the magi of Persia. When he returned to his native country, he became a teacher of [p. 179] philosophy, but without having written any works, a fact which as we shall see absolutely harmonized with the essence of his philosophy.

Timon [320-230 B.C.], disciple of Pyrrho, also of Elis, carried Scepticism to Athens, and in his 'silloi' [or mocking verse] expounded both his thoughts and those of his teachers.

The philosophy of the Sceptics can be summarized by their dogmas of 'incomprehension', of 'abstention', and of 'equilibrium'. According to the dogma of incomprehension neither the senses nor the mind can discover for us the true essence of the universe. Moreover, for every argument there exist the pros and cons, both of which have equal logical weight--the famous equal strength of reasons--and on account of this phenomenon we cannot accept anything as true. The negation of the Sceptics is so universal that they include themselves in it. They never define anything positively and do not even retract the meaning of definition, for which reason Pyrrho never wrote any works, for if he were to write, as he said, even negatively, he would have to give definitions. And so, by not defining anything, he was applying the so-called dogma of 'abstention', that is, the avoidance of forming any kind of judgment, avoiding a yes or no to some thing; whether some thing exists or does not exist; whether some thing is good or bad. The state of abstention resembles the state of the weighing scale when it is in equilibrium, when it does not tilt or 'turn' to either one side or the other, for which reason it is also known as the state of 'non-inclination', and as 'muteness'. The term 'abstention' has been reintroduced as a philosophical term by Edmund Husserl, founder of Phenomenology.

'Ataraxia' or tranquillity of the soul, or equilibrium is the disposition of the soul that arises from 'incomprehension' and 'abstention'. When a person gives up supporting an opinion, when he remains 'without opinion', convinced that all things are equally uncertain and their essence unapproachable by human intellect, therefore 'indifferent', or insensible. When he is convinced that judgments on matters are neither correct nor false, and decides to go into the state of 'abstention', then he acquires the state of equilibrium which is the only happiness available to man. And thus, the beginning and the end object of Scepticism is happiness, but the only drawback being that to attain this happiness, one must abandon knowledge and generally avoid any strenuous argument. [pp. 179-180]

[Kyriazis, Constantine D. Eternal Greece. Translated by Harry T. Hionides. A Chat Publication.]



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