SKEPTICISM: ACADEMIC AND PYRRHONIAN
From Ancient and Medieval Philosophy: Essential Selections, by James Fieser
Copyright 2016, updated 12/1/2016
Lives of Skeptics
Sextus Empiricus: Outlines of Pyrrhonean Skepticism
Six Criticisms of Skepticism
LIVES OF SKEPTICS
Pyrrho (360-270 BCE) (Diogenes Laertius, Lives, 9)
Pyrrho was a citizen of Elis. . . . He was originally a painter. . . . He associated with Anaxarchus, and attended him everywhere; so that he even went as far as the Gymnosophists, in India, and the Magi. . . . His life corresponded to his principles, for he never shunned anything and never guarded himself against anything. He confronted everything, such as wagons, precipices, dogs, and similar things, committing nothing whatever to his senses. He would then be rescued (as Antigonus the Carystian tells us), by his friends who accompanied him. Aenesidemus says that he studied philosophy on the principle of suspending his judgment on all matters, without however, on any occasion acting in an irresponsible manner, or doing anything without proper consideration. He lived to nearly ninety years of age. . . . He always maintained the same demeanor, so that if anyone left him in the middle of his lecture, he remained and continued with what he was saying. When a young man, though, he was of a very volatile temperament. Often too, Antigonus says, he would go away for a time, without telling anyone beforehand, and taking any random persons whom he chose for his companions. Once, when Anaxarchus had fallen into a pond, he passed by without assisting him. When someone blamed him for this, Anaxarchus himself praised Pyrrho’s indifference and absence of all emotion. . . . He was so greatly honored by his country that he was appointed a priest, and on his account all the philosophers were exempted from taxation. . . . On another occasion, when he was driven back by a dog that was attacking him, someone criticized him for lack of composure. Pyrrho replied saying, "It is a difficult thing entirely to set aside human nature, but a person should still strive with all his power to counteract circumstances with his actions if possible, and at least with his reason." There is also a story that once, when some medicines of a burning tendency, along with some cutting and cauterizing substance were applied to him for a wound, he never even furrowed his brow.
Arcesilaus (316-241 BCE) (Diogenes Laertius, Lives, 4)
Arcesilaus was . . . a native of Pitane in Aeolia. He was the original founder of the Middle Academy [of Plato], and the first man who professed to suspend the declaration of his judgment, because of the contrarieties of the reasons alleged on either side. . . . He spent all his time in the Academy, and avoided meddling with public affairs, but at times he would spend some days in the Piraeus [i.e., the seaport area] of Athens, discoursing on philosophical subjects. . . . Being a man of very expensive habits, for he was in this respect a sort of second Aristippus, he often went to dine with his friends. He also lived openly with Theodote and Philaete, two courtesans of Elis. . . When someone asked him once why people left other schools to go to the Epicureans, but no one left the Epicureans to join other sects, he replied, "People sometimes make eunuchs of men, but no one can ever make a man out of an eunuch." . . . . Finally, when he was near his end, he left all his property to his brother Pylades . . . as he brought him to Athens. He never married or had any children.
Carneades (214-129 BCE) (Diogenes Laertius, Lives, 4)
Carneades was the son of Epicomus, or Philocomus, as Alexander states in his Successions, and a native of Cyrene. He carefully read all the books of the Stoics, especially those of Chrysippus. He wrote replies to them, but did so with such modesty that he would say, "If Chrysippus had not lived, I would never have existed." Carneades was a man of as great industry as ever existed, but he was not very devoted to the study natural philosophy, but preferred instead discussion of ethical topics. He was so intent at his study that he would let his hair and nails grow. He was so distinguished as a philosopher that the orators would leave their own schools and come and listen to his lectures. He also had a very powerful voice, so much so that the keeper of the Gymnasium sent to him once to ask him to not shout so loudly. Carneades replied, "Give me then, some reference to set the bounds for my voice." The keeper wittily responded, "Your reference is your audience of students."
Cicero (106-43 BCE) (Plutarch, Lives)
When Cicero came to Athens, he was a student of Antiochus of Ascalon, with whose fluency and elegance of diction he was very taken. However, he did not approve of Antiochus’ innovations in doctrine, as Antiochus had now moved away from the New Academy . . . to embrace the doctrine of the Stoics. Instead, Cicero adopted and adhered to the [skeptical] doctrines of the New Academy. He vowed to himself that if he should become dissatisfied with any employment in the commonwealth, he would retire from legal and political affairs, and pass his life with tranquility in the study of philosophy. . . . He often asked his friends not to call him orator, but philosopher, because he had made philosophy his business, and had only used rhetoric as an instrument for attaining his objects in public life. . . . When the Roman Republic changed into a monarchy, Cicero withdrew himself from public affairs, and devoted his time to instructing interested young men in philosophy. By the close contact he thus had with some of the noblest and highest in rank, he again began to have great influence in the city. The work and object to which he set himself was to compose and translate philosophical dialogues and to convert logical and physical terms into the Roman idiom.
Sextus Empiricus (fl. 200 CE) (Diogenes Laertius, Lives, 9)
Herodotus was the teacher of Sextus Empiricus, who left ten books of Skeptical Maxims, and other excellent works. Sextus was the teacher of Saturninus, who was also an empiric [i.e., physician].
The Academics (Augustine, Against the Academics, 2.5.11)
The School of the Academy established that, (1) man lacks the knowledge to touch upon things relating to philosophy (Carneades said that he did not even care about the rest), and that, (2) man was still able to be a wise, and the whole role of the wise man was to the search for the truth. . . . Accordinly, the wise man will not assent to anything at all. For he will necessarily err, and the wise consider it a crime to assent in matters of uncertainty. All this uncertainty they not only maintained, but expressed further with abundant arguments. . . . In defense of their position [that truth cannot be found] they made their case by pointing out the opposition between philosophers, the illusions of the senses, dreams and hallucinations, and sophisms and sorites.
The Pyrrhonians (Diogenes Laertius, Lives, 9)
All these men were called Pyrrhoneans from their master, and also doubters, skeptics, ephectics [i.e., suspenders of judgment], and even zetetics [i.e., seekers]. Their philosophy was called zetetic, from their investigating or seeking the truth on all sides. It was called skeptical because they were always doubting and never finding. It was called ephectic from the disposition which they encouraged after investigation, that is, the suspending of their judgment. It was called aporetic [i.e., perplexed] because they asserted that both they and the dogmatic philosophers were perplexed. They were called Pyrrhonians from Pyrrho himself. . . . The Pyrrhonian system, then, is a simple explanation of appearances, or of notions of every kind, by means of which, comparing one thing with another, one arrives at the conclusion, that there is nothing in all these notions, but contradiction and confusion (as Aenesidemus says in his Introduction to Pyrrhonism). As to the contradictions which are found in those speculations, when they have pointed out in what way each fact is convincing, they then, by the same means, take away all belief from it. For they say that we regard as certain those things which always produce similar impressions on the senses, those which are the offspring of habit, or which are established by the laws, and those too which give pleasure or excite wonder. They prove that the reasons opposite to those on which our assent is founded are entitled to equal belief.
ACADEMIC SKEPTICISM (Cicero, Academic Questions, 1.12; 2.7-32)
Arcesilaus and the Creation of the New Skeptical Academy
Cicero: You have explained the principles both of the Old Academy and of the Stoics with brevity, but also with great clearness. But I think it is true (as Antiochus, a great friend of mine, would assert) that it is to be considered as a corrected version of the Old Academy, rather than as any new sect.
Varro: It is your part now, who revolt from the principles of the ancients, and who approve of the innovations which have been made by Arcesilaus, to explain what that division of the two schools which he made was, and why he made it; so that we may see whether that revolt of his was justifiable.
Cicero: Arcesilaus, as we understand, directed all his attacks against Zeno [of Citium, the Stoic], not out of obstinacy or any desire of gaining the victory, as it appears to me, but by reason of the obscurity of those things which had brought Socrates to the confession of ignorance, and even before Socrates, Democritus, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, and nearly all the ancients; who asserted that nothing could be ascertained, or perceived, or known: that the senses of man were narrow, his mind feeble, the course of his life short, and that truth, as Democritus said, was sunk in the deep; that everything depended on opinions and established customs; that nothing was left to truth. They said in short, that everything was enveloped in darkness; therefore Arcesilaus asserted that there was nothing which could be known, not even that very piece of knowledge which Socrates had left himself. Thus he thought that everything lay hid in secret, and that there was nothing which could be discerned or understood. For these reasons it was not right for anyone to profess or affirm anything, or sanction anything by his assent, but men ought always to restrain their rashness and to keep it in check so as to guard it against every fall. For rashness would be very remarkable when anything unknown or false was approved of; and nothing could be more discreditable than for a man's assent and approval to precede his knowledge and perception of a fact. And he would act consistently with these principles, so as to pass most of his days in arguing against every one's opinion, in order that when equally important reasons were found for both sides of the same question, the judgment might more naturally be suspended, and prevented from giving assent to either. This they call the New Academy, which however appears to me to be the old one, if, at least, we consider Plato as one of that Old Academy. For in his books nothing is affirmed positively, and many arguments are accepted on both sides of a question; everything is investigated, and nothing positive affirmed. Still let the school whose principles I have explained be called the Old Academy, and this other the New. This continued to the time of Carneades, who was the fourth in succession after Arcesilaus, and continued in the same principles and system as Arcesilaus.
Criticisms of the Broken Oar and the Dove’s Neck Arguments for Skepticism
Lucullus: Let us begin then with the senses. The judgments of the senses are so clear and certain, that if an option were given to our nature, and if some god were to ask of it whether it is content with its own unimpaired and uncorrupted senses, or whether it desires something better, I do not see what more it could ask for. Nor while speaking on this topic need you wait while I reply to the illustration drawn from a bent oar, or the neck of a dove. For, I am not a man to say that everything which seems is exactly of that character of which it seems to be. Epicurus may deal with this idea, and with many others. But in my opinion there is the very greatest truth in the senses, if they are in sound and healthy order, and if everything is removed which could impede or hinder them. Therefore we often wish the light to be changed, or the situation of those things which we are looking at; and we either narrow or enlarge distances; and we do many things until our sight causes us to feel confidence in our judgment. The same thing takes place with respect to sounds, smell, and taste, so that there is not one of us who, in each one of his senses, requires a more acute judgment as to each sort of thing. But when practice and skill are added, so that one's eyes are charmed by a picture, and one's ears by songs, who is there who can fail to see what great power there is in the senses? . . .
Presentation of the Divine Visions, Dreaming, and Twins Arguments for Skepticism
Lucullus: It is right, therefore, for us to have those answers ready which may be given in defense of the evidentness of a thing (and we have already spoken of them). We should be armed to be able to encounter the questions of those people [i.e., the Academic Skeptics], and to scatter their nit-picking objections to the winds. This is what I propose to do next. I will, therefore, explain their arguments one by one, since even they themselves are in the habit of speaking in a sufficiently lucid manner.
In the first place, they attempt to show that many things can appear to exist, which in reality have no existence, such as when minds are moved to no purpose by things which do not exist, in the same manner as by things that do. For, you claim (the Academics say) that some visions are sent by a god, such as those that are seen during sleep, and also those that are revealed by oracles, auspices, and the entrails of victims, (for they say that the Stoics, against whom they are arguing, admit all these things). They then ask if a god can make a false vision appear probable, then why can he not also make that same vision very closely resemble others that are true [i.e., so that the vision feels true, rather than merely probable]? If he can do this, then why can he not also make this [false] vision almost indistinguishable from the true? Finally, if he can do this can he not make this [false] vision completely indistinguishable from the true?
Next, the mind is affected by its own motion, such as with as is made plain by the things we picture to ourselves in imagination and the visions which appear either to sleepers or to mad men. If this is so, say they, is it not probable that the mind is also affected in such a manner, that not only it does not distinguish between the perceptions, as to whether they are true or false, but that there really is no difference between them? For instance, if any persons trembled and grew pale, either because of some spontaneous agitation of mind, or because some terrible object intruded upon them from without, there would be no possibility of distinguishing one trembling and paleness in the two cases, nor indeed would there be any difference between the external and internal alarm which caused them.
Lastly, if no deceptive appearances are attended with probability, then another method [of doubt] applies. But deceptive appearances are probable, then why may not one say the same of such as are not easily distinguished from each other? Why not also of such as have actually no difference at all between them [such as with twins or the impressions from signet rings]? This is especially so when you yourselves say that the wise man when enraged withholds himself from all assent, because the appearances presented to him show no distinctive mark. . . .
Criticism of the Sorites and Divine Vision Arguments
Lucullus: [The Skeptics] are blamable insofar as they use a most sophistical kind of argument. It is the system of adding or taking away, step by step, minute items from a proposition, is a kind of argument that meets with little approval in philosophy. They call it “sorites” [i.e., heap] because they make up a heap by adding grain after grain. It is a very faulty and sophistical style of arguing! [The sorites are a class of paradoxical arguments such as the “heap of wheat” argument: one grain of wheat is not a heap, neither is two, etc., thus then neither is 1,000]. This is the way you take your successive steps: If a vision is brought by a god before a man asleep of such a nature as to be probable, why may not a vision also be brought of such a nature as to be very like truth? If so, then why may not one be brought which can hardly be distinguished from truth? If so, then why may there not be one which cannot be distinguished at all from truth? If so, then why may there not be such that there is actually no difference between them? If you come to this point because I have granted you all the previous propositions, it will be my fault. But if you advance forward of your own accord, it will be yours. For who will grant to you either that a god can do everything, or that even if he could he would act in that manner? How do you assume that if one thing may be like another, it follows that it may also be difficult to distinguish between them? Then, that one cannot distinguish between them at all? Lastly, that they are identical? Thus, if wolves are like dogs, you will eventually come to assert that they are the same animals. Similarly, there are some dishonorable things that are honorable things; some bad things like good things; some unartistic things like artistic things. Why then do we hesitate to affirm that there is no difference between all these things? Do we not even see that they are inconsistent? But if the result were demonstrated, that there is no difference between appearances of various classes, we should find some which belonged both to their own proper class and to a class not their own. How can that happen?
Criticism of the Dreaming Argument
Lucullus: There is then one method of getting rid of all false appearances, whether they are formed in the imagination, which we grant to be usually the case, or whether they result from sleep, or the influence of wine, or madness. For we say that clearness, which we ought to hold with the greatest persistence, is absent from all visions of that kind. For who is there who, when he imagines something and pictures it to himself in his thoughts, does not, as soon as he has stirred up himself, and recovered himself, feel how much difference there is between what is evident and what is unreal? The case of dreams is the same. . . . But while these visions last, they assume the same appearance as those things which we see while awake. There is a good deal of real difference between them, but we may pass over that. Now what we assert is that there is not the same power or soundness in people when asleep that there is in them while waking, either in intellect or in sensation. Nor do drunken men carry out their actions with the same decision as sober men. They doubt, they hesitate, they correct themselves at times, and give only a weak assent to what they see or agree too. Then, when they have slept off their drunkenness, they understand how unreal their perceptions were. The same thing is the case with madmen. When their madness is beginning, they both feel and say that something appears to them to exist that has no real existence. Then when their frenzy subsides, they feel and speak like Alcmaeon: “But now my heart does not agree with that which with my eyes I see.” . . .
But from the whole character of this discussion we may see the worthless nature of the argument of those men who wish to throw everything into confusion. We ask for judgment, marked with gravity, consistency, firmness, and wisdom. But we use the examples of men dreaming, mad, or drunk. Are we aware how inconsistent is our talk concerning this entire class of arguments? If we were, we would not bring forward men overpowered by wine or sleep, or deprived of their intellect, in such an absurd manner. We would note say, at one moment, there there is a difference between the perceptions of men awake and sober and sensible, and those of men in a different condition, and, at other occasions, say that there was no difference at all.
They do not even perceive that by this kind of argument they are making out everything to be uncertain, which they do not wish to do. I call that uncertain which the Greeks call “hidden” (adelon). For if the fact is that there is no difference between the appearance that a thing presents to a madman and to a person in his senses, then who can feel sure of his own sanity? To wish to produce such an effect as that is a proof of no ordinary madness.
Criticism of the Twins Argument
Lucullus: But they follow up in a childish manner with the resemblance of twins, or of impressions made by signet rings. For who of us denies that there are resemblances between things when they are visible in numbers of things? But if the fact of many things being like many other things is sufficient to take away knowledge, why are you not content with that, especially as we admit it? Why instead do you insist upon an assertion which the nature of things will not admit, namely, that everything is not in its own kind of that character of which it really is, and also that there is a conformity without any difference whatever in two or more things? Suppose, for example that we grant that eggs are entirely like eggs, and bees like bees. Why then do you carry on the fight? What do you seek to gain by talking about twins? For we admit that they are alike, and you should be content with that. But you try to make them out to be actually the same, and not merely alike, and that is quite impossible. . . . Let’s grant that those ancient Servilius brothers [Geminus and Quintus] who were twins were as much alike as they are said to have been. Do you think that that would have made them the same? They were not distinguished from each other out of doors, but they were at home. They were not distinguished from each other by strangers, but they were by their own family. Do we not see that this is frequently the case, that those people whom we should never have expected to be able to know from each other, we do by practice distinguish so easily that they do not appear to be even in the least alike? . . .
As a mother distinguishes between twins by the constant practice of her eyesight, so you too will distinguish when you have become accustomed to it. Do you not see that it has become a perfect proverb that one egg is like another? Yet we are told that at Delos (when it was a flourishing island) there were many people who would keep large numbers of hens for the sake of profit. When they glanced upon an egg, they usually could tell which hen had laid it. Nor is this fact [of the resemblance of eggs] detrimental to us, since we are content to be unable to tell one from another. Yet it is impossible for one to assent to the statement that one egg is identical with another, implying that there is absolutely no difference between the two. I have laid it down as a rule, to consider all appearances as true which are of such a character as those which are false cannot be. From this I may not depart one finger's breadth, as they say, otherwise I would throw everything into confusion. For not only the knowledge of what is true and false, but their whole nature too, will be destroyed if there is no difference between one and the other.
Defense of the Broken Oar and Dove’s Neck Arguments
Cicero: But you say that you are not at all disturbed by “the broken oar” or “the dove's neck.” In the first place, I must ask why? For, in the case of the oar, I feel that that which appears to be the case is not really so. In the case of the dove's neck, there appear to be many colors, but are not in reality more than one. In the next place did our statement contain nothing more than this? Let all our arguments stand: that man is tearing his cause to pieces, for he says that his senses are voracious. . . . Do you see that ship? It appears to us to be standing still, but to those who are in that ship, this house appears to be moving. Search out the reason why it seems so. Yet however completely you may have discovered it (and very likely you may not succeed), nevertheless you will not have shown that you have a true witness on your side, but merely that your witness gives false evidence for a good reason.
Why talk about the ship? Because I saw that you thought nothing of the oar. Perhaps you want things on a larger scale. What can there be larger than the sun? Mathematicians maintain it to be more than eighteen times larger than the earth. But how tiny it seems to us! In my eyes it is about a foot in diameter. Epicurus thinks that it may be even less than it seems to be, but not much. Nor does he think that it is much greater, but that it is very nearly the size it seems to be. Thus, our eyes are either quite correct, or, in any event, not very incorrect. What then becomes of the exception, “If once...?” However, let us leave this gullible man, who does not believe that the senses are ever wrong—not even now, when that sun, which is whirled along with such rapidity that it is impossible even to conceive how great its velocity is, nevertheless seems to us to be standing still.
Defense of the Twins Argument
Cicero: But, to bring the dispute into small compass, consider within what narrow bounds the issue lies. There are four main propositions which prove that there is nothing which can be known, perceived, and apprehended, and this is the doctrine with which our whole investigation is occupied. Of these propositions the first is that there is a kind of deceptive appearance. The second is that such an appearance cannot be perceived. The third is that when no difference is traceable between a number of appearances, it cannot happen that some of them are be capable of being perceived, while others are not so capable. The fourth is that there is no truthful appearance resulting from an act of sensation, which has not side by side with it another indistinguishable from it, yet which cannot be perceived. Of these four propositions, all accept the second and third. The first Epicurus does not grant, but you (with whom we are now dealing) also accept this. The whole battle is over the fourth.
[Concerning the Servilius twins], suppose that a man who was looking at Publius Servilius Geminus thought that he was looking at Quintus instead. He thus came across an appearance of such a nature that it could not be perceived, because there was no sign marking off the true appearance from the false. Once this test was removed, what infallible sign did he have to help him recognize [any other person such as] Caius Cotta who was twice consul with Geminus? You say that in the whole realm of nature no resemblance so great as this exists. You carry on the fight, it is true, but fortunately I am a compliant opponent. Suppose that no such perfect resemblance exists. Nevertheless, it may still seem to exist. Therefore, it will deceive the senses, and if one likeness deceives them, it will have made everything doubtful. For when once that criterion is destroyed then, even if the person whom you see, is really the person whom he appears to you to be, you will still not judge by that characteristic which you say you should, being of such a character that one of the same kind cannot be false. Now, if it is possible that Publius Geminus may appear to you to be Quintus, what certainty do you have that he may not appear to you to be Cotta, though he is not, since some things do appear to you to be what they are not?
You say that all things belong to their own particular class, and that no one thing has the same characteristics as another. It is a Stoic notion and not very easy to believe, that there is not a single hair or a single grain in every respect like another hair or grain. These statements can be refuted, but I do not care to enter into that battle. Indeed, it does not matter with regard to the present question whether an impression of a thing is in every respect identical with another, or cannot be in practice distinguished from that other, even though the two are not identical. But, granting that there cannot be such a perfect resemblance between men, can there not be such a resemblance between statues? Tell me, could not [the sculptor] Lysippus produce a hundred Alexanders of the same pattern, using the same brass, the same tempering, the same graving tool and other implements that are the same? How, then could you distinguish between them? Again, if with this ring I make a hundred impressions on the same piece of wax, is it possible that there would be any difference to enable you to distinguish one from the other? Or, will you have to find some ring maker, since you have succeeded in finding your Delian chicken-breeder who could recognize his own eggs? . . .
Defense of the Divine Visions and Dreaming Arguments
Cicero: You said that the perceptions of men who are asleep, drunk, or mad, were less vigorous than those of men awake, sober, and sane. How did you prove this? Because, you said, when [the Roman poet] Ennius had awakened, he would not say that he had seen Homer, but only that Homer had seemed to be present. Thus, Alcmaeon says, “My heart distrusts the witness of my eyes.” You also said this about men who are drunk. [Similarly, you say, no one] could reasonably deny that a man on awaking believes his visions were just dreams, or that a man or that a man whose madness has calmed down now supposes the appearances which came before him during his madness not to have been true. But that is not the question: the question is how those things appear to us at the time when they do appear. . . .
But why speak about madmen? Does anyone, however sound in mind, feel as sure about what he sees as that man did about his visions? What about the Ajax who called out “I see you now, I see you now, so live, Ulysses, while you still can.” Did he not actually twice say loudly that he saw, even though he certainly did not see? . . . Now all these examples are quoted to prove what is as sure as anything can be, that so far as the assent of the mind is concerned, there is no difference between true appearances and false. You prove nothing when you merely refute those false perceptions of men who are mad or dreaming by their own recollection. For the question is not what sort of recollection those people usually have who have awakened, or those who have recovered from madness. Rather, it is a question of what sort of perception madmen or dreamers had at the moment when they were under the influence of their madness or their dream.
Defense of the Heap of Wheat Sorites Argument
Cicero: I now leave the subject of the senses. What is there that can be perceived by reason? You say logic has been discovered and is a sort of arbiter and judge of truth and falsehood. What truth and what falsehood? With which subjects is it concerned? Will the logician decide what is true or false in mathematics, literature or music? The logician knows nothing of those things. Perhaps in philosophy then. But what does the logician care about the size of the sun? What means does he have to determine the nature of the supreme good? What then will he judge? Perhaps he will make judgments about what combination or disjunction of ideas is accurate, what is an ambiguous expression, what follows from each fact, or what is inconsistent with it. If he decides these only these and similar questions, then he decides about his own affairs. But he promised more. Indeed, if we look to the other numerous and important matters which philosophy embraces, it is not enough merely to judge these questions.
But, since you place so much importance in the art of logic, I would ask you to consider whether it was not invented for the precise purpose of being used against you. For, at first it gives an ingenious account of the elements of speaking, of the manner in which one may come to an understanding of ambiguous expressions, and of the principles of reasoning. Then, after a few more things, it comes to the sorites. The sorites is a very slippery and hazardous topic, and a class of argument which you yourself declare to be a vicious one. What then, you will say; are we to be blamed for that viciousness? The nature of things has not given us any knowledge of ends, so as to enable us, in any subject whatever, to say how far we can go. Nor is this the case only in respect of the heap of wheat, from which the name [“sorites”] is derived. But in no matter whatever where the argument is conducted by minute questions: for instance, if the question be whether a man is rich or poor, illustrious or obscure—whether things be many or few, great or small, long or short, broad or narrow—we have no certain answer to give, how much must be added or taken away to make the thing in question either one or the other. . . . You cannot in your answers fix the last number which can be classed as “few,” nor the first, which amounts to “many.” This kind of uncertainty extends so widely, that I do not see any bounds to its progress.
Defense of the Liar’s Paradox Argument
Cicero: What then do you think of this conclusion: “(1) If you say it is now daylight and you tell the truth, then it is daylight; (2) you do say that it is now daylight and you do tell the truth; (3) therefore, it is daylight.” You and your school undoubtedly think the form is valid and accept that the argument has been properly constructed. So in your teaching you convey this to your pupils as the simplest method of composing an argument. You will therefore either accept the validity of any argument constructed in the same way, or else your art of logic is nothing. Consider now whether you will accept the validity of this proof: “(1) If you say you are a liar and tell the truth, then you are a liar; (2) you do say that you are a liar and you do tell the truth; (3) therefore, you are a liar.” How can you resist accepting this, when you have accepted the former proof that belongs to the same class? These are knots tied by Chrysippus which even he never untied. What indeed was he to do in face of an inference like this “(1) If it is daylight, then it is daylight; (2) it is daylight; (3) therefore, it is daylight”. Of course he would accept it. In what respect then is it different from this other inference: “(1) If you are a liar, then you are a liar; (2) you are a liar; (3) therefore you are a liar.” This you say you can neither accept nor reject. How, then, can you any more accept or reject the former? If art, reasoning, method, and the cogency of the argument are worth anything, there is as much of these in the one as in the other. But this is what these men ultimately come to: they require us to make exceptions of these insoluble fallacies. I advise them to go before some tribune, for they will never get me to allow them their exception
SEXTUS EMPIRICUS: OUTLINES OF PYRRHONEAN SKEPTICISM (Outlines of Pyrrhonism)
The Principal Differences between Philosophers (1.1)
It is probable that those who seek after anything whatever, will either find it as they continue the search, or will deny that it can be found and admit it to be out of reach, or will go on seeking it. Accordingly, some have said regarding the things sought in philosophy that they have found the truth, while others have declared it impossible to find, and still others continue to seek it. Those who think that they have found it are those who are especially called Dogmatists, as for example, the Schools of Aristotle and Epicurus, the Stoics and some others. Those who have declared it impossible to find are Clitomachus, Carneades, with their respective followers, and other Academicians. Those who still seek it are the Skeptics. Therefore, it appears reasonable to conclude that the three principal kinds of philosophy are the Dogmatic, the Academic, and the Skeptic. Other writers may suitably examine the first two Schools, but I will here give an outline of the Skeptical School. I must comment in advance, though, that I will not declare absolutely with anything I say that it is exactly as I describe it. Rather, I will state things empirically as they appear to me now.
Ways of Examining Skepticism (1.2)
One way of examining the Skeptical philosophy is called general, and the other particular. The general method is that by which we set forth the character of Skepticism, declaring what its idea is, what its principles are, its method of reasoning, its criterion, and its aim. It also presents the method of doubt, and the way in which we should understand the Skeptical formula, and the distinction between Skepticism and the related Schools of philosophy. The particular method, on the contrary, is that by which we speak against each part of so-called philosophy. Let us then treat Skepticism at first in the general way, beginning our delineation with the terminology of the Skeptical School.
The Names of the Skeptical School (1.3)
The Skeptical School is also called the “Seeking School” (zetetic) from its spirit of research and examination; the “Suspending School” (ephectic) from the condition of mind in which one is left after the search, in regard to the things that one has examined; and the “Doubting School” (aporetic) either because, as some say, the Skeptics doubt and are seeking in regard to everything, or because they never know whether to deny or affirm. It is also called the Pyrrhonean School, because Pyrrho appears to us the best representative of Skepticism, and is more prominent than all who before him occupied themselves with it.
What is Skepticism? (1.4)
Skepticism is an ability to place appearances in opposition to judgments in any way whatever. By balancing reasons that are opposed to each other, we first reach the state of suspension of judgment, and afterwards that of tranquility. To clarify, I do not use the word “ability” in any unusual sense, but simply mean that we are able to do something. By “appearances” I mean the things that we sense, as opposed to our judgments about them. The phrase “in any way whatever” may refer either to the word “ability” in its simple sense as I have said, or it may refer to the “placing of appearances in opposition to judgments.” For we place appearances in opposition to each other in a variety of ways: appearances to appearances, and judgments to judgments, or appearances to judgments. Also, the phrase “in any way whatever” may refer to “appearances and judgments,” so that we need not ask how appearances appear, or how thoughts are judged; rather, we should understand these things in a simple sense. By “reasons opposed to each other,” I do not in any way mean that they deny or affirm anything, but simply that they offset each other. By “balancing” I mean equally likely and equally unlikely, so that the opposing reasons do not surpass each other in likelihood. “Suspension of judgment” means holding back opinion so that we neither deny nor affirm anything. “Tranquility” is composure and calmness of mind. I will later explain how tranquility accompanies suspension of judgment when I speak about the aim of skepticism.
The Skeptic (1.5)
The notion of a “Pyrrhonean philosopher” follows from the above definition of the Skeptical School. He is the one who possesses the ability that I have described.
The Primary Principle of Skepticism (1.6)
Skepticism arose in the beginning from the hope of attaining tranquility. People of the greatest intelligence were perplexed by the contradiction of various things, and being at a loss what to believe, they began to question what things are true, and what false. They then hoped to attain tranquility through some solution. The primary principle of Skepticism, then, is to oppose every argument by one of equal weight, and in this way we finally reach the position where we have no dogmas.
Does the Skeptic Dogmatize? (1.7)
I say that the Skeptic does not dogmatize. I do not say this with regard to the popular meaning of the word “dogma”, namely, that it is a dogma to assert to anything rather than another. For even the Skeptic assents to feelings that are a necessary result of sensation. For example, when he is warm or cold, he cannot say that he thinks he is not warm or cold. Rather, when I say that the Skeptic does not dogmatize, I take the word “dogma” to mean the acceptance of any opinion in regard to the undetectable things investigated by science. For the Pyrrhonean assents to nothing that is undetectable.
Furthermore, the Skeptic does not dogmatize even when he utters the skeptical formula in regard to things that are undetectable, such as “Nothing is truer than another thing,” or “I decide nothing,” or any of the others which I will speak about later. For the dogmatist maintains that the things about which he dogmatizes actually exist in themselves. The Skeptic, however, does not regard these Skeptical formulas in any absolute sense, for he assumes that the saying “All is false” includes its own falsehood. Similarly, the saying “Nothing is true” and “Nothing is truer than another thing” implies that they are no truer than other things, and thus they cancel themselves out. We say the same also in regard to the other Skeptical expressions. In short, if he who dogmatizes assumes the truth about that which he dogmatizes, the Skeptic, on the contrary, expresses his sayings in a way that applies to the utterances themselves. Thus, we cannot say that the Skeptic dogmatizes in saying these things. The principal thing in uttering these formulas is that he says what appears to him, and communicates his own feelings in an unprejudiced way, without asserting anything in regard to external objects.
Is Skepticism a System? (1.8)
I respond in a similar way if I am asked whether Skepticism has a system or not. If the word “system” is defined as meaning a body of persons who hold dogmas which are in conformity with each other, and also with appearances, and dogma means an assent to anything that is undetectable, then I reply that we have no system. If, however, one means by “system”, a method which follows a certain line of reasoning based on appearances, and that reasoning shows how it is possible to apparently live rightly (not understanding “rightly” as referring to virtue only, but in a broader sense); if, also, it leads one to be able to suspend judgment, then I reply that we have a system. For we follow a certain kind of reasoning which is based upon appearances, and which shows us how to live according to the habits, laws, and teachings of our country, and our own feelings.
Does the Skeptic deal with Natural Science? (1.9)
I reply similarly to the question whether the Skeptic should deal with natural science. For we do not deal with natural science in order to express ourselves with confidence regarding any of the dogmas that it teaches, but we take it up in order to be able to meet every argument by one of equal weight, and also for the sake of tranquility. In the same way we deal with the logical and ethical part of so-called philosophy.
Do the Skeptics deny Appearances? (1.10)
Those who say that the Skeptics deny appearances are ignorant of our teachings. For as I said before, we do not deny the sensations which we think we have, and which lead us to assent involuntarily to them; we accept that we have appearances. When we are ask whether the object is such as it appears to be, we concede that it appears so and so. However, while we do not question the phenomenon, we do question what is asserted about the phenomenon, and that is different from doubting the phenomenon itself. For example, it appears to us that honey is sweet. This we concede, for we experience sweetness through sensation. We doubt, however, whether it is sweet by reason of its essence, which is not a question of the phenomenon, but of that which is asserted of the phenomenon. Should we, however, argue directly against appearances, it is not with the intention of denying their existence, but only to show the rashness of the Dogmatists. For if reasoning is such a deceiver that it snatches away genuine appearances from before our eyes, we should distrust it all the more in regard to things that are undetectable, and thus avoid rashly following it.
The Criterion of Skepticism (1.11)
From what I say about the criterion of the Skeptical School, it is evident that we pay careful attention to appearances. The word criterion is used in two ways. First, it is understood as a proof of existence or non-existence, in regard to which I will criticize later. Second, when it refers to action, it means the criterion that we follow in life by doing some things and refraining from doing others. It is about this that I will now speak. I say that the criterion of the Skeptical School is appearance, and in calling it so, I mean the image of what appears. This cannot be doubted, since it arises from feeling and involuntary reception. Hence virtually no one doubts that an object appears to be such and such; but we do question whether it is as it appears.
So, we cannot be entirely inactive with the observances of daily life since we live by following appearances, and in an unprejudiced way. Observance of daily life is of four different kinds. Sometimes it is directed by the guidance of nature, sometimes by the necessity of feelings, sometimes by the tradition of laws and of customs, and sometimes by the teaching of skills. It is directed by the guidance of nature, for by nature we are capable of sensation and thought. It is directed by the necessity of feelings, since hunger leads us to food, and thirst to drink. It is directed by the traditions of laws and customs, since according to them we consider piety a good in daily life, and impiety an evil. It is directed by the teaching of skills, for we are not inactive in the skills we undertake. I say all these things, however, without expressing a decided opinion.
What is the aim of Skepticism? (1.12)
It is natural to examine next the aim of Skepticism. An aim is the end for which we do anything or think anything. It depends on nothing, or in other words, it is the ultimate objective of things to be desired. We say, then, that the aim of the Skeptic is tranquility in those things which pertain to opinion, and moderation in the things that life requires of us. In order to attain tranquility, the Skeptic begins to philosophize about the ideas and to understand which are true and which are false. He then faces contradictions of equal weight, and, being unable to judge, he withholds his opinion. As if by fate, while his judgment is in suspension he attains tranquility in regard to matters of opinion. For a person will always be troubled if he holds the opinion that anything is either good or bad by nature. For when he does not possess those things that seem good to him, he feels tortured by the things which are by nature bad, and pursues those that he thinks to be good. But once he acquires them, he becomes even unhappier through his irrational and excessive excitement, which makes him fear losing them and inclines him to do everything in his power to retain the things that seem good to him. On the other hand, if a person is undecided about things that are good and bad by nature, he will neither seek nor avoid anything eagerly, and is therefore in a state of tranquility.
A story is told about Apelles the painter that applies to the Skeptic. It is said that Apelles was once painting a horse and wished to depict foam in the horse’s mouth. When he failed to do so, he gave up and threw a sponge at the picture with which he had wiped the colors from the painting. However, as soon as the sponge touched the picture, it produced an excellent representation of foam. Similarly, Skeptics initially hope to gain tranquility by making judgments about the irregularity between appearances and their thoughts about them. When they are unable to do this, they suspend their judgment. As if by fate, while their judgment is in suspension, tranquility follows, just as a shadow follows a body.
Nevertheless, I do not maintain that the Skeptic is completely undisturbed, since he is disturbed by some things that are inevitable. I admit that sometimes he is cold and thirsty, and that he suffers in these ways. However, in similar circumstances, the ignorant suffer in two ways: first from the feelings themselves, and, second, from the fact that they think these conditions are bad by nature. The Skeptic, by contrast, escapes more easily since he rejects the opinion that anything is in itself bad by nature. Therefore we say that the aim of the Skeptic is tranquility in matters of opinion, and moderation of feeling in those things that are inevitable. Some notable Skeptics have added also suspension of judgment in investigation.
The General Methods of Suspending Judgment (1.13)
Since, as I have said, tranquility follows the suspension of judgment in regard to everything, it is important for me to explain how this suspension of judgment takes place. Generally speaking, it occurs by placing things in opposition to each other. We either place appearances in opposition to appearances, or thoughts in opposition to thoughts, or some combination of these. For example, we place appearances in opposition to appearances when we say that this tower appears round from a distance but square when nearby. Thoughts are in opposition to thoughts when, for example, someone tries to prove that that providence exists because of the order in the heavens, and we oppose this with the fact that there is no providence since good people often suffer while evil people prosper. Thought is placed in opposition to appearances, when, for example, Anaxagoras opposed the fact that snow is white, by saying that snow is frozen water, and, as water is black, snow must also be black.
Likewise we sometimes place the present in opposition to the present, with reasoning similar to the above-mentioned cases. We sometimes also place the present in opposition to the past or the future. For example, when someone proposes an argument to us that we cannot refute, we say to him, “Before the founder of the School to which you belong was born, the argument which you propose had not appeared as a valid argument, but was dormant in nature; so in the same way it is possible that its refutation also exists in nature, but has not yet appeared to us, so that it is not at all necessary for us to agree with an argument that currently seems to be strong.” In order to make it clearer to us what we mean by these oppositions, I will proceed to give the Methods through which suspension of judgment is produced. I will not say anything about their validity or their number, because they may be unsound and there may be more than I will list.
The Ten Methods (1.14)
Certain Methods were commonly handed down by the older Skeptics, by means of which suspension of judgment seems to take place. They are ten in number, and are synonymously called “arguments” and “points.” They are these: the first is based upon the differences in animals; the second upon the differences in men; the third upon the difference in the constitution of the organs of sense; the fourth upon circumstances; the fifth upon position, distance, and place; the sixth upon mixtures; the seventh upon the quantity and constitution of objects; the eighth upon relation; the ninth upon frequency or rarity of occurrences; the tenth upon systems, customs, laws, mythical beliefs, and dogmatic opinions. I have made this order myself.
These Methods come under three general heads: the standpoint of the judge, the standpoint of the thing judged, and the standpoint of both together. Under the standpoint of the judge come the first four, for the judge is either an animal, or a man, or a sense, and exists under certain circumstances. Under the standpoint of that which is judged, come the seventh and the tenth. Under the one composed of both together, come the fifth and the sixth, the eighth and the ninth. Again, these three divisions are included under the Method of Relation, because that is the most general one. It includes the three special divisions, and these in turn include the ten. We say these things in regard to their probable number, and we proceed in the following chapter to speak of their meaning.
The First Method: Perceptual Differences among Animal Species Limit our Judgments (1.14)
The first Method, I said, is the one based upon the differences in animals, and according to this Method, different animals do not get the same ideas of the same objects through the senses. This we conclude from the different origin of the animals, and also from the difference in the constitutions of their bodies.
In regard to the difference in origin, some animals originate without sexual contact, while others originate through sexual intercourse. Of those which originate without sexual intercourse, some come from fire, as the little animals which appear in chimneys, others from stagnant water, as misquotes, others from fermented wine, as the stinging ants, others from the earth, others from the mud, like frogs, others from slime, as worms, others from donkeys, as beetles, others from cabbage, as caterpillars, others from fruit, as the gall insect from the wild figs, others from putrefied animals, as bees from bulls, and wasps from horses. Again, of those originating from sexual intercourse, some come from animals of the same kind, as in most cases, and others from those of different kinds, as mules. Again, of animals in general, some are born alive, as humans, others from eggs, as birds, and others are born a lump of flesh, as bears. It is probable therefore, that the inequalities and differences in origin cause great opposition in the animals, and the result is incompatibility, discord, and conflict between the sensations of the different animals.
Again, the differences in the principal parts of the body, especially in those fixed by nature to judge and to perceive, may cause the greatest differences in their ideas of objects, according to the differences in the animals themselves. For example, those who are jaundice call that yellow which appears to us white, and those who have bloodshot eyes call it blood-red. Accordingly, as some animals have yellow eyes, and others bloodshot ones, and still others whitish ones, and others eyes of other colors, it is probable that they have a different perception of colors. Furthermore, when we look steadily at the sun for a long time, and then look down at a book, the letters seem to us gold colored, and dance around. Now, some animals have by nature a luster in their eyes, and these emit a fine and sparkling light so that they see at night, and we may reasonably suppose that external things do not appear the same to them as to us.
Jugglers by lightly rubbing the wick of the lamp with metal rust, or with the dark yellow fluid of the sepia, make those who are present appear at one moment copper-colored and another moment black, according to the amount of the mixture used. If this is so, it is reasonable to suppose that because of the mixture of different fluids in the eyes of animals, their ideas of objects would be different. Furthermore, when we press the eye on the side, the figures, forms and sizes of things seen appear elongated and narrow. It is therefore probable that animals which have the pupil oblique and long, as goats, cats, and similar animals, have ideas different from those of the animals which have a round pupil. Mirrors, according to their different construction, sometimes show the external object smaller than reality, as concave ones, and sometimes long and narrow, as the convex ones do; others show the head of the one looking into it down, and the feet up. As some of the vessels around the eye fall entirely outside the eye, on account of their protuberance, while others are more sunken, and still others are placed in an even surface, it is probable that for this reason also the ideas vary. Accordingly, dogs, fishes, lions, men, and grasshoppers do not see the same things, either of the same size, or of similar form, but according to the impression on the organ of sight of each animal respectively.
The same thing is true in regard to the other senses. For how can it be said that shellfish, birds of prey, animals covered with spines, those with feathers and those with scales would be affected in the same way by the sense of touch? Further, how can the sense of hearing perceive alike in animals which have the narrowest auditory passages, and in those that are furnished with the widest, or in those with hairy ears and those with smooth ones? For even humans hear differently when we partially stop up the ears, from what we do when we use them naturally. The sense of smell also varies according to differences in animals, since even our sense of smell is affected when we catch a cold and the phlegm is too abundant, and also when parts around our head are flooded with too much blood, for we then avoid odors that seem agreeable to others, and feel as if we were injured by them. Since also some of the animals are moist by nature and full of secretions, and others are very full of blood, and still others have either yellow or black bile prevalent and abundant, it is reasonable to think that odorous things appear different to each one of them.
It is the same with regard to things of taste, since some animals have the tongue rough and dry and others very moist. We too, when we have a dry tongue in fever, think that whatever we take is gritty, bad tasting, or bitter; and this we experience because of the varying degrees of the humors that are said to be in us. Since, then, different animals have different organs for taste, and a greater or less amount of the various humors, it may well be that they form different ideas of the same objects as regards their taste.
It is natural to suppose that external objects are regarded differently according to the different constitution of the animals which perceive them. This is similar to how the same food on being absorbed becomes in some places veins, in other places arteries, and in other places bones, nerves, or other tissues, showing different power according to the difference of the parts receiving it. This is just as the same water absorbed by the trees becomes in some places bark, in other places branches, and in still other places fruit, perhaps a fig, a pomegranate, or something else. This is also just as the breath of the musician when blown into the flute becomes sometimes a high tone and sometimes a low one, or the same pressure of the hand upon the lyre sometimes causes a deep tone and sometimes a high tone.
We may see this more clearly in the things that are sought for and avoided by animals. For example, myrrh appears very agreeable to people and intolerable to beetles and bees. Oil also, which is useful to people, destroys wasps and bees if sprinkled on them; and sea-water, while it is unpleasant and poisonous to men if they drink it, is most agreeable and sweet to fish. Swine also prefer to wash in vile filth rather than in pure clean water. Furthermore, some animals eat grass and some eat herbs; some live in the woods, others eat seeds; some are carnivorous, and others lactivorous; some enjoy putrefied food, and others fresh food; some raw food, and others that which is prepared by cooking; and in general that which is agreeable to some is disagreeable and fatal to others, and should be avoided by them. Thus hemlock makes the quail fat, and henbane the hogs, and these, as it is known, enjoy eating lizards; deer also eat poisonous animals, and swallows the cantharid. Moreover, ants and flying ants, when swallowed by men, cause discomfort and colic, but the bear, on the contrary, whatever sickness he may have, becomes stronger by devouring them. The viper is benumbed if one twig of the oak touches it, as is also the bat by a leaf of the plane-tree. The elephant flees before the ram, and the lion before the cock, and seals from the rattling of beans that are being pounded, and the tiger from the sound of the drum. Many other examples could be given, but that we may not seem to dwell longer than is necessary on this subject, we conclude by saying that since the same things are pleasant to some and unpleasant to others, and the pleasure and displeasure depend on the sense impressions (phantasia), it must be that different animals have different impressions of objects.
Since the same things appear differently according to the difference in the animals, it will be possible for us to say how the external object appears to us, but as to how it is in reality we will suspend our judgment. For we cannot ourselves judge between our own impressions and those of other animals, being ourselves involved in the difference, and therefore much more in need of being judged than being ourselves able to judge. Furthermore, we cannot give preference to our own mental impressions over those of other animals, either without evidence or with evidence, for besides the fact that perhaps there is no evidence, as I will show, the evidence so called will be either apparent to us or not. If it is not apparent to us, then we cannot accept it with conviction. If it is apparent to us (since the question is in regard to what is apparent to animals, and we use as evidence that which is manifest to us who are animals), then it is to be questioned if it is true as it is apparent to us. It is absurd, however, to try to base the questionable on the questionable, because the same thing is to be believed and not to be believed, which is certainly impossible. The evidence is to be believed insofar as it will furnish a proof, and disbelieved insofar as it is itself to be proved. We therefore have no evidence according to which we can give preference to our own ideas over those of so-called irrational animals. Since ideas differ according to the difference in animals, and it is impossible to judge them, it is then necessary to suspend the judgment in regard to external objects. . . .
The Second Method: Perceptual Differences from Person to Person Limit our Judgments (1.14)
Such is the first Method of suspension of judgment. The second, we said above, is based upon the differences between men. For even if one assents to the hypothesis that men are more trustworthy than the irrational animals, we will find that doubt arises as soon as we consider our own differences. For, since man is said to be composed of two things, soul and body, we differ from each other in respect to both of these things. For example, as regards the body, we differ both in form and personal peculiarities. For the body of a Scythian differs in form from the body of an Indian, the difference resulting, it is said, from the different control of the humors. According to different control of the humors, differences in ideas also arise, as we described under the first Method. For this reason, there is certainly a great difference among men in the choice and avoidance of external things.
The Indians delight in different things than do our own people, and the enjoyment of different things is a sign that different ideas are received by the external objects. We differ in personal peculiarities, as some digest beef better than the small fish from rocky places, and some are get diarrhea from the weak wine of Lesbos. There was, they say, an old woman in Attica who could drink thirty drachmas of hemlock without danger, and Lysis took four drachmas of opium unhurt, and Demophon (Alexander's table waiter) shivered when he was in the sun or in a hot bath, but felt warm in the shade. Athenagoras also, from Argos, was not harmed if stung by scorpions and venomous spiders. The so-called Psylli were not injured when bitten by snakes or by the aspis, and the Tentyrites among the Egyptians are not harmed by the crocodiles around them. The Ethiopians who live on the Hydaspes river, opposite Meroe, eat scorpions and serpents, and similar things without danger. Rufinus in Chalcis could drink hellebore without vomiting or diarrhea, and he enjoyed and digested it as something to which he was accustomed. Chrysermos, the Herophilian, ran the risk of stomachache if he ever ate pepper, and Soterichus, the surgeon, was seized by diarrhea if he smelled the odor of roasting shad. Andron, the Argive, was so free from thirst that he could travel even through the waterless Libya without looking for a drink. Tiberius, the emperor, saw in the dark, and Aristotle tells the story of a certain Thracian, who thought that he saw the figure of a man always going before him as a guide.
While therefore such a difference exists in men in regard to the body (and we must be satisfied with referring to a few only of the many examples given by the Dogmatics), it is probable that men also differ from each other with respect to the soul itself, for the body is a kind of image of the soul, as the physiognomy also shows. The best example of the numerous and infinite differences of opinion among men is the contradiction in the sayings of the Dogmatics, not only about other things, but about what it is well to seek and to avoid. The poets have also fittingly spoken about this, for Pindar said, "One delights in getting honors and crowns through storm-footed horses, Another in passing life in rooms rich in gold, Another still, safe travelling enjoys, in a swift ship, on a wave of the sea." The poet [Homer] says "One man enjoys this, another enjoys that.” The tragedies also abound in such expressions, for instance, it is said, "If to all, the same were good and wise, Quarrels and disputes among men would not have been." And again, "It is awful indeed, that the same thing should please some mortals, And by others be hated."
Thus, the choice and the avoidance of things depends on the pleasure and displeasure which they give, and the pleasure and displeasure consist in sense and sense impressions, when some choose the things that others avoid. From this it is logical for us to conclude that they are not affected similarly by the same things, for otherwise they would have chosen or avoided in the same way. Now, the same things affect different men differently, because of the difference in the men. For this reason, then, suspension of judgment may reasonably be introduced. Further, we may perhaps say how each object appears to us, and what its individual differences are, but we will not be able to declare what it is as to the nature of its essence. For we must either believe all men or some men; but to believe all is to undertake an impossibility, and to accept things that are in opposition to each other. If we believe some men only, let someone tell us with whom to agree, for the Platonist would say with Plato, the Epicurean with Epicurus, and others would advise in a corresponding manner. So as they disagree, with no one to decide, they bring us back to the suspension of judgment. Furthermore, he who tells us to agree with the majority proposes something childish, since no one could go to all men and find out what pleases the majority. For, it is possible that, in some nations which we do not know, the things that are rare to us are common to the majority of them, and those things which happen commonly to us are rare to them. For example, it might happen that the majority would not be harmed when bitten by venomous spiders, or that they will seldom feel pain, or have other personal peculiarities similar to those spoken of above. It is necessary therefore to suspend judgment on account of the differences in men.
The Third Method: Differences between One’s Sense Organs Limit our Judgments (1.14)
While, however, the Dogmatics are arrogant enough to think that they should be preferred to other men in the judgement of things, we know that their claim is absurd, for they themselves form a part of the disagreement. If they give themselves preference in this way in the judgment of phenomena, they beg the question before they begin the judgment, since they trust the judgment to themselves. Nevertheless, in order that we should reach the result of the suspension of judgment by limiting the argument to one man, one who for example they deem to be wise, let us take up the third Method. This is the one that is based upon differences in perception [as perceived by one person].
That the perceptions differ from each other is evident. For example, paintings seem to have recesses and projections to the sense of sight, but not to the sense of touch. Honey tastes pleasant to the tongue of some people, but is unpleasant to the eyes; thus, it is impossible to say whether it is really pleasant or unpleasant. It is the same in regard to myrrh, since it delights the sense of smell, but disgusts the sense of taste. Similarly, euphorbium is harmful to the eyes but harmless to all the rest of the body, and so we are not able to say whether it is really harmless to bodies or not, as far as its own nature is concerned. Rainwater, too, is useful to the eyes, but it makes the trachea and the lungs rough, just as oil does, although it soothes the skin. The sea-torpedo placed on one’s limbs makes them numb, but is harmless when placed on the rest of the body. For this reason we cannot say what each of these things is by nature. It is possible only to say how it appears each time.
We could cite more examples than these, but in order not to spend too long in laying out the plan of this book we will simply say the following: Each of the phenomena perceived by us seems to present itself in many forms, such as the apple, which is smooth, fragrant, sweet, yellow. Now it is not known whether it has in reality only those qualities which appear to us, or if it has only one quality, but appears different because of the different constitution of the sense organs, or if it has more qualities than appear to us, but some of them do not affect us. That it has only one quality might be concluded from what we have said about the food distributed in bodies, and the water distributed in trees, and the breath in the flute and syrinx, and in similar instruments. For it is possible that the apple also has only one quality, but appears different because of the difference in the sense organs by which it is perceived. On the other hand, that the apple has more qualities than those that appear to us, can be argued in this way. Let us imagine someone born with the sense of touch, of smell, and of taste, but neither hearing nor seeing. He will then assume that neither anything visible nor anything audible exists at all, but only the three kinds of qualities which he can perceive. It is possible then that, since we have only the five senses, we only recognize those qualities of the apple which we are able to perceive. But it may be supposed that other qualities exist which would affect other sense organs if we possessed them, although, as it is, we do not feel the sensations which would be felt through them.
But nature, one will say, has brought the senses into harmony with the objects to be perceived. What kind of nature? Among the Dogmatics there is a great difference of opinion about the real existence of nature anyway. For he who decides whether there is a nature or not, if he is an uneducated man, would be according to them untrustworthy; if he is a philosopher, he is a part of the disagreement, and is himself to be judged, but is not a judge. In short, if it is possible that only those qualities exist in the apple which we seem to perceive, or that there are more than these, or that not even those which we perceive exist, it will be unknown to us what kind of a thing the apple is. The same argument holds for other objects of perception. If, however, the senses do not apprehend the external world, the intellect cannot apprehend it either. For this reason also it will appear that the suspension of judgment follows in regard to external objects.
The Fourth Method: Differing Physiological Conditions Limit our Judgment (1.14)
In order to attain to suspension of judgment by fixing the argument on each separate sense, or even by putting aside the senses altogether, we take up the fourth Method of suspension. This is the one based upon circumstances, and by circumstances we mean conditions. This Method comes under consideration, we may say, with regard to conditions of being naturally healthy or unhealthy, being wake or asleep, the age of life, moving or keeping still, hating or loving, hunger or fullness, drunkenness or sobriety, predispositions, being courageous or afraid, sorrowing or rejoicing.
Things, then, appear different as they are according to natural health, or contrary to it; for example, the insane and those inspired by a god, think that they hear gods, while we do not. Similarly, they often say that they perceive the odor of storax or frankincense, or the like, and many other things which we do not perceive. Water, also, that seems lukewarm to us, if poured over places that are inflamed, will feel hot, and a garment that appears orange-colored to those that have blood-shot eyes, would not look so to me. Also, the same honey appears sweet to me, but bitter to those who have jaundice. One might say that those who are not in a natural state have unusual ideas of objects, because of the intermingling of certain humors. But then one must also say that perhaps objects which are really what they seem to be to those who are in an unnatural condition, appear different to those who are in health. For even those who are in health have humors that are mixed with each other. For to give to one kind of fluid a power to change objects, and not to another kind, is a fiction of the mind. For, just as healthy people are in a condition that is natural to those who are in health (and contrary to the nature of those who are not in health), so also unhealthy people are in a condition contrary to the nature of those in health (but natural to those not in health). We must therefore believe that they also are in some respect in a natural condition.
Furthermore, in sleep or in waking, the ideas are different, because we do not see things in the same way when we are awake as we do in sleep; neither do we see them in the same way in sleep as we do when awake. Accordingly, the existence or non-existence of these things is not absolute, but relative, that is in relation to a sleeping or waking condition. It is therefore probable that we see those things in sleep which in a waking condition do not exist, but they are not altogether non-existent. For, they exist in sleep, just as those things which exist when we are awake, exist, although they do not exist in sleep.
Furthermore, things present themselves differently according to the age of life. For, the same air seems cold to the aged, but temperate to those in their prime, and the same color appears dim to those who are old, and bright to those in their prime, and likewise the same tone seems faint to the former, and audible to the latter. People in different ages are also differently disposed towards things to be chosen or avoided. Children, for example, are very fond of balls and hoops, while those in their prime prefer other things, and the old still others. It follows from this that the ideas in regard to the same objects differ in different periods of life.
Furthermore, things appear different in a condition of motion and rest, since that which we see at rest when we are still, seems to move when we are sailing by it. There are also differences which depend on liking or disliking, as some greatly detest swine meat, but others eat it with pleasure. As Menander said, "O how his face appears Since he became such a man! What a creature! Doing no injustice would make us also beautiful." Also, many people who love ugly women consider them to be very beautiful.
Furthermore, there are differences which depend on hunger or fullness, since the same food seems agreeable to those who are hungry, and disagreeable to those who are satisfied. There are also differences depending on drunkenness and sobriety, such as that which we consider ugly when we are sober does not appear ugly to us when we are drunk. Again, there are differences depending on predispositions, such as that the same wine appears sour to those who have previously eaten dates or dried figs, but agreeable to those who have taken nuts or chickpeas. The vestibule of the bath warms those who enter from without, but cools those who leave it once they rest in it. Furthermore, there are differences depending on being afraid or courageous, since the same thing seems fearful and terrible to the coward, but in no way to the brave. There are differences, also, depending on being sad or joyful, since the same things are unpleasant to the sad, but pleasant to the joyful.
Since therefore the irregularities depending on conditions are so great, and since men are in different conditions at different times, it is perhaps easy to say how each object appears to each man, but not so of what kind it is, because the irregularity is not of a kind to be judged. For he who would pass judgment upon this is either in some one of the conditions mentioned above, or is in absolutely no condition whatever. But to say that he is in no condition at all is wholly absurd, as, for example, that he is neither in health nor in illness, that he is neither moving nor quiet, that he is not of any age, and also that he is free from the other conditions. But if he judges the ideas while he is in any condition whatever, he is a part of the contradiction. Besides, he is no genuine critic of external objects, because he is confused by the condition in which he finds himself. Therefore, neither can the one who is awake compare the ideas of those who are asleep with those who are awake, nor can he who is in health compare the ideas of the sick with those of the well. For we believe more in the things that are present, and affecting us at present, than in the things not present.
In another way, the irregularity in such ideas is impossible to be judged, for whoever prefers one idea to another, and one condition to another, does this either without a criterion and a proof, or with a criterion and a proof. But he can do this neither without them, for he would then be untrustworthy, nor with them. For if he judges ideas, he judges them entirely by a criterion, and he will say that this criterion is either true or false. But if it is false, he will be untrustworthy; if, on the contrary, he says that it is true, he will say that the criterion is true either without proof or with proof. If without proof, he will be untrustworthy; if he says that it is true with proof, it is certainly necessary that the proof be true, or he will be untrustworthy. Perhaps he will he say that the proof which he has accepted for the accrediting of the criterion is true, having judged it, or without having judged it. If he says so without judging it, he will be untrustworthy. But if he has judged it, it is evident that he will say that he has judged according to some criterion, and we must seek a proof for this criterion, and for that proof a criterion. For the proof always needs a criterion to establish it, and the criterion needs a proof that it may be shown to be true. But a proof can neither be sound without a pre-existing criterion that is true, nor a criterion true without a proof that is shown beforehand to be trustworthy. Consequently, both the criterion and the proof are thrown into circular reasoning, by which it is found that they are both of them untrustworthy: for as each looks for proof from the other, each is as untrustworthy as the other. Since then one cannot prefer one idea to another, either without a proof and a criterion or with them, the ideas that differ according to different conditions cannot be judged. Thus, the suspension of judgment in regard to the nature of external objects follows from this Method also.
The Fifth Method: Differing Perceptual Perspectives Limit our Judgments (1.14)
The fifth Method is that based upon position, distance, and place, for, according to each of these, the same things appear different. For example, the same porch seen from either end appears shortened, but from the middle it looks symmetrical on every side. The same ship appears small and motionless from afar, and large and in motion nearby. The same tower appears round from a distance, but square nearby. So much for distance. Now in reference to place, we say that the light of the lamp appears dim in the sun, but bright in the dark. The same rudder appears broken in the sea, but straight out of it; the egg in the bird is soft, but in the air hard; amber is a fluid in the lynx, but is hard in the air; coral is soft in the sea, but hard in the air; a tone of voice appears different produced by panpipes, and by a flute, and different simply in the air. Also in reference to position, the same picture leaned back appears smooth, and leaned forward a little seems to have recesses and projections, and the necks of doves appear different in color according to the difference in inclination. Since then all phenomena are seen in relation to place, distance, and position, each of which relation makes a great difference with the idea, as we have mentioned, we are obliged by this Method also to come to the suspension of judgment. He who wishes to give preference to certain ones of these ideas will attempt the impossible. If he simply makes the decision without proof, he will be untrustworthy. Suppose, though, that he wishes to make use of a proof. If he says that the proof is false, he contradicts himself; but if he declares the proof to be true, then proof of its proof will be demanded of him, and another proof for that, which proof also must be true, and so on in an infinite regress. It is impossible, however, to present proofs to infinity, so that one will not be able to prove that one idea is to be preferred to another. Since, then, one cannot either with or without proof judge the ideas in question, the suspension of judgment results. We may be able to say how each thing appears according to this or that position, or this or that distance, or this or that place, but, for the reasons which we have mentioned, it is impossible to declare what it really is.
The Sixth Method: Differing Media of Perceptions Limit our Judgments (1.14)
The sixth Method is the one based upon mixtures. According to this, no object presents itself alone, but always together with something else. While it is possible to say of what nature the mixture is, of the thing itself, and of that with which it is seen, we must conclude that we cannot say what sort the external object really is. Now it is evident, I think, that nothing from without is known to us by itself, but always with something else, and that because of this fact it appears different. The color of our skin, for example, is different seen in warm air from what it is in cold, and we could not say what our color really is, only what it is when viewed under each of these conditions. The same sound appears different in expanded air from what it is in condensed. Aromas are more overpowering in the warm bath and in the sun than they are in the cold air, and a body surrounded by water is light, but by air heavy. Leaving aside, however, outer mixtures, our eyes have inside of them coatings and humors. Since then visible things are not seen without these, they will not be accurately apprehended, since it is the mixture that we perceive. For this reason, those who have jaundice see everything yellow, and those with bloodshot eyes red. Since the same sound appears different in broad open places from what it does in narrow and winding ones, and different in pure air and in impure, it is probable that we do not perceive the tones unmixed. For the ears have narrow winding passages filled with vaporous secretions, which it is said gather from places around the head. Since also there are substances present in the nostrils and in the seat of the sense of taste, we perceive the things smelled and the things tasted in connection with them, and not unmixed. Thus, because of mixture the senses do not perceive accurately what the external objects are. The intellect even does not do this, mainly because the senses, which are the guides of the intellect, make mistakes, and perhaps the intellect itself adds a certain special mixture to those messages communicated by the senses. For in each place where the Dogmatics think that the ruling faculty is situated, we see that certain humors are present, whether we locate it in the region of the brain, in the region of the heart, or somewhere else. Since therefore according to this Method also, we see that we cannot say anything regarding the nature of external objects, we must suspend our judgment.
The Seventh Method: The Quantity of a Thing’s Components Limits our Judgments (1.14)
The seventh Method is the one which, as we said, is based upon the quantity and constitution of objects, constitution commonly meaning composition. It is evident that we must suspend our judgment according to this Method also in regard to the nature of things. For example, filings from the horn of the goat appear white when they are seen separately and without being put together; but put together in the form of a horn, they look black. The filings of silver by themselves appear black, but as a whole appear white. Parts of the Taenarus stone look white when ground, but in the whole stone appear yellow. Grains of sand scattered apart from each other appear to be rough, but put together in a heap, they produce a soft feeling. The hellebore plant causes choking when applied fine and powdery, but no longer does so when applied coarse. Wine also taken moderately strengthens us, but when taken in excess relaxes the body. Food similarly, has a different effect according to the quantity, at least; it often disturbs the body when too much is taken, causing indigestion and vomiting.
We will also be able to say here what kind the cutting from the horn is and what many cuttings put together are, of what kind a filing of silver is and what many of them put together are, of what kind the tiny Taenarus stone and what one composed of many small ones is. With the grains of sand, the hellebore, the wine, and the food, we can say what they are in relation to each other. But no longer can we say what the nature is of the thing by itself, because of the irregularity in the ideas which we have of things, according to the way in which they are put together. In general, it appears that useful things become harmful when an intemperate use is made of them, and things that seem harmful when taken in excess, are not injurious in a small quantity. What we see in the effect of medicines especially attests to this fact. For, an exact mixture of simple remedies makes a compound which is helpful, but sometimes when a very small inclination of the balance is overlooked, the medicine is not only unhelpful, but very harmful, and often poisonous. So the argument based upon the quantity and constitution of objects, puts in confusion the existence of external objects. Therefore, this Method naturally leads us to suspend our judgment, since we are not able to declare exactly the nature of external objects.
The Eighth Method: The Relativity of Everything Limits our Judgments (1.14)
The eighth Method is the one based upon relativity. From this we conclude to suspend our judgment as to what things are absolutely, in their nature, since everything is in relation to something else.
We must bear in mind that we use the word “is” incorrectly, in place of “appears”, meaning to say, everything “appears” to be in relation. However, this is said with two meanings. First, everything is in relation to the one who judges, for the external object (that is, the thing judged) appears to be in relation to the judge. The second way is that everything is in relation to the things considered together with it, as the relation of the right hand to the left. But [in the previous Methods] we came to the conclusion above, that everything is in relation to something, as for example, to the one judging; each thing appears in relation to this or that animal, and this or that man, and this or that sense, and in certain circumstances. As regards things considered together, also, each thing appears in relation to this or that mixture, and this or that method, and this or that composition, quantity and place.
In another way it is possible to conclude that everything is in relation to something, as follows. Does the being in difference differ from the being in relation, or not? If it does not differ, then it is the same as relation; if it does differ, then those things which are in a difference are in a relation to something (since everything which differs is in some relation, for it is said to be in relation to that from which it differs). Now according to the Dogmatics, some beings belong to the highest genera, others to the lowest species, and others to both genera and species at the same time. All of these are in relation to something, therefore everything is in relation to something. Furthermore, among things, some things are manifest, and others are hidden, as the Dogmatics themselves say. The things that are manifest are the phenomena, and the things that are made known to us by the phenomena are the hidden things. For according to the Dogmatics, the phenomena are the outward appearance of the unknown. Thus, that which makes known [i.e., the manifest phenomena], and that which is made known [i.e., the hidden], are in relation to something. Everything, therefore, is in relation to something.
In addition to this, some things are similar to each other, and others are dissimilar, some are equal, and others are unequal. Now these things are in relation to something, therefore everything is in relation to something. Whoever says that everything is not in relation to something, himself establishes the fact that everything is in relation to something, for even in saying that everything is not in relation to something, he proves it in reference to us, and not in general, by his objections to us. In short, as we have shown that everything is in relation to something, it is then evident that we cannot say exactly what each object is by nature, but what it appears to be like in relation to something else. It follows from this, that we must suspend our judgment regarding the nature of things.
The Ninth Method: The Rarity of Some Things Limits our Judgments (1.14)
In regard to the Method based on the frequency and rarity of events, which we call the ninth of the series, we give the following explanation. The sun is certainly a much more astonishing thing than a comet. But because we see the sun continually and the comet rarely, we are so much more astonished at the comet that it even seems an omen, while we are not at all astonished at the sun. Imagine that the sun appeared at rare intervals, and at rare intervals setting, first suddenly lighting up all things, and second casting everything into shade: we would be greatly astonished at that sight. An earthquake, too, trouble those who experience it for the first time in a different way than those who have become accustomed to it. Consider how great the astonishment is of a man who sees the sea for the first time. The beauty of the human body, seen suddenly for the first time, moves us more than if we are accustomed to seeing it. That which is rare seems valuable, while things that are familiar and easily obtained seem by no means so. If, for example, we should imagine water as rare, of how much greater value would it seem than all other valuable things. Or, if we imagine gold as simply thrown about on the ground in large quantities like stones, to whom do we think it would be valuable, or by whom would it be hoarded, as it is now? Since then the same things seem to valuable sometimes but not other times according to the frequency or rarity that they are met with, we will be able to say what kind of a thing each of them appears to be according to the frequency or rarity with which it occurs, but we are not able to say what each external object is absolutely. Therefore, according to this Method also, we suspend our judgment regarding these things.
The Tenth Method: Irregularity of Custom, Laws and Conduct Limits our Judgments (1.14)
The tenth Method is one principally connected with morals, relating specifically to codes of conduct, customs, laws, mythical beliefs, and dogmatic opinions. A code of conduct is a choice of a manner of life, or of something held by one or many, as for example that of Diogenes or the Spartans. A law is a written contract among citizens, the violator of which is punished. A custom or habit (for there is no difference) is a common acceptance of a certain thing by many, the violator of which is not necessarily punished. For example, it is a law not to commit adultery, and it is a custom with us to forbid having sex with a woman in public. A mythical belief is a tradition regarding things which never took place, but were invented, such as the tales about Cronus which many people believe. A dogmatic opinion is the acceptance of something that seems to be established by a course of reasoning, or by some proof. Examples are, that atoms are elements of things, and that they are either homogeneous, or infinitively small, or something else.
We sometimes place each of these things in opposition to itself, and other times in opposition to each one of the others. For example, we place a custom in opposition to another custom as follows. Some of the Ethiopians tattoo new-born children, but we do not. The Persians think it is appropriate to have a garment of many colors reaching to the feet, but we think it is inappropriate. People from India have sex with their women in public, but most of the other nations find that shameful. We place a law in opposition to another law in this way. Among the Romans a man who renounces his paternal inheritance does not pay his fathers debts, but among the Rhodians he must pay them anyway. Among the Tauri in Scythia, it was a law to sacrifice strangers to Artemis, but with us it is forbidden to kill a man near a temple. We place a code of conduct in opposition to another code of conduct when, for example, we oppose the school of Diogenes to that of Aristippus, or that of the Spartans to that of the Italians. We place a mythical belief in opposition to another mythical belief, as when, according to some traditions, Jupiter is said to be the father of men and gods, and according to other traditions Oceanus is: “Oceanus, father of the gods, and Tethys the mother.” We place dogmatic opinions in opposition to each other, as when we say that some declare that there is only one element, but others that elements are infinite in number. Some say that the soul is immortal, and others that it is mortal. Some say that our affairs are directed by the providence of the gods, but others hold that there is no divine providence.
We place custom in opposition to other things, such as a law, when we say that among the Persians it is the custom to practice homosexuality, but among the Romans it is forbidden by law to do that. For us adultery is forbidden, but among the Massegetae adultery is customarily accepted with indifference (as Eudoxos of Cnidus relates in the first part of his book of travels). Among us it is forbidden to have sex with our mothers, but among the Persians it is the custom to have such marriages. The Egyptians marry their sisters, which is also forbidden by law among us. Further, we place a custom in opposition to a code of conduct when we say, for example, that most men have sex with their wives in private, but the [Cynic] philosopher Crates did it with his wife publicly. Diogenes [the Cynic] went around with one shoulder bare, but we go around with our customary clothes.
We place a custom in opposition to a mythical belief, as when the myths say that Cronus ate his own children, while with us it is the custom to take care of our children. Among us it is the custom to honor the gods as good an incapable of evil, but the poets describe them as suffering from injuries and being jealous of each other. We place a custom in opposition to a dogmatic opinion when we say that it is a custom with us to request favors from the gods, but that Epicurus says that the divine pays no attention to us. Aristippus also held it to be a matter of indifference to wear women’s clothes, but we consider it shameful.
We place a code of conduct in opposition to a law, as when, according to the law it is not allowed to beat a free and noble born man, but the wrestlers and boxers hit each other according to the teaching of their manner of life. Although murder is forbidden, the gladiators kill each other for the same reason. We place a mythical belief in opposition to a code of conduct when we say that, although the myths maintain that Hercules spun wool and did slaves’ tasks in Omphale’s house and did things that not even an ordinary good man would have done, yet Hercules code of conduct was noble. We place mythical belief in opposition to a dogmatic opinion when we say that, for example, it is good for athletes to seek after glory and enter for its sake upon a laborious profession, yet, on the other hand, many philosophers teach that glory is worthless. We place a law in opposition to a mythical belief when we say that the poets represent the gods as committing adultery and sin, but among us the law forbids those things. We place law in opposition to dogmatic opinion when we say that the followers of Chrysippus hold that it is a matter of indifference to marry one’s mother or sister, but the law forbids these things. We place a mythical belief in opposition to a dogmatic opinion when we say that the poets represent Jupiter as descending and having sex with mortal women, but the Dogmatists think that this was impossible. Also, the poet says that Jupiter, because of his sorrow for Sarpedon, rained drops of blood upon the earth, but it is a dogma of the philosophers that the divine is exempt from suffering. They also deny the myth of the horse-centaurs, yet they give us the horse-centaur as an example of unreality.
We could give many other examples of each of the direct opposites mentioned above, but for a brief account, these are sufficient. Since irregularity of things is shown by this Method also, we will not be able to say what objects are by nature, but only what each thing appears to be like, according to this or that code of conduct, or this or that law, or this or that custom, or according to each of the other conditions. Therefore, by this Method also, we must suspend our judgment in regard to the nature of external objects. Thus we arrive at suspension of judgment through the ten Methods.
The Notion of God is Inconceivable (3.3)
Now considering that most of the Dogmatists hold God to be the most efficient cause, let us first inquire concerning God. However, we recognize that, in the course of life, we say (without engaging our judgment) that there are Gods, that we worship the Gods, and that they have providence. But we say the following to oppose the rashness of the dogmatists.
Of the things which we understand, we ought to consider their substances, such as whether they are bodies or are incorporeal. So too with their forms. For no one can understand a horse if he has not first learned what the form of a horse is. Likewise, that which is understood, must be understood as being somewhere. Now insofar as some of the dogmatists say that God is a body, others say he is incorporeal. Some, that he has a human form, others not. Some say that he exists in space, others that he does not exist in space. Of those who say that he exists in space, some say that he is in the world, others that he is beyond it. How, then, can we have a conception of God without having undisputed knowledge of his substance, or of his form, or of the place wherein he exists? Let them first agree among themselves concerning what God is, and then they may represent him to us, and require that we accept such a conception of God. For, while they disagree irreconcilably among themselves, we cannot accept anything from them as undoubtedly true.
But, they say, conceive within yourself of something that is incorruptible and blessed: that thing, then, is God. But this is ridiculous. For, as he who does not know Dion cannot know the properties that belong to him, as Dion. So, not knowing the substance of God, we similarly cannot know his accidents. Further, let them tell us what is blessed: whether it is that which is active according to virtue, and has a providence over the things subordinate to it; or that which is passive, and neither has any activity itself, or provides activity to another. For, differing irreconcilably even about this, they show that what they call blessed is inconceivable, and consequently God himself is also inconceivable.
God’s Existence is not Self-Evident and cannot be Demonstrated from the Self-Evident or Non-Self-Evident (3.3)
But even though we might grant some notion of God, yet it is necessary for us to suspend judgment about whether he is or he is not, at least with respect to what the dogmatists say. For, it is not self-evident that there is a God. For, if that were self-evident, the Dogmatists would have agreed about who, what, and where he is. Yet, on the contrary, there is an unending controversy among them, whereby we see that his being is not self-evident to us, and requires demonstration. Now he who says that there is a God, must either demonstrate it by either a something that is self-evident, or not self-evident. He cannot do so by something self-evident, for if that were self-evident which demonstrates there is a God (forasmuch as that which demonstrates is relative to that which is demonstrated, and consequently is grasping together with it, as we have formerly proved), then that there is a God will be also be self-evident, as being grasped together with the self-evident thing that demonstrates it. But this [i.e., God’s existence] is not self-evident, therefore neither can it be demonstrated by something that is self-evident.
But neither can God be demonstrated by what is not self-evident, for the non-self-evident will require a demonstration. If demonstrated by something self-evident, then it will no longer be non-self-evident, but instead evident that there is a God. Therefore, the non-self-evident demonstrative cannot be demonstrated by what is self-evident. But neither can it be demonstrated by something non-self-evident. For he who says so will be driven into an infinite regress, as we continually require a demonstration of the non-self-evident, that is alleged for demonstrating the thing proposed. Therefore, it cannot be demonstrated from any other thing that there is a God. So, if it is neither self-evident in itself, nor demonstrable from something else, it will be incomprehensible whether there is a God.
God’s Providence cannot be Demonstrated (3.3)
Further, he who says there is a God, holds either that he is provident over the things in the world, or he is not provident. If provident, he is so either over all, or only over some. If over all, there would be no badness or evil in the world. But all things (as they admit) are full of evil; therefore, God cannot be said to be provident over all. If he is provident only over some things, why is he provident over these and not over those? For either (1) he both wills to be provident and is capable of being provident over all; or (2) he wills, but is incapable; or (3) he is capable, but does not will; or (4) he neither wills nor is capable. If he both wills and is capable [i.e., option 1], then he indeed would be provident over all. But he is not provident, as is clear from what we just said [regarding evil]. Therefore, it is not the case that he both wills to provide over all and is capable of providing over all. If he wills, but is incapable [i.e., option 2], then his power is exceeded by some cause that hinders him from being provident over the things that are outside of his providence. But it is absurd to image God to be weaker than some other thing. If he is capable of being provident over all, but does not will this [i.e., option 3], then he may be evil. If he neither wills nor is capable [i.e., option 4], then he is both evil and weak. But to say this of God is impious. Therefore, God is not provident over the things of the world. Further, if he is not provident over them, and neither performs any work or effect, then no one can say by what means he comprehends that there is a God, seeing that it neither is self-evident in itself, nor comprehended by any effects. For these reasons therefore it is incomprehensible whether there is or is not a God.
Hence we may also argue, that they who say there is a God, cannot be excused from impiety. For, by affirming that he is provident over all things, they say that God is the author of evil. In saying that he is provident over only some and not over all, they will be forced to admit that God is either evil or weak, which cannot be said without clear impiety.
Nothing is Naturally Good (3.23)
Fire, which heats by nature, appears to everyone to be heating. Snow, being cool by nature, appears to everyone to be cooling. In the same way, all things that by nature have affects, will affect other things according to their nature. But none of those things that are called "good" affect all men as good, as we will show. Therefore, there is nothing good by nature. It is clear that none of those things that are called "good" affect everyone in the same way. We will ignore ordinary people, some of whom think that physical fitness is good, others sexual pleasures, others eating, others drinking, others gambling, others wealth, others something worse than these. Now, some philosophers, such as the Peripatetics, say that there are three kinds of goods, some in the soul such as virtues, some in the body such as health and the like, and some are external such as friendship wealth and the like. The Stoics also hold that there are three kinds of goods, some in the soul such as virtues, some external such as a virtuous man and a friend, and some neither inside or outside of the soul such as a virtuous man as man. But those that are in the body or external, which the Peripatetics designate as goods, they deny to be goods. There are some philosophers who hold pleasure to be a good, others on the contrary say that it is an evil. Accordingly, one of these philosophers proclaimed "I would rather be mad than pleased." Now, if all things that by nature have affects, will affect everyone the same way, then nothing is good by nature. . . .
Nothing is Naturally Evil or Shameful (3.24)
As I have proved, there is nothing naturally good. For the same reasons, neither is there anything naturally evil. For, those things that seem evil to some men are pursued by others as goods, such as lust, injustice, greed, overindulgence, and the like. Thus, if natural things affect everyone in the same way, and those that are said to be evil do not affect everyone in the same way, then nothing is naturally evil. . . .
In addition to what has been said, it may be proper to briefly consider the notions concerning things that are shameful and not shameful, unlawful and unlawful, laws and customs, piety towards the gods, reverence for the departed, and the like. By doing so we will discover a great diversity of belief concerning what ought or ought not to be done.
With us, homosexuality is considered shameful and unlawful. With the Germani, it is not shameful but permitted by custom. Neither did the ancient Thebans consider it shameful, and they say that Merione the Cretan received his name as an indication of this custom. Some also attribute this to Achilles' burning friendship with Patroclus. It is no surprise, then, that both the Cynics and [the Stoics] Zeno of Citium, Cleanthese and Chrysippus say that it is indifferent.
Again, if a man lies with his wife in public, we consider it shameful, yet some of the people of India do not, for they do so publicly with indifference. Crates the [Cynic] philosopher is also said to have done this. For us, it is shameful and disgraceful for women to prostitute themselves, but with many of the Egyptians it is praiseworthy, for they say that those who have slept with many men would wear ankle bracelets as a mark of their honor. Further, among them, girls before marriage gained a dowry by prostituting themselves. The Stoics say that it is no shame to cohabitate with a prostitute or to live off the profits of what she makes.
For us tattoos are shameful and dishonorable, but many of the Egyptians and Samaritans tattoo their children. With us it is shameful for men to wear earrings, but for some barbarians and Syrians it is a sign of nobility. Further, some, as a sign of nobility, put holes in the nostrils of their children in which they hang rings of silver or gold, which none of us do. Neither to we wear robes colored with flowers, but, while we think this is indecent, the Persians consider it respectable. When during a feast Dionysius the Tyrant of Sicily offered a robe of this kind to Plato and Aristippus the philosophers, Plato refused saying "I will not disgrace myself with a female robe since I am a man. But Aristippus [the Cynic] accepted it saying even during a feast of Bacchus, a pure woman does not become corrupt. Thus, even with these wise men, to one it seemed decent, to the other indecent.
With us it is unlawful to marry our mother or sister, but the Persians (and among them the Magi, who are famous for their wisdom), marry their mothers, and the Egyptians marry their sisters. . . . Among us it is illegal to eat human flesh, but there are whole nations of barbarians who consider this as something indifferent. But why cite the barbarians when Tydeus himself is said to have eaten the brains of his enemy? The stoics say that it is not improper to eat just the flesh of other men, but also our own. . . .
The same kind of argument we might deduce from many other things, which, for brevity, we will omit. If we cannot immediately give a contrariety to something, we may still say that it is possible that in some unknown nations there may be a different opinion. For example, if we did not know that the custom of the Egyptians is to marry their sisters, we might wrongly affirm everyone believes that we should not marry our sisters. Similarly, with those things about which we do not know of a difference, we should not affirm that there is no controversy concerning them. For, as I said, it is possible that some other unknown nations may hold the contrary. Thus, seeing so great a diversity of practices, the skeptic suspends judgment about whether anything is good or bad by nature, or generally to be done or not done.
SIX CRITICISMS OF SKEPTICISM
Skeptics give Weak Arguments (Sextus, Outlines, 3.32)
Because of his great compassion, to the best of his ability the skeptic attempts through discourse to remedy the arrogance and rash insolence of the dogmatists. Physicians who treat bodily diseases have remedies of different sorts, applying extreme ones to those who are extremely sick, but milder ones to those whose disease is milder. Similarly, the arguments proposed by the skeptic are not all of equal force. The stronger ones, which are best able to overthrow the disease of the dogmatists, he uses against those who are most severely affected by it. The milder ones he uses against those who have it more mildly and superficially, so that they may be cured by milder methods. Because of this the skeptic sometimes uses stronger methods and arguments, and other times, for a given purpose, uses weaker ones, since he deems them sufficient to accomplish his purpose.
Skeptics Themselves use Reason (Diogenes, Lives, 9)
[According to the Skeptics] to any assertion there is a contrary assertion opposing it, which, after having destroyed all others, turns itself against itself, and destroys itself. This resembles, so to speak, those cathartic medicines which, after they have cleansed the stomach, then discharge themselves, and are gotten rid of. But the dogmatic philosophers criticize that all these reasonings are so far from overturning the authority of reason that they confirm it. To this the Skeptics reply, that they only use reason as an instrument, because it is impossible to overturn the authority of reason without using reason. Similarly, if we assert that “there is no such thing as space,” we must use the word “space,” but demonstratively, not dogmatically. Again, if we assert that “nothing exists according to necessity,” it is unavoidable that we use the word “necessity.” . . .
Skeptics Themselves give Positive Definitions and Dogmas (Diogenes, Lives, 9)
The dogmatic philosophers, arguing against the Skeptics, say that they assert positive and deceptive dogmas. When the Skeptics think that they are refuting others, they are convicting themselves: in the very act of refutation, they assert positively and dogmatize. For when they say that they define nothing, and that every argument has an opposite argument, they at the same time give a positive definition, and assert a positive dogma. But Skeptics reply to these objectors. As to the things which happen to us as men, we admit what you say. For we recognize that it is day, that we are alive, and many other phenomena of life. But with respect to those things as to which the dogmatic philosophers make positive assertions, saying that they are comprehended, we suspend our judgment on the ground of their being uncertain, and that we know nothing but the passions. We admit that we see, and we are aware that we comprehend that such a thing is the fact, but we do not know how we see, or how we comprehend. Also, we state in the course of discussion that this appears white, without asserting positively that it really is so. With respect to the assertion, "We define nothing," and other sentences of that sort, we do not pronounce them as dogmas. For to say that is a different kind of statement from saying that the world is spherical; for the one fact is not evident, while the other statements are mere admissions. While, therefore, we say that we define nothing, we do not even say that as a definition.
Skeptical Denial Overthrows All Life (Diogenes, Lives, 9)
The dogmatic philosophers say that the Skeptics overthrow all life when they deny everything of which life consists. But the Skeptics say that they are mistaken, for they do not deny that they see, but that they do not know how it is that they see. For, they say, we assert what is actually the fact, but we do not describe its character. We feel that fire burns, but we suspend our judgment as to whether it has a burning nature. We see whether a person moves and that a man dies, but how these things happen we do not know. Thus, we only oppose the uncertain substances that are behind the evident facts. When we say that an image has projections, we only state plainly what is evident; but when we say that it does not have projections, we no longer say what appears evident, but something else. For this reason, Timon [the Skeptic] says in his Python that Pyrrho does not destroy the authority of custom, and in his Images he says the following: “What is evidently seen prevails, wherever it may be”. In his Treatise on the Senses, he says, “I do not establish the reason why a thing is sweet, but I admit that the fact of sweetness is evident."
The Skeptic’s position on Appearances is Paradoxical (Diogenes, Lives, 9)
Democritus says that there is no test whatever of appearances, and also that they are not criteria of truth. Further, the dogmatic philosophers attack the criterion derived from appearances, and say that the same objects present different appearances at times, so that at one time a town appears to be a square, and at another it appears to be round. Consequently, if the Sceptic does not distinguish between different appearances, he does nothing at all. If, on the contrary, he determines in favor of some appearances, then he no longer attaches equal value to all appearances. In response to this, the Sceptics say that in the presence of different appearances, they restrict themselves with to saying that there are many appearances, and that it is precisely because things present themselves under different characters, that they affirm the existence of appearances.
The Skeptic’s Suspension will make them Comply with Immorality (Diogenes, Lives, 9)
The Sceptics say that the chief good is the suspension of the judgment which tranquility of mind follows, like its shadow, as [the Skeptics] Timon and Aenesidemus say. For we need not choose these things, or avoid those which all depend on ourselves. But we cannot avoid those things which do not depend upon us, but upon necessity, such as hunger, thirst, and pain, since it is not possible to put an end to them by reason. But the dogmatic philosophers object that the Sceptic, on his principles, will not refuse to kill and eat his own father if he is ordered to do so. The Skeptics reply that, without bothering themselves with the speculations of the dogmatic philosophers, they can live very well by suspending their judgment in all matters that do not refer to living and the preservation of life. Accordingly, say they, we avoid some things, and we seek others, following custom in that, and we obey the laws.
Questions for Review
1. What are the broken oar and dove’s neck arguments for skepticism and what is Cicero’s defense of them?
2. What is the twins argument for skepticism and what is Cicero’s defense of it?
3. What are the divine visions and dreaming arguments for skepticism and what is Cicero’s defense of them?
4. What is a sorites argument and the liar’s paradox, and what does Cicero conclude about them?
5. What are the main features of skepticism that Sextus describes in 1.1-1.6?
6. What are the main features of skepticism that Sextus describes in 1.7-1.10?
7. According to Sextus in 1.11 and 1.12, what is the criterion and aim of skepticism?
8. According to Sextus in 1.13, what is the method of suspending judgment?
9. Describe and give one of Sextus’s examples of the first method of skepticism.
10. Describe and give one of Sextus’s examples of the second method of skepticism.
11. Describe and give one of Sextus’s examples of the third method of skepticism.
12. Describe and give one of Sextus’s examples of the fourth method of skepticism.
13. Describe and give one of Sextus’s examples of the fifth method of skepticism.
14. Describe and give one of Sextus’s examples of the sixth method of skepticism.
15. Describe and give one of Sextus’s examples of the seventh method of skepticism.
16. Describe and give one of Sextus’s examples of the eighth method of skepticism.
17. Describe and give one of Sextus’s examples of the ninth method of skepticism.
18. Describe and give one of Sextus’s examples of the tenth method of skepticism.
19. What are Sextus’s arguments in 3.3 against the conception of God?
20. What are Sextus’s arguments in 3.23 and 3.24 for the skeptical view that nothing is naturally good, evil or shameful?
21. In the final section of this chapter, what are the six criticisms of skepticism, and what is the skeptic’s response?
Questions for Analysis
1. In Cicero’s dialogue Academic Questions, Lucullus criticizes several standard arguments for skepticism, including that of the broken oar, dove’s neck, twins, divine visions and dreaming. Cicero then defends each of these against Lucullus’s attack. Pick one of these arguments, present both Lucullus’s and Cicero’s side of the dispute, and discuss which of the two is right.
2. Sextus argues that the Pyrrhonian school of skepticism differs substantially from the Academic school. Discuss Sextus’s reasons for this view and whether the two schools are as distinct as he believes.
3. Pick one of the ten methods of skepticism, explain it, and discuss whether it succeeds.
4. Pick one of the Sextus’s arguments against the concept of God, explain it, and discuss whether it succeeds.
5. Discuss Sextus’s argument that nothing is naturally good, evil or shameful, and discuss whether the argument succeeds.
6. Pick one of the four criticisms of skepticism in the final section of this chapter, and discuss the skeptic’s response and whether it succeeds.
7. In the following, Descartes argues that it is absurd to take skepticism seriously in matters of ordinary life, yet at the same time skepticism must viewed as legitimate when inquiring into the certainty of human knowledge: "When it is a case of regulating our life, it would assuredly be stupid not to trust the senses, and those sceptics were quite ridiculous who so neglected human affairs that they had to be preserved by their friends from tumbling down precipices. It was for this reason that somewhere I announced that no one in his sound mind seriously doubted about such matters. But when we raise an enquiry into what is the surest knowledge which the human mind can obtain, it is clearly unreasonable to refuse to treat them as doubtful, nay even to reject them as false, so as to allow us to become aware that certain other things, which cannot be thus rejected, are for this very reason more certain, and in actual truth better known by us" (Reply to Objections V). Would Sextus agree with Descartes? Explain.
8. In the following, Hume criticizes that Pyrrhonian skepticism can have no lasting impact on himself or society: “A Pyrrhonian cannot expect, that his philosophy will have any constant influence on the mind: or if it had, that its influence would be beneficial to society. On the contrary, he must acknowledge, if he will acknowledge anything, that all human life must perish, were his principles universally and steadily to prevail. All discourse, all action would immediately cease; and men remain in a total lethargy, till the necessities of nature, unsatisfied, put an end to their miserable existence. . . . And though a Pyrrhonian may throw himself or others into a momentary amazement and confusion by his profound reasonings; the first and most trivial event in life will put to flight all his doubts and scruples. . . . When he awakes from his dream, he will be the first to join in the laugh against himself, and to confess, that all his objections are mere amusement.” (Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, 1748, 12.2). Discuss Hume’s point and how Sextus might respond.
9. In the following, Kant argues that skepticism has an important benefit by establishing the limits of human reason: “To the uncritical dogmatist, who has not surveyed the sphere of his understanding, nor determined, in accordance with principles, the limits of possible cognition, who, consequently, is ignorant of his own powers, and believes he will discover them by the attempts he makes in the field of cognition, these attacks of skepticism are not only dangerous, but destructive. For if there is one proposition in his chain of reasoning which be he cannot prove, or the fallacy in which he cannot evolve in accordance with a principle, suspicion falls on all his statements, however plausible they may appear. And thus skepticism, the plague of dogmatic philosophy, conducts us to a sound investigation into the understanding and the reason. When we are thus far advanced, we need fear no further attacks; for the limits of our domain are clearly marked out, and we can make no claims nor become involved in any disputes regarding the region that lies beyond these limits.” (Critique of Pure Reason, 1781, 2.1.2) Discuss Kant’s point and whether Sextus would agree.
10. Bertrand Russell makes the following comment about Pyrrhonian Skepticism’s rejection of dogmatism: “It should be observed that Scepticism as a philosophy is not merely doubt, but what may be called dogmatic doubt. The man of science says ‘I think it is so-and-so, but I am not sure.’ The man of intellectual curiosity says ‘I don't know how it is, but I hope to find out.’ The philosophical Sceptic says ‘nobody knows, and nobody ever can know’ It is this element of dogmatism that makes the system vulnerable. Sceptics, of course, deny that they assert the impossibility of knowledge dogmatically, but their denials are not very convincing.” (History of Western Philosophy, 1945, 1.26) Discuss Russell’s point and how Sextus might respond.