Disagreement is a pervasive feature of human life, not only because people constantly disagree with each other over any possible issue but also because one tends to disagree with oneself over time. The existence of persistent and widespread disputes poses serious difficulties. For although the mere existence of a disagreement does not by itself entail that it is not possible to attain knowledge or justified belief about the disputed matter, one has to find an effective way of settling it. Unfortunately, we all know that in many cases this is not an easy task. The epistemic and practical implications of disagreement are a central topic of discussion in the extant works of Sextus Empiricus, our main source for Pyrrhonian skepticism. He constantly refers to both actual and possible disputes in any area of philosophy or ordinary life, and points out that, since the Pyrrhonist is unable to resolve such disagreements, he is compelled to suspend judgment. The key question is whether this means that he is rationally required to suspend judgment in the face of unresolvable disagreement or that he is psychologically compelled to do so. My aim is to answer this crucial question and to draw a comparison between the Pyrrhonist’s response to equipollent disagreement and current epistemological discussions of the significance of peer disagreement.
|April 11, 2012||Posted by Diego Machuca under Philosophy/Science, Research Symposium|
|March 9, 2012||Posted by Diego Machuca under Blog, Philosophy/Science|
In my previous post, I offered a brief description of my research project. In this second post, I will refer to both the main texts which are the object of my analysis and the problems that these texts seem to pose for the coherence of Pyrrhonian skepticism.
At the beginning of the Pyrrhonian Outlines (PH), Sextus distinguishes between three kinds of philosophy according to the different attitudes that may be adopted towards the object of a philosophical investigation: the dogmatic, the Academic, and the skeptical. Whereas the Dogmatists in the proper sense of the term claim to have discovered the truth in philosophical investigations and some of the Academics assert that it cannot be apprehended, the Skeptics continue their investigation (PH I 1–3). Elsewhere, Sextus remarks that Skeptics can consistently go on investigating because they agree that they ignore how things are in their nature and the purpose of their investigation is precisely to discover the answer they have not found, whereas for the Dogmatists, who claim to know the nature of things, the investigation has come to an end (PH II 11). In this connection, it should be borne in mind that, as everyone knows, the Greek σκεπτικός means “inquirer” and σκέψις “inquiry.” In fact, Sextus tells us that the skeptical philosophy is “called ‘investigative’ because of its activity concerning investigation and inquiry, and ‘suspensive’ because of the affection that comes about in the inquirer after the investigation” (PH I 7).
As noted in my first post, the purpose of my research project is to determine whether the Pyrrhonian skeptic can consistently claim that the object of his philosophical inquiries is the truth. This topic has recently received new attention from specialists, who have affirmed that the search for truth is incompatible with other defining aspects of the Pyrrhonian philosophy, such as the quest for and the attainment of the state of tranquility or undisturbedness (ἀταραξία) and the use of the so-called Five Modes of Agrippa. This is why some interpreters have held that the object of skeptical investigation is not (or cannot be) the truth. More specifically, the Pyrrhonist’s ongoing investigation seems to pose several problems which show that truth-directed inquiry and Skepticism are incompatible or that there is a gap between the theory and practice of Skepticism, and hence that Sextus is wrong in claiming that the Pyrrhonist continues to search for truth or that Skepticism is a kind of philosophy. The problems in question are the following:
(i) Once the Skeptic has suspended judgment universally, he cannot continue the quest for truth, since this presupposes both belief or confidence that there is a truth and hope that one will find it, which is clearly at odds with the radical skeptical outlook characteristic of Pyrrhonism.
(ii) Suspension of judgment (ἐποχή) is incompatible with investigation, since the state of suspension is attained after the investigation is over, and given that Pyrrhonism is defined by universal suspension, then it is incompatible with the continuation of the investigation.
(iii) The Five Modes of Agrippa block any attempt to find the truth insofar as they are arguments designed to prove that no claim can ever be rationally justified. Therefore, the use of these modes is incompatible with the open-minded search for truth.
(iv) The so-called “argument from possible disagreement” shows that the quest for truth is doomed to failure, because this argument intends to establish that, even when there is no current actual disagreement about a given topic, we should nonetheless suspend judgment because a disagreement might arise in the future.
(v) The search for and the attainment of the state of undisturbedness renders unnecessary and, hence, incomprehensible the continuation of the investigation: given that the search for truth was conceived of only as a means to achieve that state, then once the Pyrrhonist becomes undisturbed he is no longer (or, at any rate, should no longer be) interested in philosophical inquiries.
These five problems seem to show that Sextus’ claim that the Pyrrhonian philosophy differs from the others in that the Pyrrhonist continues to investigate the truth should be considered absurd or incoherent. Faced with this conclusion, some scholars have maintained that Sextus is disingenuous in making that claim. Others have instead argued that the object of the proto-Pyrrhonist’s investigation is different from that of the full-fledged Pyrrhonist’s investigation.
What I do in the paper I am working on is to explore each of these five problems and determine whether they can be explained away or rather whether they are, as scholars have affirmed, insurmountable. Examination of the nature, purpose, and feasibility of Pyrrhonian inquiry will make it possible not only to better understand the character of Pyrrhonian skepticism but also the very nature of philosophical investigation, i.e., whether it requires some kind of confidence in the existence and knowability of truth.
|January 11, 2012||Posted by Diego Machuca under Blog, Philosophy/Science|
In this first post, I will offer a brief description of both my general research in the area of ancient philosophy and the research project carried out at the Center. In the next post, I will describe in detail the problems I intend to address in relation to the Pyrrhonian skeptic’s search for truth. Finally, in the third post, I will expound some tentative solutions to these problems.
My research in the area of ancient philosophy has focused on skepticism, especially Pyrrhonism, but also so-called Academic skepticism. I have in addition studied a little bit the Empirical and Methodical schools of medicine, which bear some close similarities with both Pyrrhonian and Academic skepticism. Thus, from a historical point of view, my research concerns the philosophy of the Hellenistic and Imperial periods. Regarding Pyrrhonism, I have focused on the skepticism of the second-century physician Sextus Empiricus, who is the only ancient skeptic from whom complete and substantial works survive. My interest in Sextan Pyrrhonism is not merely historical and exegetical, but also (and perhaps primarily) systematic. That is, I am interested in examining and understanding Pyrrhonian skepticism as an outlook which can be relevant to contemporary philosophy, not only in the sense that some Pyrrhonian arguments can still be regarded as posing a serious challenge to the epistemic credentials of our beliefs, but mainly in the sense that Pyrrhonism can still be deemed to be a philosophical alternative worth considering in its own right. This is why I have recently become more interested in exploring Sextan Pyrrhonism in relation to present-day analytic epistemology and also in relation to contemporary metaethics.
The subject of my research at the Center is the question of whether the ancient Pyrrhonist can consistently claim to be engaged in an ongoing open-minded search for truth. Work on this subject began as a development of ideas touched upon in two papers that appeared in print in 2011. When writing those papers I got the (perhaps misleading) impression that there were certain aspects and problems regarding the Pyrrhonist’s inquiry into truth which had not been carefully examined. I therefore thought I should try to write a paper in which I would critically discuss all previous interpretations and advance my own. I should also note that the issue of the Pyrrhonian search for truth is intimately related to another the question I’ve discussed in a third paper, namely, whether the Pyrrhonist is committed to the canons of rationality. For it may be argued that truth is the goal of inquiry only insofar as this is conceived of as a rational activity.
As already noted, in my next post, I will expound the problems faced by the Pyrrhonist’s claim to be engaged in an inquiry into truth.