Following the lead of Duncan Pritchard’s “Wittgensteinian Pyrrhonism,” this paper takes a further, comparative and contrastive look at the problem of justification in Sextus Empiricus and in Wittgenstein’s On Certainty. I argue both that Pritchard’s stimulating account is problematic in certain important respects and that his insights contain much interpretive potential still to be pursued. Diverging from Pritchard, I argue that it is a significant and self-conscious aspect of Sextus’ sceptical strategies to call into question large segments of our belief system en masse by exposing as apparently unjustifiable fundamental propositions which are closely related in their linchpin role to Wittgenstein’s hinge propositions. In the first instance, the result is a more complex account of both a deeper affinity between Wittgenstein’s approach to hinge propositions and Sextus’ approach to what I term archai propositions and a divergence between the two. In the second instance, I suggest how the comparison with On Certainty can be illuminating for the interpreter of Sextus. In particular, it can help us to see how the Pyrrhonist’s everyday conduct—common assumptions to the contrary notwithstanding—involves rational procedures of justification, in line with a naturalism reminiscent of Wittgenstein. Furthermore, it can help us to reflect on the Pyrrhonist’s attitude to what Wittgenstein would have called her ‘worldview’. Throughout, I suggest that the comparison with Wittgenstein is interesting, although it must be cashed out differently, not only on the interpretation—or, perhaps, strand—of ancient Pyrrhonism which has the sceptic exempt ordinary beliefs from her suspension of judgement, but also on the interpretation (or strand) which has her disavow all beliefs categorically.
PritchardD. (2000). “Doubt Undogmatized: Pyrrhonian Scepticism, Epistemological Externalism, and the ‘Metaepistemological’ Challenge,” Principia: Revista Internacional de Epistemologia 4: 187–218.
PritchardD. (2000). “Doubt Undogmatized: Pyrrhonian Scepticism, Epistemological Externalism, and the ‘Metaepistemological’ Challenge,” Principia: Revista Internacional de Epistemologia4: 187–218.)| false
See Barnes (1997) for the nuanced view that Sextus’ corpus contains both what he labels “rustic” and “urbane” tendencies, the former strand of Pyrrhonism being the categorical rejection of all beliefs and the latter a criticism restricted to dogmatic-philosophical beliefs and norms of argument and assent: “The general tenor of PH is, I think, indubitably rustic. But PH also contains important intrusions of urbanity” (1997: 89).
E.g. Burnyeat (1997a: 28; 1982b: 219 n. 62), Long & Sedley (1987: vol. 1, 471), Nussbaum (1994: 288), Striker (2001: 119–120 n. 7), Vogt (2010: 171–178). Although the central aim of Perin (2010b) is to challenge conceptions of Pyrrhonism as “anti-rationalist,” he is ultimately in agreement with this traditional view of the Pyrrhonist’s practical, everyday conduct. Perin maintains that the Pyrrhonist’s adoption of appearances as the criterion of action is rational precisely insofar as the demands of reason are what compel her to suspend judgement and resort to appearances. On his view, then, action on the basis of appearances remains non-rational insofar as it remains devoid of any use of rational justification and deliberation to establish a preference for one course of action over another. In this sense, Perin agrees that “reason fails to guide [the Sceptic’s] thought and action” (2010b: 117–118).
On this passage, see Machuca (2009).
Burnyeat (1997a); cf. Burnyeat (1997b). For this general view of the Pyrrhonist, see most recently Vogt (2012).
Recall Barnes’ (1997) view that Sextus’ corpus confronts us with both the no-beliefs Pyrrhonist and the ordinary-beliefs Pyrrhonist, n. 3 above.