The Agrippan Problem, Then and Now

In: International Journal for the Study of Skepticism
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  • 1 Johns Hopkins University

Skeptical arguments (or problems) fall into two categories: “Agrippan” and “Cartesian.” The former revolve around what is commonly thought of today as the problem of the regress of justification; the latter make essential use of skeptical hypotheses. Cartesian arguments have no place in Pyrrhonian skepticism. By contrast, the Agrippan Problem seems to play a vital role. Nevertheless, there are reasons to think that Sextus and contemporary epistemologists understand the problem in very different ways. Whereas, in contemporary discussions, the Agrippan argument is taken to lie at the heart of a fully general “problem of knowledge,” it is questionable whether Sextus even considers such a problem. In explaining and defending this claim, I bring out some vital limitations and shortcomings of the Pyrrhonian stance—in particular, Sextus’s radical epistemic quietism—and their implications for the tenability of the Pyrrhonian stance in both Sextus’s time and ours.

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