Sextus Empiricus and Greek Scepticism
by Mary Mills Patrick
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"Would that I also might gain that mind profound, Able to look both ways. In a treacherous path have I been decoyed, And still in old age am with all wisdom unwed. For wherever I turned my view All things were resolved into unity; all things, alway From all sources drawn, were merged into nature the same."

Timon calls him somewhat, but not entirely, free from vanity, when he said—

"Xenophanes somewhat free from vanity, mocker of Homeric deceit, Far from men he conceived a god, on all sides equal, Above pain, a being spiritualised, or intellect."

In saying that he was somewhat free from vanity, he meant that he was in some things free from vanity. He called him a mocker of the Homeric deceit because he had scoffed at the deceit in Homer. Xenophanes also dogmatised, contrary to the assumptions 225 of other men, that all things are one, and that God is grown together with all things, that He is spherical, insensible, unchangeable, and reasonable, whence the difference of Xenophanes from us is easily proved. In short, from what has been said, it is evident that although Plato expresses doubt about some things, so long as he has expressed himself in certain places in regard to the existence of unknown things, or as preferring some things to others in trustworthiness, he cannot be, it seems to me, a Sceptic. Those of the New Academy, although they say that all things are incomprehensible, 226 differ from the Sceptics, perhaps even in saying that all things are incomprehensible (for they assert decidedly in regard to this, but the Sceptic thinks it possible that some things may be comprehended), but they differ evidently still further from us in their judgment of good and evil. For the Academicians say that there is such a thing as good and evil, not as we say it, but more with the conviction that that which they call good exists than that it does not; and likewise in regard to the evil, while we do not say anything is good or evil with the conviction that it is probably so, but we live our lives in an unprejudiced way in order not to be inactive. Moreover, we say that our ideas are equal to each other in trustworthiness 227 and untrustworthiness, as far as their nature goes, while they say that some are probable and others improbable. They make a difference also between the improbable ones, for they believe that some of them are only probable, others probable and undisputed, still others probable, undisputed, and tested. As for example, when a coiled rope is lying in a somewhat dark room, he who comes in suddenly gets only a probable idea of it, and thinks that it is a serpent; but it appears to be a rope 228 to him who has looked carefully around, and found out that it does not move, and that it is of such a color, and so on, according to an idea which is probable and undisputed. The tested idea is like this: It is said that Hercules led Alcestis after she was dead back again from Hades and showed her to Admetus, and he received an idea that was probable and undisputed regarding Alcestis. As, however, he knew that she was dead, his mind drew back from belief and inclined to disbelief. Now those belonging to the New Academy prefer the idea which 229 is probable and undisputed to the simply probable one. To both of these, however, they prefer that which is probable, undisputed, and tested. If, however, both those of the Academy and the Sceptics say that they believe certain things, there is an evident difference between the two schools of philosophy even in this; for "to believe" is used in a different sense, 230 meaning, on the one hand, not to resist, but simply to accept without strong inclination and approval, as the child is said to believe the teacher; on the other hand, "to believe" is used to signify assenting to something with choice, and, as it were, with the sympathy that accompanies strong will, as the prodigal follows the one who chooses to live a luxurious life. Therefore, since Carneades, Clitomachus, and their followers say that they are strongly inclined to believe that a thing is probable, and we simply allow that it may be so without assent, we differ 231 from them, I think, in this way. We differ from the New Academy likewise in things concerning the aim; for while the men who say that they govern themselves according to that School avail themselves of the idea of the probable in life, we live according to the laws and customs, and our natural feelings, in an unprejudiced way. We could say more regarding the distinction between the two schools if we did not aim at brevity. Nevertheless, Arcesilaus, who as we said was the leader and 232 chief of the Middle Academy, seems to me to have very much in common with the Pyrrhonean teachings, so that his school and ours are almost one. For neither does one find that he expressed an opinion about the existence or non-existence of anything, nor does he prefer one thing to another as regards trustworthiness or untrustworthiness; he suspends his judgment regarding all things, and the aim of his philosophy is [Greek: epoche], which is accompanied by [Greek: ataraxia], and this agrees with what we have said. But he calls the particular instances of 233 [Greek: epoche] bona, and the particular instances of assent mala. The difference is that we say these things according to what appears to us, and not affirmatively, while he says them as if speaking of realities, that is, he says that [Greek: epoche] is in itself good, and assent an evil. If we are to believe also the things that are said about him, he appeared at first 234 sight to be a Pyrrhonean, but he was in truth a Dogmatic, for he used to test his companions by the method of doubt to see whether they were gifted enough to take in Plato's dogmas, so that he appeared to be a Sceptic, but at the same time he communicated the doctrines of Plato to those of his companions who were gifted. Hence Ariston also said about him—

"Plato in front, Pyrrhon behind, Diodorus in the middle,"

because he availed himself of the dialectic of Diodorus, but was 235 wholly a Platonist. Now Philo and his followers say that as far as the Stoic criterion is concerned, that is to say the [Greek: phantasia kataleptike], things are incomprehensible, but as far as the nature of things is concerned, they are comprehensible. Antiochus, however, transferred the Stoa to the Academy, so that it was even said of him that he taught the Stoic philosophy in the Academy, because he tried to show that the Stoic doctrines are found in Plato. The difference, therefore, between the Sceptical School and the Fourth and Fifth Academy is evident.


Is Empiricism in Medicine the same as Scepticism?

Some say that the medical sect called Empiricism is the same 236 as Scepticism. Yet the fact must be recognised, that even if Empiricism does maintain the impossibility of knowledge, it is neither Scepticism itself, nor would it suit the Sceptic to take that sect upon himself. He could rather, it seems to me, belong to the so-called Methodic School. For this alone, of all the medical sects, does not seem to proceed rashly in regard to 237 unknown things, and does not presume to say whether they are comprehensible or not, but is guided by phenomena, and receives from them the same help which they seem to give to the Sceptical system. For we have said in what has gone before, that the every-day life which the Sceptic lives is of four parts, depending on the guidance of nature, on the necessity of the feelings, on the traditions of laws and customs, and on the teaching of the arts. Now as by necessity of the feelings 238 the Sceptic is led by thirst to drink, and by hunger to food, and to supply similar needs in the same way, so also the physician of the Methodic School is led by the feelings to find suitable remedies; in constipation he produces a relaxation, as one takes refuge in the sun from the shrinking on account of intense cold; he is led by a flux to the stopping of it, as those in a hot bath who are dripping from a profuse perspiration and are relaxed, hasten to check it by going into the cold air. Moreover, it is evident that the Methodic physician forces those things which are of a foreign nature to adapt themselves to their own nature, as even the dog tries to get a sharp stick out that is thrust into him. In order, however, that I should 239 not overstep the outline character of this work by discussing details, I think that all the things that the Methodics have thus said can be classified as referring to the necessity of the feelings that are natural or those that are unnatural. Besides this, it is common to both schools to have no dogmas, and to use words loosely. For as the Sceptic uses the formula "I 240 determine nothing," and "I understand nothing," as we said above, so the Methodic also uses the expressions "Community," and "To go through," and other similar ones without over much care. In a similar way he uses the word "Indication" undogmatically, meaning that the symptoms of the patient either natural or unnatural, indicate the remedies that would be suitable, as we said in speaking of thirst, hunger, and other things. It will thus be seen that the Methodic School of 241 medicine has a certain relationship to Scepticism which is closer than that of the other medical sects, speaking comparatively if not absolutely from these and similar tokens. Having said so much in reference to the schools that seem to closely resemble Scepticism, we conclude the general consideration of Scepticism and the First Book of the Sketches.


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