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Sextus Empiricus

charlotte stough

Subject Philosophy » Epistemology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631192589.1993.x


A Greek sceptic of the Pyrrhonist school, and a practicing physician, who flourished probably during the late second century ad . His exact dates are controversial and the details of his life virtually unknown to us, yet he is the most important source of our knowledge of ancient Greek sceptical philosophies. The works that have come down to us are the Outlines of Pyrrhonism in three books, which provides us with Sextus’ own positive account of Pyrrhonian scepticism, and a larger work in eleven books, commonly referred to collectively as Against the Mathematicians. The latter contains much of the same material as found in the Outlines, but it also provides additional sceptical arguments against dogmatic philosophers as well as valuable information about the major philosophical schools of the Hellenistic period. It appears that little of the philosophical material in Sextus’ writings is original with him. We know, for example, that he drew freely on the thought of earlier Pyrrhonian sceptics, especially Aenesidemus in the first century bc ( see pyrrhonism ). Sextus describes scepticism as a ‘philosophy’ and a ‘way of life’, identifying both a theoretical and an anti-theoretical practical component in Pyrrhonian scepticism. The appearance of paradox is genuine, for the sceptic engages in theoretical reasoning in order finally to do away with it. The sceptic is an ‘inquirer’ ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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