|Born||Second century AD|
|Died||Late 2nd century or early 3rd century|
possibly in Alexandria or Rome
|Part of a series on|
Sextus Empiricus (Greek: Σέξτος Ἐμπειρικός, Sextos Empeiricos; fl. mid-late 2nd century AD) was a Greek Pyrrhonist philosopher and Empiric school physician with Roman citizenship. His philosophical works are the most complete surviving account of ancient Greek and Roman Pyrrhonism, and because of the arguments they contain against the other Hellenistic philosophies, they are also a major source of information about those philosophies.
Little is known about Sextus Empiricus. He likely lived in Alexandria, Rome, or Athens. His Roman name, Sextus, implies he was a Roman citizen. The Suda, a 10th-century Byzantine encyclopedia, states that he was the same person as Sextus of Chaeronea, as do other pre-modern sources, but this identification is commonly doubted. In his medical work, as reflected by his name, tradition maintains that he belonged to the Empiric school in which Pyrrhonism was popular. However, at least twice in his writings, Sextus seems to place himself closer to the Methodic school.
Main article: Pyrrhonism
As a skeptic, Sextus Empiricus raised concerns which applied to all types of knowledge. He doubted the validity of induction long before its best known critic David Hume, and raised the regress argument against all forms of reasoning:
Those who claim for themselves to judge the truth are bound to possess a criterion of truth. This criterion, then, either is without a judge's approval or has been approved. But if it is without approval, whence comes it that it is trustworthy? For no matter of dispute is to be trusted without judging. And, if it has been approved, that which approves it, in turn, either has been approved or has not been approved, and so on ad infinitum.
This view is known as Pyrrhonian skepticism, which Sextus differentiated from Academic skepticism as practiced by Carneades which, according to Sextus, denies the possibility of knowledge altogether, something that Sextus criticized as being an affirmative belief. Instead, Sextus advocates simply giving up belief; in other words, suspending judgment (epoché) about whether or not anything is knowable. Only by suspending judgment can we attain a state of ataraxia (roughly, 'peace of mind').
There is some debate as to the extent to which Sextus advocated the suspension of judgement. According to Myles Burnyeat, Jonathan Barnes, and Benson Mates, Sextus advises that we should suspend judgment about virtually all beliefs; that is to say, we should neither affirm any belief as true nor deny any belief as false, since we may live without any beliefs, acting by habit. Michael Frede, however, defends a different interpretation, according to which Sextus does allow beliefs, so long as they are not derived by reason, philosophy or speculation; a skeptic may, for example, accept common opinions in the skeptic's society. The important difference between the skeptic and the dogmatist is that the skeptic does not hold his beliefs as a result of rigorous philosophical investigation.
Diogenes Laërtius and the Suda report that Sextus Empiricus wrote ten books on Pyrrhonism. The Suda also says Sextus wrote a book Ethica. Sextus Empiricus's three surviving works are the Outlines of Pyrrhonism (Πυῤῥώνειοι ὑποτυπώσεις, Pyrrhōneioi hypotypōseis, thus commonly abbreviated PH), and two distinct works preserved under the same title, Adversus Mathematicos (Πρὸς μαθηματικούς, Pros mathematikous , commonly abbreviated "AM" or "M" and known as Against Those in the Disciplines, or Against the Mathematicians). Adversus Mathematicos is incomplete as the text references parts that are not in the surviving text. Adversus Mathematicos also includes mentions of three other works which did not survive:
The surviving first six books of Adversus Mathematicos are commonly known as Against the Professors. Each book also has a traditional title; although none of these titles except Pros mathematikous and Pyrrhōneioi hypotypōseis are found in the manuscripts.
|Book||English title||Greek title|
|I||Against the Grammarians||Πρὸς γραμματικούς / Pros grammatikous|
|II||Against the Rhetoricians||Πρὸς ῥητορικούς / Pros rhetorikous|
|III||Against the Geometers||Πρὸς γεωμετρικούς / Pros geometrikous|
|IV||Against the Arithmeticians||Πρὸς ἀριθμητικούς / Pros arithmetikous|
|V||Against the Astrologers||Πρὸς ἀστρολόγους / Pros astrologous|
|VI||Against the Musicians||Πρὸς μουσικούς / Pros mousikous|
Adversus Mathematicos I–VI is sometimes distinguished from Adversus Mathematicos VII–XI by using another title, Against the Dogmatists (Πρὸς δογματικούς, Pros dogmatikous) and then the remaining books are numbered as I–II, III–IV, and V, despite the fact that it is commonly inferred that what we have is just part of a larger work whose beginning is missing and it is unknown how much of the total work has been lost. The supposed general title of this partially lost work is Skeptical Treatises' (Σκεπτικὰ Ὑπομνήματα/Skeptika Hypomnēmata).
|Book||English title||Greek title|
|VII–VIII||Against the Logicians||Πρὸς λογικούς / Pros logikous|
|IX–X||Against the Physicists||Πρὸς φυσικούς / Pros Physikous|
|XI||Against the Ethicists||Πρὸς ἠθικούς / Pros Ethikous|
An influential Latin translation of Sextus's Outlines was published by Henricus Stephanus in Geneva in 1562, and this was followed by a complete Latin Sextus with Gentian Hervet as translator in 1569. Petrus and Jacobus Chouet published the Greek text for the first time in 1621. Stephanus did not publish it with his Latin translation either in 1562 or in 1569, nor was it published in the reprint of the latter in 1619.
Sextus's Outlines were widely read in Europe during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, and had a profound effect on Michel de Montaigne, David Hume and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, among many others. Another source for the circulation of Sextus's ideas was Pierre Bayle's Dictionary. The legacy of Pyrrhonism is described in Richard Popkin's The History of Skepticism from Erasmus to Descartes and High Road to Pyrrhonism. The transmission of Sextus's manuscripts through antiquity and the Middle Ages is reconstructed by Luciano Floridi's Sextus Empiricus, The Recovery and Transmission of Pyrrhonism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). Since the Renaissance, French philosophy has been continuously influenced by Sextus: Montaigne in the 16th century, Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Pierre-Daniel Huet and François de La Mothe Le Vayer in the 17th century, many of the "Philosophes", and in recent times controversial figures such as Michel Onfray, in a direct line of filiation between Sextus' radical skepticism and secular or even radical atheism.
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