SKEPTICISM

Skepticism was a philosophy* that was adopted by several thinkers during the Hellenistic* period. Skeptics challenged the claims of various schools of philosophy regarding the nature of truth, but they refused to offer any of their own. Skepticism had a major influence on later European philosophers. The word skepticism today means an attitude of doubt or suspicion in general or toward a particular object.

The first known Hellenistic skeptic was Pyrrhon of Elis, who taught in Athens at the beginning of the 200s B.C. Because he apparently wrote nothing, little is known about his philosophy. Pyrrhon questioned what others declared to be true as well as the methods they used to reach their conclusions. At Plato’s Academy in Athens, the philosophers Arcesilaus and Carneades adopted similar attitudes. However, while Arcesi- laus and the skeptics at the Academy asserted that nothing can be known for certain, Pyrrhon declared that even that assertion cannot be known.

* philosophy study of ideas, including science

* Hellenistic referring to the Greek-influenced culture of the Mediterranean world during the three centuries after Alexander the Great, who died in 323 B.C.

Most information about Skepticism comes from Sextus Empiricus, a follower of Pyrrhon who wrote and taught in the A.D. 100s. Sextus maintained that neither reason nor the senses were reliable guides to discovering the truth. For that reason, philosophers should suspend their judgment about what is knowable and true. Sextus and other followers of Pyrrhon distinguished between what something seems to be and what it really is. For example, just because honey tastes sweet, that does not mean that it really is sweet. (See also Epicurus; Philosophy, Greek and Hellenistic.)

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