The Skeptics were a group of philosophers in the ancient world who took serious the starting point of Socrates that the wisest person is the one who realizes that they are certain of nothing at all. They questioned, therefore, whether it was possible to have true knowledge of anything at all. There were two main groups of Skeptics in the ancient world: the Academics and the Pyrrhonists. The former believed that the only thing we could be certain about is that we can't be certain about anything. Pyrrhonists, like Greek physician Sextus Empiricus, went even further, arguing that we can't have certainty about anything at all--even about the impossibility of certainty.
Before you read the section on Skepticism, please read pp. 183-187 on the rise of the Hellenistic world.
As you read the section on Skepticism, be sure that you are able to answer the following questions:
What were the two schools of skeptics in the ancient world. What was the basic difference between the systems of these two schools? (Introduction)
Who was Sextus Empiricus and when did he live? (Introduction)
What do the following terms mean as applied to the philosophical system of the skeptics: antithesis, equipollence, epoche, ataraxia? (Introduction)
What does Sextus Empiricus mean when he says that all philosophers other than Pyrrhonists were "dogmatists"? (§1)
What does he mean when he says that the true skeptic does not "dogmatize"? (§7)
What is the final goal of Skepticism? How is this goal achieved? (§12)
Explain how the fourth and tenth "modes of skepticism" lead to a suspension of judgment about matters of perception (The Fourth Mode) and matters of ethics (The Tenth Mode). (14a-c)
If you think that you understand the basic ideas in the text, take the quiz for this unit.