I'm not one who habitually looks to the past for received wisdom. While we should not ignore history, we should also not idealize it, as if antiquated thought had something better to offer than modern thought. I prefer modern because 1.) I see no reason to enslave ourselves to the past, and 2.) we collectively know and understand much more today than we did back then.
Nonetheless, I do find this somewhat interesting. It can certainly look like Pyrrho is simply being indecisive (or taking a wait-and-see attitude), but to me it seems like a resistance to the absolutism that leads to the mania of theism and the fanaticism of various dogmas.
Some of the ancient pyrrohnism below sounds like it was influenced by buddhism.
Pyrrho a Greek philosopher of classical antiquity, is credited as being the first Skeptic philosopher and the inspiration for the school known as Pyrrhonism, founded by Aenesidemus in the 1st century BC.
The main principle of Pyrrho's thought is expressed by the word acatalepsia, which connotes the ability to withhold assent from doctrines regarding the truth of things in their own nature; against every statement its contradiction may be advanced with equal justification. Secondly, it is necessary in view of this fact to preserve an attitude of intellectual suspense, or, as Timon expressed it, no assertion can be known to be better than another. Thirdly, Pyrrho applied these results to life in general, concluding that, since nothing can be known, the only proper attitude is ataraxia, "freedom from worry". ("By suspending judgment, by confining oneself to phenomena or objects as they appear, and by asserting nothing definite as to how they really are, one can escape the perplexities of life and attain an imperturbable peace of mind.")
The proper course of the sage, said Pyrrho, is to ask himself three questions. Firstly we must ask what things are and how they are constituted. Secondly, we ask how we are related to these things. Thirdly, we ask what ought to be our attitude towards them. Pyrrho's answer was that things are indistinguishable, unmeasurable, undecidable, and no more this than that, or both this and that and neither this nor that. He concluded that human senses neither transmit truths nor lie. Humanity cannot know the inner substance of things, only how things appear.
The impossibility of knowledge, even in regard to our own ignorance or doubt, should induce the wise person to withdraw into themselves, avoiding the stress and emotion which belong to the contest of vain imaginings. This theory of the impossibility of knowledge is the first and the most thorough exposition of noncognitivism in the history of thought. Its ethical implications may be compared with the ideal tranquility of the Stoics and the Epicureans.
Whereas academic skepticism, with Carneades as its most famous adherent, claims that "Nothing can be known, not even this", Pyrrhonian skeptics withhold any assent with regard to non-evident propositions and remain in a state of perpetual inquiry. They disputed the possibility of attaining truth by sensory apprehension, reason, or the two combined, and thence inferred the need for total suspension of judgment (epoché) on things. According to them, even the statement that nothing can be known is dogmatic. They thus attempted to make their skepticism universal, and to escape the reproach of basing it upon a fresh dogmatism. Mental imperturbability (ataraxia) was the result to be attained by cultivating such a frame of mind. As in Stoicism and Epicureanism, the happiness or satisfaction of the individual was the goal of life, and all three philosophies placed it in tranquility or indifference. According to the Pyrrhonists, it is our opinions or unwarranted judgments about things which turn them into desires, painful effort, and disappointment. From all this a person is delivered who abstains from judging one state to be preferable to another. But, as complete inactivity would have been synonymous with death, the skeptic, while retaining his consciousness of the complete uncertainty enveloping every step, might follow custom (or nature) in the ordinary affairs of life.
The traditions of ancient skepticism found a new reception in the early modern era climaxing in the 17th century, especially under the influence of the Empiricists (especially David Hume - see An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding - and the following rise of empirical science) in the discussion of historical doubt: Pyrrhonismus historicus and Fides historica: the "faith" in recorded history. The fundamental question of the debate could not, and cannot, be solved: How can we prove historical data? History is a realm that does not allow experimental proofs. Questions such as with how many stabs was Julius Caesar killed can only be discussed on the basis of documents. If they contradict each other historians can try to balance them against each other. Do certain documents have precedence over others as eye witness reports, can they be validated through experience, or do they include unlikely, marvelous incidents one should disqualify as legend?
Fallibilism is a modern, fundamental perspective of the scientific method, as put forth by Karl Popper and Charles Sanders Peirce, that all knowledge is, at best, an approximation, and that any scientist must always stipulate this in his/her research and findings. It is, in effect, a modernized extension of Pyrrhonism. Indeed, historic Pyrrhonists are sometimes described by modern authors as fallibilists. Modern fallibilists also are sometimes described as pyrrhonists.
Fallibilism (from medieval Latin fallibilis, "liable to err") is the philosophical principle that human beings could be wrong about their beliefs, expectations, or their understanding of the world. In the most commonly used sense of the term, this consists in being open to new evidence that would disprove some previously held position or belief, and in the recognition that "any claim justiﬁed today may need to be revised or withdrawn in light of new evidence, new arguments, and new experiences." This position is taken for granted in the natural sciences.
In another sense, it refers to the consciousness of "the degree to which our interpretations, valuations, our practices, and traditions are temporally indexed" and subject to (possibly arbitrary) historical flux and change. Such "time-responsive" fallibilism consists in an openness to the confirmation of a possibility that one anticipates or expects in the future.
Some fallibilists argue that absolute certainty about knowledge is impossible. As a formal doctrine, fallibilism is most strongly associated with Charles Sanders Peirce, John Dewey, and other pragmatists, who use it in their attacks on foundationalism. However, it is already present in the views of ancient philosophers that were adherents of philosophical skepticism, including the philosopher Pyrrho. Fallibilism is related to Pyrrhonistic Skepticism, in that Pyrrhonists of history are sometimes referred to as fallibilists, and modern fallibilists as Pyrrhonists.
Another proponent of fallibilism is Karl Popper, who builds his theory of knowledge, critical rationalism, on fallibilistic presuppositions. Fallibilism has been employed by Willard Van Orman Quine to attack, among other things, the distinction between analytic and synthetic statements.
Unlike scepticism, fallibilism does not imply the need to abandon our knowledge - we needn't have logically conclusive justifications for what we know. Rather, it is an admission that, because empirical knowledge can be revised by further observation, any of the things we take as knowledge might possibly turn out to be false. Some fallibilists make an exception for things that are axiomatically true (such as mathematical and logical knowledge). Others remain fallibilists about these as well, on the basis that, even if these axiomatic systems are in a sense infallible, we are still capable of error when working with these systems. The critical rationalist Hans Albert argues that it is impossible to prove any truth with certainty, even in logic and mathematics. This argument is called the Münchhausen Trilemma.
I think there is a lot to be learned by reading ancient thinkers. There were human just like us, with the same powers of reason, and sometimes they had a lot more time in their hands and were very good observers of human nature. It's never a bad idea to revisit old ideas, as long as one applies critical thinking.
I didn't know much about Pyrrho, thanks for posting.
I don't think we should just toss them out, but far too many people (esp. online) will say "Well, Artistotle said X," as if that settles the matter.
In practice, I think it might be safer to put more faith in their observations than in their conclusions. They may have been smart in many ways, but they also believed that we were made up of water, air, fire, and earth, or that the brain was of "minor importance," or whatever. That's what I mean by not trusting antiquity, and that we know more now than then, which should (theoretically) help us make better decisions.
Plato, et al, often have great quotes about human nature and disposition.
Unfortunately online discussions often lend themselves to one of the classical logical fallacies: arguments from authority.
I don't care what anyone says. I love Wikipedia.
I love Wikipedia too. And it's very good for the science articles in which I'm an authority :-) There we go again.
I like Wikipedia too! because of the ease of going to external sources that info was gleaned from.
I would maybe think that Pyrrho took an easy path... ( I will elaborate further later)
No argument, no doctrine, nothing can be known; everything is in one sense or the opposite is of equal value, well with nothing, no views, no opinions, nothing to holdon to, wich led Pyrrho to his state of "ataraxia", a frame of mind that leaves him, in my view, as an observer in the middle. Maybe he can be called a skeptic but I've always thought that skeptics can hold strong, generally negative opinions, whilst Pyrrho doesn't have any (opinions).
I don't think it's accurate to say he has no opinions. His opinion seems to be that no matter what idea or theory you put forward, no matter how convincing it is, there is always someone else who can put forward the exact opposite in just as convincing a manner.
I can see though how it may appear that he's just being a fence-sitter, unable to take a side one way or another. However, his approach may have been a response to the fanaticism and extremism he saw around him. I'm sure people were just as fanatical back then as they are today.
Also, let's not forget that the moniker "..the skeptic" was likely only a posthumous designation, and only then in relation to his contemporaries, who were likely less skeptical.