The Sceptical Inquirer

The Possibility and Coherence of a ‘Sceptical Method’

In: History of Philosophy & Logical Analysis
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  • 1 Department of Philosophy, College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA

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Abstract

This article treats of whether scepticism, in particular Pyrrhonian scepticism, can be said to deploy a method of any kind. I begin by distinguishing various different notions of method, and their relations to the concept of expertise (section 1). I then (section 2) consider Sextus’s account, in the prologue to Outlines of Pyrrhonism, of the Pyrrhonist approach, and how it supposedly differs from those of other groups, sceptical and otherwise. In particular, I consider the central claim that the Pyrrhonist is a continuing investigator (section 3), who in spite of refusing to be satisfied with any answer (or none), none the less still achieves tranquillity, and whether this can avoid being presented as a method for so doing, and hence as compromising the purity of sceptical suspension of commitment (section 4). In doing so, I relate—and contrast—the Pyrrhonists’ account of their practice to the ‘Socratic Method’ (section 5), as well as to the argumentative practice of various Academics (section 6), and assess their claim in so doing to be offering a way of instruction (section 7). I conclude (section 8) that there is a consistent and interesting sense in which Pyrrhonian scepticism can be absolved of the charge that it incoherently, and crypto-dogmatically, presents itself as offering a method for achieving an intrinsically desirable goal.

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