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.
I begin this paper with a puzzle: why is Plato’s Parmenides replete with references to Gorgias? While the Eleatic heritage and themes in the dialogue are clear, it is less clear what the point would be of alluding to a well-known sophist. I suggest that the answer has to do with the similarities in the underlying methods employed by both Plato and Gorgias. These similarities, as well as Plato’s recognition of them, suggest that he owes a more significant philosophical and methodological debt to sophists like Gorgias than is often assumed. Further evidence from Plato and Xenophon suggest that Socrates used this very same method, which I call ‘exploring both sides’. I distinguish this Socratic method and its sophistic counterpart in terms of structure, internal aim, and external aim. Doing so allows for a more nuanced understanding of their similarities and differences. It also challenges the outsized role that popular caricatures of philosophical and sophistic method have had on our understanding of their relationship.