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Sextus Empiricus

Sextus Empiricus

Sextus Empiricus research papers discuss the ancient form of skepticism. Philosophy research can be ordered on any topic that has to do with Sextus Empiricus and custom written by the writers at Paper Masters.

Sextus Empiricus is known for giving what seems to be a compelling account of the most extreme form of ancient skepticism - the philosophical position that knowledge of the truth is impossible. Certain ancient philosophers held that people might hold true beliefs, but could never be certain of their knowledge. Sextus Empiricus's skepticism took this view farther. He held that no true knowledge could be had at all, and that we could not be certain even of our lack of knowledge. This extreme form of skepticism is circular and nihilistic: not even what it claims can be true because truth itself is impossible.

Sextus Empiricus couldn't prove his form of skepticism. To do so would be to say that there is some truth to the matter and this is exactly what he means to deny. Instead, he shows how inquiry into the truth always results in doubt and uncertainty. But while his result is nihilistic in terms of human knowledge, it is not in terms of human life, and he outlines a way of living that acknowledges the impossibility of true knowledge.

Sextus Empiricus's first step is to consider how we try to come to the truth through examining contradictory propositions. As an example, take a case of morality. In one culture, some practice, say polygamy, is forbidden, while in another it is permitted. Argumentation may be used to defend either position and, as a result, we have no rational basis for choosing one "truth" over the other.

St. Augustine argued vigorously against Sextus Empiricus, and his critique is two-pronged. He sought to show that certainty might be had in two ways:

  1. Certainty through logic
  2. Certainty through sense perception

Augustine considers Democritus's theory that the world is composed of atoms. The skeptic denies that there is any way to know whether or not this proposition is true. But Augustine points out either there is one world or there are many worlds, and that if there are many then either there are finitely many or infinitely many. In other words, he can be certain of the law of non-contradiction, and this law can be used to achieve certainty on many matters.

Augustine then takes on the more difficult skeptical challenge: that we can never have knowledge through our senses, since these can be deceptive or faulty. But even if this is the case, says Augustine, there is something that is perceived. Even if our perception is in error we are in error about something, and, therefore, we know that a world exists. Against the argument that the world cannot be accurately perceived because our sensory experience could be a matter of dreaming or derangement, Augustine makes two points. One is that certain truths, like those of mathematics, survive dreaming and derangement. The other is that we have rational ways to distinguish normal perception from dreaming and deranged perception.

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