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Ancient History Sourcebook:
Diogenes Laërtius: 
The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers
The Sceptics: Life of Pyrrho


I. Pyrrho was a citizen of Elis, and the son of Pleistarchus, as Diocles informs us, and, as Apollodorus in his Chronicles asserts, he was originally a painter.

II. And he was a pupil of Bryson, the son of Stilpon, as are told by Alexander in his Chronicles. After that he attached himself to Anaxarchus, and attended him everywhere; so that he even went as far as the Gymnosophists, in India, and the Magi.

III. Owing to which circumstance, he seems to have taken a noble line in philosophy, introducing the doctrine of incomprehensibility, and of the necessity of suspending one’s judgment, as we learn from Ascanius, of Abdera. For he used to say that nothing was honourable, or disgraceful, or just, or unjust. And on the same principle he asserted that there was no such thing as downright truth; but that men did everything in consequence of custom and law. For that nothing was any more this than that. And his life corresponded to his principles; for he never shunned anything, and never guarded against anything; encountering everything, even waggons for instance, and precipices, and dogs, and everything of that sort; committing nothing whatever to his senses. So that he used to be saved, as Autigonus the Carystian tells us, by his friends who accompanied him. And Aenesidemus says that he studied philosophy on the principle of suspending I his judgment on all points, without however, on any occasion acting in an imprudent manner, or doing anything without due consideration. And he lived to nearly ninety years of age.

IV. And Antigonus, of Carystus, in his account of Pyrrho, mentions the following circumstances respecting him; that he was originally a person of no reputation, but a poor man, and a painter; and that a picture of some camp-bearers, of very moderate execution, was preserved in the Gymnasium at Elis, which was his work ; and that he used to walk out into the fields and seek solitary places, very rarely appearing to his family at home; and that he did this in consequence of having heard some Indian reproaching Anaxarchus for never [403>] teaching any one else any good, but for devoting all his time to paying court to princes in palaces. He relates of him too, that he always maintained the same demeanour, so that if any one left him in the middle of his delivery of a discourse, he remained and continued what he was saying; although, when a young man, he was of a very excitable temperament. Often too, says Antigonus, he would go away for a time, without telling any one beforehand, and taking any chance persons whom he chose for his companions. And once, when Anaxarchus had fallen into a pond, he passed by without assisting him; and when some one blamed him for this, Anaxarchus himself praised his indifference and absence of all emotion.

On one occasion he was detected talking to himself, and when he was asked the reason, he said that he was studying how to be good. In his investigations he was never despised by any one, because he always spoke explicitly and straight to the question that had been put to him. On which account Nausiphanes was charmed by him even when he was quite young. And he used to say that he should like to be endowed with the disposition of Pyrrho, without losing his own power of eloquence. And he said too, that Epicurus, who admired the conversation and manners of Pyrrho, was frequently asking him about him.

V. He was so greatly honoured by his country, that he was appointed a priest; and on his account all the philosophers were exempted from taxation. He had a great many imitators of his impassiveness; in reference to which Timon speaks thus of him in his Python, and in his Silli

Now, you old man, you Pyrrho, how could you
Find an escape from all the slavish doctrines;
And vain imaginations of the Sophists?
How did you free yourself from all the bonds
Of sly chicane, and artful deep persuasion?
How came you to neglect what sort of breeze
Blows round your Greece, and what‘s the origin
And end of everything?

And again, in his Images, he says

These things, my heart, O Pyrrho, longs to hear,
How you enjoy such ease of life and quiet,
The only man as happy as a God.

And the Athenians presented him with the freedom of their [404>] city, as Diocles tells us, because he had slain Cotys, the Thracian.

He also lived in a most blameless manner with his sister, who was a midwife, as Eratosthenes relates, in his treatise on Riches and Poverty; so that he himself used to carry poultry, and pigs too if he could get any, into the market-place and sell them. And he used to clean all the furniture of the house without expressing any annoyance. And it is said that he carried his indifference so far that he even washed a pig. And once, when he was very angry about something connected with his sister (and her name was Philista), and some one took him up, he said, "The display of my indifference does not depend on a woman." On another occasion; when he was driven back by a dog which was attacking him, he said to some one who blamed him for being discomposed. "That it was a difficult thing entirely to put off humanity; but that a man ought to strive with all his power to counteract.circumstances with his actions if possible, and at all events with his reason." They also tell a story that once, when some medicines of a consuming tendency, and some cutting and cautery was applied to him for some wound, that he never even contracted his brow. And Timon intimates his disposition plainly enough in the letters which he wrote to Python. Moreover, Philo, the Athenian, who was a friend of his, said. that he was especially fond of Democritus; and next to him, of Homer; whom be admired greatly, and was continually saying :—

But as the race of falling leaves decay,
Such is the fate of man
[Homer, Illiad, vi. 146]

He used also, as it is said, to compare men to wasps, and flies, and birds, and to quote the following lines :—

Die then, my friend, what boots it to deplore?
The great, the good Patroclus is no more.
He, far thy better, was foredoom‘d to die;
And thou, doest thou bewail mortality?
[Homer, Illiad, xxi. 106]

And so he would quote anything that bore on the uncertainty and emptiness and fickleness of the affairs of man. Posidonius tells the following anecdote about him: that when some people who were sailing with him were looking gloomy because [405>] of a storm, he kept a calm countenance, and comforted their minds, exhibiting himself on deck eating a pig, and saying that it became a wise man to preserve an untroubled spirit in that manner. Memenius is the only writer who asserts that he used to deliver positive dogmas.

VII. He had many eminent disciples, and among them Eurylochus, of whom the following defective characteristic is related; for, they say, that he was once worked up to such a pitch of rage that he took up a spit with the meat on it, and chased the cook as far as the market-place. And once in Elis he was so harassed by some people who put questions to him in the middle of his discourses, that he threw down his cloak and swam across the Alpheus. He was the greatest possible enemy to the Sophists, as Timon tells us. But Philo, on the contrary, was very fond of arguing; on which account Timon speaks of him thus:—

Avoiding men to study all devoted,
He ponders with himself; and never heeds
The glory er disputes which harass Philo.

Besides these disciples, Pyrrho also had Hecateus of Abdera, and Timon the Phliasian, who wrote the Silli, and whom we shall speak of hereafter; and also Nausiphanes, of Teos, who, as some say, was the master of Epianus.

VIII. All these men were called Pyrrhoneans from their master; and also doubters, and sceptics, and ephectics, or suspenders of their judgment, and investigators, from their principles. And their philosophy was called investigatory, from their investigating or seeking the truth on all sides; and sceptical from their being always doubting (skeptomai), and never finding; and ephectic, from the disposition which they encouraged after investigation, I mean the suspending of their judgment (epochê); and doubting, because they asserted that the dogmatic philosophers only doubted, and that they did the same. [And they were called Pyrrhoneans from Pyrrho himself.]

But Theodosius, in his Chapters on Scepticism, contends, that we ought not to call the Pyrrhonean school sceptical; for since, says he, the motion and agitation of the mind in each individual is incomprehensible to others, we are unable to know what was the disposition of Pyrrho; and if we do not [406>] know it we ought not to be called Pyrrhoneans. He also adds that Pyrrho was not the original inventor of Scepticism, and that he had no particular dogma of any kind; and that, consequently, it can only be called Pyrrhonism from some similarity. Some say that Homer was the original founder of this school; since he at different times gives different accounts of the same circumstance, as much as any one else ever did; and since he never dogmatizes definitively respecting affirmation; they also say that the maxims of the seven wise men were sceptical; such as that, "Seek nothing in excess," and that, "Suretyship is near calamity;" which shows that calamity follows a man who has given positive and certain surety; they also argue that Archilochus and Euripides were Sceptics; and Archilochus speaks thus :—

And now, O Glaucus, son of Leptines,
Such is the mind of mortal man, which changes
With every day that Jupiter doth send.

And Euripides says :—

Why then do men assert that wretched mortals
Are with true wisdom gifted; for on you
We all depend; and we do everything
Which pleases you.

Moreover, Xenophanes, and Zeno the Eleatic, and Democritns were also Sceptics; of whom Xeuophanes speaks thus:—

And no man knows distinctly anything,
And no man ever will.

And Zeno endeavours to put an end to the doctrine of motion by saying: "The object moved does not move either in the place in which it is, or in that in which it is not." Democritus, too, discards the qualities, where he says: what is cold is cold in opinion, and what is hot is hot in opinion; but atoms and the vacuum exist in reality. And again he says: "But we know nothing really; for truth lies in the bottom." Plato, too, following them, attributes the knowledge of the truth to the Gods and to the sons of the Gods, and leaves men only the investigation of probability. And Euripides says:—

Who now can tell whether to live may not
Be properly to die. And whether that
Which men do call to die, may not in truth
Be but the entrance into real life?

[407>] And Empedoeles speaks thus :—

These things are not perceptible to sight,
Nor to the ears, nor comprehensible
To human intellect

And in a preceding passage he says :—

Believing nothing, but such circumstances
As have befallen each.

Heraclitus, too, says, "Let us not form conjectures at random, about things of the greatest importance." And Hippocrates delivers his opinion in a very doubtful manner, such as becomes a man; and before them all Homer has said :—

Long in the field of words we may contend,
Reproach is infinite and knows no end.
And immediately after:—
Armed, or with truth or falsehood, right or wrong.
(So voluble a weapon is the tongue),
Wounded we wound, and neither side can fall,
For every man has equal strength to rail:
[Homer, Illiad, xx. 248]

Intimating the equal vigour and antethetical [sic.] force of words. And the Sceptics persevered in overthrowing all the dogmas of every sect, while they themselves asserted nothing dogmatically; and contented themselves with expressing the opinions of others, without affirming anything themselves, not even that they did affirm nothing; so that [they] even discarded all positive denial; for to say, "We affirm nothing," was to affirm something. "But we," said they, "enunciate the doctrines of others, to prove our own perfect indifference; it is just as if we were to express the same thing by a simple sign." So these words, "We affirm nothing," indicate the absence of all affirmation, just as other propositions, such as, "Not more one thing than another," or, "Every reason has a corresponding reason opposed to it," and all such maxims indicate a similar idea. But the phrase, "Not more one thing," &c., has sometimes an affirmative sense, indicating the equality of certain things, as for instance, in this sentence, "A pirate is not worse than a liar." But by the sceptics this is said not positively, but negatively, as for instance, where the speaker contests a point [408>] and says, "It was not Scylla, any more than it was Chimaera." And the word "more," itself, is sometimes used to indicate a comparison, as when we say, "That honey is more sweet than grapes." And at other times it is used positively, and at the same time negatively, as when we say, "Virtue profits us more than hurts us;" for in this phrase we intimate that virtue does profit, and does not hurt us. But the Scepties abolish the whole expression, "Not more than it;" saying, that "Prudence has not existence, any more than it has no existence." Accordingly, then, expression, as Timon says in his Python, indicates nothing more than an absence of all affirmation, or of all assent of the judgment.

Also the expression, "Every reason has a corresponding reason," &c., does in the same manner indicate the suspension of the judgment; for if, while the facts are different, the expressions are equipollent, it follows that a man must be quite ignorant of the real truth.

Besides this, to this assertion there is a contrary assertion opposed, which, after having destroyed all others, turns itself against itself, and destroys itself, resembling, as it were, those cathartic medicines which, after they have cleansed the stomach, then discharge themselves, and are got rid of. And so the dogmatic philosophers say, that all these reasonings are so far from overturning the authority of reason that they confirm it. To this the Sceptics reply, that they only employ reason as an instrument, because it is impossible to overturn the authority of reason, without employing reason; just as if we assert that there is no such thing as space, we must employ the word "space," but that not dogmatically, but demonstratively; and if we assert that nothing exists according to necessity, it is unavoidable that we must use the word "necessity." The same principle of interpretation did they adopt; for they affirmed that facts are not by nature such as they appear to be, but that they only seem such; and they said, that what they doubt is not what they think, for their thoughts are evident to themselves, but the reality of the things which are only made known to them by their sensations.

The Pyrrhonean system, then, is a simple explanation of appearances, or of notions of every kind, by means of which, comparing one thing with another one arrives at the con- [409>] clusion, that there is nothing in all these notions, but contradiction and confusion; as Aenesidemus says in his Introduction to Pyrrhonism. As to the contradictions which are found in those speculations, when they have pointed out in what way each fact is convincing, they then, by the same means, take away all belief from it; for they say that we regard as certain, those things which always produce similar impressions on the senses, those which are the offspring of habit, or which are established by the laws, and those too which give pleasure or excite wonder. And they prove that the reasons opposite to those on which our assent is founded are entitled to equal belief.

IX. The difficulties which they suggest, relating to the agreement subsisting between what appears to the senses, and what is comprehended by the intellect, divide themselves into ten modes of argument, according to which the subject and object of our knowledge is incessantly changing. And these ten modes (tropooi, singular tropos) Phyrrho lays down in the following manner.

The first relates to the difference which one remarks between the sentiments of animals in respect of pleasure, and pain, and what is injurious, and what is advantageous; and from this we conclude, that the same objects do not always produce the same impressions; and that the fact of this difference ought to be a reason with us for suspending our judgment. For there are some animals which are produced without any sexual connexion, as those which live in the fire, and the Arabian Phoenix, and worms. Others again are engendered by copulation, as men and others of that kind; and some are composed in one way, and others in another; on which account they also differ in their senses, as for instance, hawks are very keen-sighted; dogs have a most acute scent. It is plain, therefore, that the things seen produce different impressions on those animals which differ in their power of sight. So, too, young branches are eagerly eaten by the goat, but are bitter to mankind; and hemlock is nutritious for the quail, but deadly to man; and pigs eat their own dung, but a horse does not.

The second mode refers to the nature and idiosyncracies of men. According to Demophon, the steward of Alexander used to feel warm in the shade, and to shiver in the sun. And Andron, the Argive, as Aristotle tells us, travelled [410>] through the dry parts of Libya, without once drinking. Again, one man is fond of medicine, another of farming, another of commerce; and the same pursuits are good for one man, and injurious to another; on which account, we ought to suspend cur opinions.

The third mode, is that which has for its object the difference of the organs of sense. Accordingly, an apple presents itself to the sight as yellow, to the taste as sweet, to the smell as fragrant; and the same form is seen, in very different lights, according to the differences of mirrors. It follows, therefore, that what is seen is just as likely to be something else as the reality.

The fourth refers to the dispositions of the subject, and the changes in general to which it is liable. Such as health, sickness, sleep, waking, joy, grief, youth, old age, courage, fear, want, abundance, hatred, friendship, warmth, cold, easiness of breathing, oppression of the respiratory organs, and so on. The objects, therefore, appear different to us according to the disposition of the moment; for, even madmen are not in a state contrary to nature. For, why are we to say that of them more than of ourselves? For we too look at the sun as if it stood still. Theon, of Tithora, the Stoic, used to walk about in his sleep; and a slave of Pericles’ used, when in the same state, to walk on the top of the house.

The fifth mode is conversant with laws, and established. customs, and belief in mythical traditions, and the conventions of art, and dogmatical opinions. This mode embraces all that relates to vice, and to honesty; to the true, and to the false; to the good, and to the bad; to the Gods, and to the production, and destruction of all visible objects. Accordingly, the same action is just in the case of some people, and unjust in that of others. And good in the case of some, and bad in that of others. On this principle we see that the Persians do not think it unnatural for a man to marry his daughter; but among the Greeks it is unlawful. Again, the Massagetae, as Eudoxus tells us in the first bock of his Travels over the World, have their women in common but the Greeks do not. And the Cilicians delight in piracy, but the Greeks avoid it. So again, different nations worship different Gods; and some believe in the providence of God, and others do not. The Egyptians embalm their dead, and then bury them; the Romans burn [411>] them; the Paeonians throw them into the lakes. All these considerations show that we ought to suspend our judgment.

The sixth mode has reference to the promiscuousness and confusion of objects; according to which nothing is seen by us simply and by itself; but in combination either with air, or with light, or with moisture, or with solidity, or heat, or cold, or motion, or evaporation or some other power. Accordingly, purple exhibits a different hue in the sun, and in the moon, and in a lamp. And our own complexions appear different when seen at noonday and at sunset. And a stone which one cannot lift in the air, is easily displaced in the water, either because it is heavy itself and is made light by the water, or because it is light in itself and is made heavy by the air. So that we cannot positively know the peculiar qualities of anything, just as we cannot discover oil in ointment.

The seventh mode has reference to distances, and position, and space, and to the objects which are in space. In this mode one establishes the fact that objects which w-e believe to be large, sometimes appear small; that those which we believe to be square, sometimes appear round; that those which we fancy even, appear full of projections; those which we think straight, seem bent; and those which we believe to be colourless, appear of quite a different complexion. Accordingly, the sun, on account of its distance from us, appears small. The mountains too, at a distance, appear airy masses and smooth, but when beheld close, they are rough. Again, the sun has one appearance at his rise, and quite a different one at midday. And the same body looks very different in a wood from what it does on plain ground. So too, the appearance of an object changes according to its position as regards us; for instance, the neck of a dove varies as it turns. Since then, it is impossible to view these things irrespectively of place and position, it is clear that their real nature is not known.

The eighth mode has respect to the magnitudes or quantities of things; or to the heat or coldness, or to the speed or slow [412>] ness, or to the paleness or variety of colour of the subject. For instance, a moderate quantity of wine when taken invigorates, but an excessive quantity weakens. And the same is the case with food, and other similar things.

The ninth depends upon the frequency, or rarity, or strangeness of the thing under consideration. For instance, earthquakes excite no wonder among those nations with whom they are of frequent occurrence nor does the sun, because he is seen every day.

The ninth mode is called by Phavorinus, the eighth, and by Sextus and Aenesidemus, the tenth; and Sextus calls the tenth the eighth, which Phavorinus reckons the tenth as the ninth in order.

The tenth mode refers to the comparison between one thing and another; as, for instance, between what is light and what is heavy; between what is strong and what is weak; between what is greater and what is less; what is above and what is below. For instance, that which is on the right, is not on the right intrinsically and by nature, but it is looked upon as such in consequence of its relation to something else; and if that other thing be transposed, then it will no longer he on the right. In the same way, a man is spoken of as a father, or brother, or relation to some one else; and day is called so in relation to the sun: and everything has its distinctive name in relation to human thought: therefore, those things which are known in relation to others, are unknown of themselves.

And these are the ten modes.

X. But Agrippa adds five other modes to them. One derived from the disagreement of opinions; another from the necessity of proceeding ad infinitum from one reasoning to another; a third from relation; a fourth from hypothesis; and the last from the reciprocal nature of proofs.

That which refers to the disagreement of opinions, shows that all the questions which philosophers propose to themselves, or which people in general discuss, are full of uncertainty and contradiction.

That which is derived from the necessity of proceeding incessantly from one reasoning to another, demonstrates that it is impossible for a man ever, in his researches, to arrive at undeniable truth; since one truth is only to be established by another truth; and so on, ad infinitum. [413>]

The mode which is derived from relation rests on the doctrine that no object is ever perceived independently and entirely by itself, but always in its relation to something else so that it is impossible to know its nature correctly.

That which depends on hypothesis is directed against those arguers who pretend that it is necessary to accept the principles of things taken absolutely, and that one must place one‘s faith in them without any examination, which is an absurdity for one may just as well lay down the opposite principles.

The fifth mode, that one namely which arises from the reciprocal nature of proofs, is capable of application whenever the proof of the truth which we are looking for supposes, as a necessary preliminary, our belief in that truth; for instance, if, after we have proved the porosity of bodies by their evaporations, we return and prove the evaporations by the porosity.

XI. These Sceptics then deny the existence of any demonstration, of any test of truth, of any signs, or causes, or motion, or learning, and of anything as intrinsically or naturally good or bad. For every demonstration, say they, depends either on things which demonstrate themselves, or on principles which are indemonstrable. If on things which demonstrate themselves, then these things themselves require demonstration; and so on ad infinitum. If on principles which are indemonstrable, then, the very moment that either the sum total of these principles, or even one single one of them, is incorrectly urged, the whole demonstration falls instantly to pieces. But if any one supposes, they add, that there are principles which require no demonstration, that man deceives himself strangely, not seeing that it is necessary for him in the first place to establish this point, that they contain their proof in themselves. For a man cannot prove that there are four elements, because there are four elements.

Besides, if particular proofs are denied in a complex demonstration, it must follow that the whole demonstration is also incorrect. Again, if we are to know that an argument is really a demonstrative proof, we must have a test of truth; and in order to establish a test, we require a demonstrative proof; and these two things must be devoid of every kind of certainty, since they bear reciprocally the one on the other.

How then is any one to arrive at certainty about obscure matters, if one is ignorant even how one ought to attempt to [414>] prove them? For what one is desirous to understand is not what the appearance of things is, but what their nature and essence is.

They show, too, that the dogmatic philosophers act with great simplicity; for that the conclusions which they draw from their hypothetical principles, are not scientific truths but mere suppositions; and that, in the same manner, one might establish the most improbable propositions. They also say that those who pretend that one ought not to judge of things by the circumstances which surround them, or by their accessories, but that one ought to take their nature itself as one‘s guide, do not perceive that, while they pretend to give the precise measure and definition of everything, if the objects present such and such an appearance, that depends solely on their position and relative arrangement. They conclude from thence, that it is necessary to say that everything is true, or that everything is false. For if certain things only are true, how is one to recognize them. Evidently it will not be the senses which judge in that case of the objects of sensation. For all appearances are equal to the senses; nor will it be the intellect, for the same reason. But besides these two faculties, there does not appear to be any other test or criterion at all. So, say they, if we desire to arrive at any certainty with respect to any object which comes under either sense or intellect, we must first establish those opinions which are laid dawn previously as bearing on those objects. For some people have denied this doctrine, and others have overturned that; it is therefore indispensable that they should be judged of either by the senses or by the intellect. And the authority of each of these faculties is contested; it is therefore impossible to form a positive judgment of the operations of the senses and of the intellect; and if the contest between the different opinions, compels us to a neutrality, then the measure which appeared proper to apply to the appreciation of all those objects is at the same time put an end to, and one must fix a similar valuation on everything.

Perhaps our opponent will say, "Are then appearances trustworthy or deceitful?" We answer that, if they are [415>] trustworthy, the other side has nothing to object to those to whom the contrary appearance presents itself. For, as he who says that such and such a thing appears to him is trustworthy, so also is he who says that the contrary appears to him. And if appearances are deceitful, then they do not deserve any confidence when they assert what appears to them to be true. We are not bound then to believe that a thing is true, merely because it obtains assent. For all men do not yield to the same reasons; and even the same individual does not always see things in the same light. Persuasion often depends on external circumstances, on the authority of the speaker, on his ability, on the elegance of his language, on habit, or even en pleasure.

They also, by this train of reasoning, suppress the criterion of truth. Either the criterion has been decided on, or it has not. And if it has not, it does not deserve any confidence, and it cannot be of any use at all in aiding us to discern truth from falsehood. If, on the other hand, it has been decided on, it then enters into the class of particular things which require a criterion, and in that case to judge and to be judged amount to the same thing; the criterion which judges is itself judged of by something else, that again by a third criterion, and so on ad infinitum. Add to this, say they, the fact that people are not even agreed as to the nature of the criterion of truth; some say that man is the criterion, others that it is the senses which are so: one set places reason in the van, another class rely upon cataleptic perception.

As to man himself, he disagrees both with himself and with others, as the diversity of laws and customs proves. The senses are deceivers, and reason disagrees with itself. Cataleptic perception is judged of by the intellect, and the intellect changes in various manners; accordingly, we can never find any positive criterion, and in consequence, truth itself wholly eludes our search.

They also affirm that there are no such things as signs (sêmeion); for if there are signs, they argue they must be such as are apprehended either by the senses or by the intellect. Now, there are none which are apprehended by the senses, for everything which is apprehended by the senses is general, while a sign is something particular. Moreover, any object which is apprehended by the senses has an existence of its own, while signs are only relative. Again, signs are not apprehended by the [416>] intellect, for in that case they would be either the visible manifestation of a visible thing, or the invisible manifestation of an invisible thing, or the invisible sign of a visible thing; or the visible sign of an invisible thing. But none of all these cases are possible; there are therefore no such things as signs at all.

There is therefore no such thing as a visible sign of a visible thing; for that which is visible has no need of a sign. Nor, again, is there any invisible sign of an invisible thing; for when anything is manifested by means of another thing, it must become visible. On the same principle there is no invisible sign of a visible object; for that which aids in the perception of something else must be visible. Lastly, there is no visible manifestation of an invisible thing; for as a sign is something wholly relative, it must be perceived in that of which it is the sign; and that is not the case. It follows, therefore, that none of those things which are not visible in themselves admit of being perceived; for one considers signs as things which aid in the perception of that which is not evident by itself.

They also wholly discard, and, as far as depends on them, overturn the idea of any cause, by means of this same train of reasoning. Cause is something relative. It is relative to that of which it is the cause. But that which is relative is only conceived, and has no real existence. The idea of a cause then is a pure conception; for, inasmuch as it is a cause, it must be a cause of something; otherwise it would be no cause at all. In the same way as a father cannot be a father, unless there exists some being in respect of whom one gives him the title of father; so too a cause stands on the same ground. For, supposing that nothing exists relatively to which a cause can be spoken of; then, as there is no production, or destruction, or anything of that sort, there can likewise be no cause. However, let us admit that there are such things as causes. In that case then, either a body must be the cause of a body, or that which is incorporeal must be the cause of that which is incorporeal. Now, neither of these eases is possible; therefore, there is no such thing as cause. In fact, one body cannot be the cause of another body, since both bodies must have the same nature; and if it be said that one is the cause, inasmuch as it is a body, then the other must [417>] be a cause for the same reason. And in that case one would have two reciprocal causes; two agents without any passive subject

Again, one incorporeal thing cannot be the cause of another incorporeal thing for the same reason. Also, an incorporeal thing cannot be the cause of a body, because nothing that is incorporeal can produce a body. Nor, on the other hand, can a body be the cause of anything incorporeal, because in every production there must be some passive subject matter; but, as what is incorporeal is by its own nature protected from being a passive subject, it cannot be the object of any productive power. There is, therefore, no such thing as any cause at all. From all which it follows, that the first principles of all things have no reality; for such a principle, if it did exist, must be both the agent and the efficient cause.

Again, there is no such thing as motion. For whatever is moved, is moved either in the place in which it is, or in that in which it is not. It certainly is not moved in the place in which it is, and it is impossible that it should be moved in the place in which it is not; therefore, there is no such thing as motion at all.

They also denied the existence of all learning. If, said they, anything is taught, then either that which does exist is taught in its existence or that which does not exist is taught in its non-existence; but that which does exist is not taught in its existence (for the nature of all existent things is visible to all men, and is known by all men); nor is that which does not exist, taught in its non-existence, for nothing can happen to that which does not exist, so that to be taught cannot happen to it.

Nor again, say they, is there any such thing as production. For that which is, is not produced, for it exists already; nor that which is not, for that does not exist at all. And that which has no being nor existence at all, cannot be produced.

Another of their doctrines is, that there is no such thing as any natural good, or natural evil. For if there be any natural good, or natural evil, then it must be good to everyone, or evil to everyone; just as snow is cold to everyone. But there is no such thing as one general good or evil which is common to all beings; therefore, there is no such thing as any natural good, or natural evil. For either one must pronounce every [418>] thing good which is thought so by anyone whatever, or one must say that it does not follow that everything which is thought good is good. Now, we cannot say that everything which is thought good is good, since the same thing is thought good by one person (as, for instance, pleasure is thought good by Epicurus) and evil by another (as it is thought evil by Antisthenes); and on this principle the same thing will be both good and evil. If, again, we assert that it does not follow that everything which is thought good is good, then we must distinguish between the different opinions; which it is not possible to do by reason of the equality of the reasons adduced in support of them. It follows that we cannot recognize anything as good by nature.

And we may also take a view of the whole of their system by the writings which some of them have left behind them. Pyrrho himself has left nothing; but his friends Timon, and Aenesidemus, and Numenius, and Nausiphanes, and others of that class have left books. And the dogmatical philosophers arguing against them, say that they also adopt spurious and pronounce positive dogmas. For where they think that they are refuting others they are convicted, for in the very act of refutation, they assert positively and dogmatize. For when they say that they define nothing, and that every argument has an opposite argument; they do here give a positive definition, and assert a positive dogma. But they reply to these objectors; as to the things which happen to us as men, we admit the truth of what you say; for we certainly do know that it is day, and that we are alive; and we admit that we know many other of the phaenomena of life. But with respect to those things as to which the dogmatic philosophers make positive assertions, saying that they are comprehended, we suspend our judgment on the ground of their being uncertain; and we know nothing but the passions; for we confess that we see, and we are aware that we comprehend that such a thing is the fact; but we do not know how we see, or how we comprehend. Also, we state in the way of narrative, that this appears white, without asserting positively that it really is so.

And with respect to the assertion, "We define nothing," and other sentences of that sort, we do not pronounce them as dogmas. For to say that is a different kind of statement from [419>] saying that the world is spherical; for the one fact is not evident, while the other statements are mere admissions.

While, therefore, we say that we define nothing, we do not even say that as a definition.

Again, the dogmatic philosophers say that the Sceptics overthrow all life, when they deny everything of which life consists. But the Sceptics say that they are mistaken; for they do not deny that they see, but that they do not know how it is that they see. For, say they, we assert what is actually the fact, but we do not describe its character. Again, we feel that fire burns, but we suspend our judgment as to whether it has a burning nature. Also, we see whether a person moves, and that a man dies; but how these things happen we know not. Therefore, say they, we only resist the uncertain deductions which are put by the side of evident facts. For when we say that an image has projections, we only state plainly what is evident; but when we say that it has not projections, we no longer say what appears evident, but something else. On which account Timon, in his Python, says that Pyrrho does not destroy the authority of custom. And in his Images he speaks thus

But what is evidently seen prevails,
Wherever it may he.

And in his treatise on the Senses, he says, "The reason why a thing is sweet I do not declare, but I confess that the fact of sweetness is evident." So too. Aenesidemus, in the first book of his Pyrrhonean Discourses, says that Pyrrho defines nothing dogmatically, on account of the possibility of contradiction, but that he is guided by what is evident. And he says the same thing in his book against Wisdom, and in his treatise on Investigation.

In like manner, Zeuxis, a friend of .Aenesidemus, in his treatise on Twofold Arguments, and Antiochus, of Laodicea, and Apellas, in his Agrippa, all declare nothing beyond what is evident. The criterion therefore, among the Sceptics, is that which is evident; as Aenesidemus also says; and Epicures says the same thing.

But Democritus says, that there is no test whatever of appearances, and also that they are not criteria of truth. Moreover, the dogmatic philosophers attack the criterion derived [420>] from appearances, and say that the same objects present at times different appearances; so that a town presents at one time a square, and at another a round appearance; and that consequently, if the Sceptic does not discriminate between different appearances, he does nothing at all. If, on the contrary, he determines in favour of either, then, say they, he no longer attaches equal value to all appearances. The Sceptics reply to this, that in the presence of different appearances, they content themselves with saying that there are many appearances, and that it is precisely because things present themselves under different characters, that they affirm the existence of appearances.

Lastly, the Sceptics say, that the chief good is the suspension of the judgment which tranquillity of mind follows, like its shadow, as Timon and Aenesidemus say; for that we need not choose these things, or avoid those, which all depend on ourselves: but as to those things which do not depend upon us, but upon necessity, such as hunger, thirst, and pain, those we cannot avoid; for it is not possible to put au end to them by reason.

But when the dogmatic philosophers object that the Sceptic, on his principles, will not refuse to kill his own father, if he is ordered to do so; so that they answer, that they can live very well without disquieting themselves about the speculations of the dogmatic philosophers; but, suspending their judgment in all matters which do not refer to living and the preservation of life. Accordingly, say they, we avoid some things, and we seek others, following custom in that; and we obey the laws.

Some authors have asserted, that the chief good of the Stoics is impassibility; others say that it is mildness and tranquillity.


Source:

Diogenes Laërtius, The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, trans. C.D. Yonge (London: George Bell & Sons, 1895) Public Domain

Scanned by: John Coker, University of Southern Alabama jcoker@jaguar1.usouthal.edu


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