Can the Skeptic Search for Truth? Overview

In this first post, I will offer a brief description of both my general research in the area of ancient philosophy and the research project carried out at the Center. In the next post, I will describe in detail the problems I intend to address in relation to the Pyrrhonian skeptic’s search for truth. Finally, in the third post, I will expound some tentative solutions to these problems.

My research in the area of ancient philosophy has focused on skepticism, especially Pyrrhonism, but also so-called Academic skepticism. I have in addition studied a little bit the Empirical and Methodical schools of medicine, which bear some close similarities with both Pyrrhonian and Academic skepticism. Thus, from a historical point of view, my research concerns the philosophy of the Hellenistic and Imperial periods. Regarding Pyrrhonism, I have focused on the skepticism of the second-century physician Sextus Empiricus, who is the only ancient skeptic from whom complete and substantial works survive. My interest in Sextan Pyrrhonism is not merely historical and exegetical, but also (and perhaps primarily) systematic. That is, I am interested in examining and understanding Pyrrhonian skepticism as an outlook which can be relevant to contemporary philosophy, not only in the sense that some Pyrrhonian arguments can still be regarded as posing a serious challenge to the epistemic credentials of our beliefs, but mainly in the sense that Pyrrhonism can still be deemed to be a philosophical alternative worth considering in its own right. This is why I have recently become more interested in exploring Sextan Pyrrhonism in relation to present-day analytic epistemology and also in relation to contemporary metaethics.

The subject of my research at the Center is the question of whether the ancient Pyrrhonist can consistently claim to be engaged in an ongoing open-minded search for truth. Work on this subject began as a development of ideas touched upon in two papers that appeared in print in 2011. When writing those papers I got the (perhaps misleading) impression that there were certain aspects and problems regarding the Pyrrhonist’s inquiry into truth which had not been carefully examined. I therefore thought I should try to write a paper in which I would critically discuss all previous interpretations and advance my own. I should also note that the issue of the Pyrrhonian search for truth is intimately related to another the question I’ve discussed in a third paper, namely, whether the Pyrrhonist is committed to the canons of rationality. For it may be argued that truth is the goal of inquiry only insofar as this is conceived of as a rational activity.

As already noted, in my next post, I will expound the problems faced by the Pyrrhonist’s claim to be engaged in an inquiry into truth.