Monday, October 11, 2010

Pyrrhonism and Doubt

Lorenzo Corti has recently published his paper "Sextus Empiricus: scepticisme sans doute" in the collective volume "Quid est veritas?" Hommage à Jonathan Barnes (Napoli: Bibliopolis, 2010), pp. 157-177. Corti claims that the Pyrrhonist's suspension of judgment is not the same as the state of doubt. This view was already defended by Benson Mates (and also by Ezequiel de Olaso), but Corti holds it for a different reason. He compares the so-called 'Cartesian' skeptic and the Pyrrhonist, and concludes (i) that the former does not believe that P or not-P, whereas the latter does not judge that P or not-P, and (ii) that belief is a state, whereas judgment is an act. Now, one may be in a given state without having performed an act of judgment: I may believe that P without having judged that P. So the only beliefs the Pyrrhonist eschews are those which are based on judgments (pp. 172-6).

I'm not convinced by this view, because the distinction in question seems somehow artificial. Sextus does attack the very holding of dogmata and doxai, and it is not at all clear that the beliefs and opinions targeted are only those based on judgments. Also, contrary to what Corti suggests (p. 175), there's no textual evidence for the view that what disturbed the proto-skeptic was, not the beliefs he held, but the judgments he formed. If a person believes that an object X is good by nature, he is disturbed if he does not have it and, if he does, he is disturbed because he is afraid of losing it. And this is so even if the belief in question is not based on a judgment.


  1. I've just taken a look at this page. If, as Suber says, doubt "suggests an inclination toward negation", then of course it's not the same as epochê. But it is not at all clear that doubt expresses such an inclination. Neither do I think that doubt necessarily is "a judgment that something is doubtful or dubitable".

  2. Yeah, I fear you could run into a debate on semantics here. But very often people say they doubt something while leaning towards negation.

  3. Yes, sure. But the point is that Suber's understanding of "doubt" is different from Corti's, and that the latter says that doubt understood in the sense of not believing that P or not-P is different from the Pyrrhonist's epochê.