Devoted to Skepticism
I have encountered the following reaction to Greco's paper quite often: he argues against a strawman, since no one ever argued that we ought not have any beliefs. This seems true of modern and contemporary "skeptics" (or philosophers who offer skeptical arguments), as even Hume thinks that we ought to believe some things (he rejects what he calls Pyrrhonism, or "Excessive" skepticism, and even in his most skeptical moments he proclaims that he "knows not what ought to be done"), and even Unger argues only that we have no reason to believe anything, rather than that we ought to lack beliefs. I'm curious if you or any of yours readers have a view on whether the ancient skeptics ever held that we ought to lack beliefs altogether. My own understanding is that Pyrrhonism does not state that we ought to lack beliefs altogether. If I'm right, then Greco's argument does seem to be a strawman. Any thoughts?
I think you're right about modern and contemporary skeptics. Not only is it difficult to find actual skeptics, but in addition the very few skeptics who are out there don't seem to recommend a near-global agnosticism. As for the ancient Pyrrhonist, I will limit myself to the Sextan Pyrrhonist. First, I don't agree with the interpretation of Pyrrhonism as moderate or partial or 'urbane'. Second, Sextus does seem to accept a certain kind of belief (let's grant that this is a good translation of the Greek dogma), namely, beliefs about the various ways one is appeared to. In any case, this seems to be radical enough as a form of skepticism. Third, at times he does seem to claim that we ought not to have any beliefs because the very holding of beliefs is a source of disturbance. But this remark is merely pragmatic and based on "how he is appeared to" (if I'm allowed to use such an expression). Finally, I think that in the end there's no normative component in Sextan Pyrrhonism: the Pyrrhonist would simply say that, as a matter of fact, he finds himself unable to hold any beliefs about the nature of things or what things are really like or what is objectively the case.
Thanks, that is very helpful. I guess you would say, then, that insofar as Greco is arguing against the view that we ought to lack beliefs, he is arguing against a straw man (in fact he argues for something even less impressive, namely that the view that we ought to lack all beliefs would be an "awkward" or "unattractive" view). It seems the title of his paper may be some false advertising...
Well, that is actually a very common objection to radical skepticism. Let me say that, if he is indeed arguing against a straw man, then most epistemologists dealing with skepticism are doing the same thing. I mean, the great majority of epistemologists just make a methodological use of skeptical arguments and their discussion is entirely speculative. On the other hand, he wouldn't be arguing against a straw man if he thought of Pyrrhonian skepticism. I think that he would find Pyrrhonism extremely problematic even if the Pyrrhonist accepted beliefs about the way he is appeared to and even if he didn't make any normative claims. Is it humanly possible or intellectually acceptable or morally right or socially convenient to hold no beliefs about the way things really are? I think these questions are challenging, but unlike most people I address them from the skeptical side.