|Born||c. 360 BC
|Died||c. 270 BC|
Pyrrho (//; Greek: Πύρρων Pyrrōn, c. 360 BC – c. 270 BC), a Greek philosopher of Classical Antiquity, was a student of Eastern philosophy and is credited as being the first Greek skeptic philosopher and the inspiration for the school known as Pyrrhonism, founded by Aenesidemus in the 1st century BC. He was exposed to Eastern (Indian) philosophy and introduced it to Greece and is popularly known for his skeptic philosophy modeled on the pioneering Indian skeptical philosophical schools and traditions.
Pyrrho was from Elis, on the Ionian Sea. Diogenes Laertius, quoting from Apollodorus of Athens, says that Pyrrho was at first a painter, and that pictures by him were exhibited in the gymnasium at Elis. Later he was diverted to philosophy by the works of Democritus, and according to Diogenes Laertius became acquainted with the Megarian dialectic through Bryson, pupil of Stilpo.
Pyrrho, along with Anaxarchus, travelled with Alexander the Great on his exploration of the East, and studied under the Gymnosophists in India and the Magi in Persia. This exposure to Eastern philosophy seems to have inspired him to adopt a life of solitude; returning to Elis, he lived in poor circumstances, but was highly honored by the Elians and also by the Athenians, who conferred upon him the rights of citizenship.
Pyrrho wrote nothing. His doctrines were recorded in the writings of his pupil Timon of Phlius. Unfortunately these works are mostly lost. Today Pyrrho's ideas are known mainly through the book Outlines of Pyrrhonism written by the Greek physician Sextus Empiricus.
Pyrrho was renowned for creating the first formal school of skepticism in western philosophy. Pyrrho summarized his philosophy as follows: "Whoever wants to be happy (eudaimonia) must consider these three questions: First, how are pragmata (ethical matters, affairs, topics) by nature? Secondly, what attitude should we adopt towards them? Thirdly, what will be the outcome for those who have this attitude?" Pyrrho's answer is that "As for pragmata they are all adiaphora (undifferentiated by a logical differentia), astathmēta (unstable, unbalanced, not measurable), and anepikrita (unjudged, unfixed, undecidable). Therefore, neither our sense-perceptions nor our doxai (views, theories, beliefs) tell us the truth or lie; so we certainly should not rely on them. Rather, we should be adoxastous (without views), aklineis (uninclined toward this side or that), and akradantous (unwavering in our refusal to choose), saying about every single one that it no more is than it is not or it both is and is not or it neither is nor is not.
The main principle of Pyrrho's thought is expressed by the word acatalepsia, which connotes the ability to withhold assent from doctrines regarding the truth of things in their own nature; against every statement its contradiction may be advanced with equal justification.
- Diogenes' testimony is doubtful. See Bett (2000) 1.
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- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
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- Long, A.A. and Sedley, David, The Hellenistic Philosophers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
- Striker, Gisela, "On the difference between the Pyrrhonists and the Academics" in G. Striker, Essays on Hellenistic Epistemology and Ethics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, 135-149.
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- Svavarsson, Svavar Hrafn, "Pyrrho’s undecidable nature", Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, 27 (2004): 249-295.