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On Pyrrhonism, Stances, and Believing What You Want

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The paper considers the relations between the Pyrrhonism of Sextus Empiricus and epistemological voluntarism, as applied both to epistemic stances and to individual beliefs. In the first part, the main question is whether ancient skepticism is congenial to the idea of alternative epistemic stances (and hence, potentially, to voluntarism about them). The answer proposed is that skepticism does not in fact recognize this possibility. However, this is not due to any essential features of skepticism itself; rather, it is because, like ancient Greek philosophy in general, the stance skepticism in fact unquestioningly assumes is that of realism. In the second part, the focus is more directly on voluntarism and its compatibility with skepticism. The difficulty with bringing these two together, it is argued, is that, while voluntarism gives one license to hold either of two opposing beliefs, skepticism is in the business of subverting beliefs; in this respect their orientations are in opposite directions. A closing suggestion is that if there is any place where ancient skepticism and voluntarism might meet, it is not in the Pyrrhonist tradition, but in the mitigated skepticism of the late Academy, which allowed the holding of (albeit tentative) beliefs.

Affiliations: 1: Johns Hopkins University,


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