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Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Aenesidemus (1st century BC)

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 Aenesidemus was a Greek philosopher of the first century BC who revived Pyrrhonian Scepticism, formulating the basic Ten Modes of Scepticism, or tropoi, and demonstrating that concepts such as cause, explanation, goodness and the goal of life engendered endemic and undecidable dispute; faced with this the Sceptic suspends judgment - and tranquillity follows. Aenesidemus was probably active around the middle of the first century BC. He considered that Academic scepticism under Philo of Larissa had so far abandoned its original, uncompromising attitude to knowledge that he described the dispute between Philo and Antiochus as ‘Stoics fighting with Stoics’ (fr. 71C9). 

« Aenesidemus (1st century BC) Aenesidemus was a Greek philosopher of the first century BC who revived Pyrrhonian Scepticism, formulating the basic Ten Modes of Scepticism, or tropoi, and demonstrating that concepts such as cause, explanation, goodness and the goal of life engendered endemic and undecidable dispute; faced with this the Sceptic suspends judgment - and tranquillity follows.

Aenesidemus was probably active around the middle of the first century BC.

He considered that Academic scepticism under Philo of Larissa had so far abandoned its original, uncompromising attitude to knowledge that he described the dispute between Philo and Antiochus as ‘Stoics fighting with Stoics' (fr.

71C9).

In response, he turned to the Scepticism of Pyrrho for sustenance, effectively re-founding Pyrrhonism and determining the broad outlines it was to follow (see Pyrrhonism).

The fundamental arguments of the Ten Modes of Scepticism are attributed to him.

He wrote an eight volume Pyrrhonian Discourses, a summary of which survives in the ninth-century patriarch Photius' library catalogue (frs 71C, 72L), and is said to have composed an On Inquiry, an Against Wisdom and a First Introduction.

The first book of Pyrrhonian Discourses argued that the Academics were in fact dogmatists, committed to beliefs both positive (‘some things are plausible') and negative (‘nothing is apprehensible').

Pyrrhonists, by contrast, ‘determine absolutely nothing, not even this claim that nothing is determined' (fr.

71C8).

They will not assert dogmatically (that is, with strong commitment to the truth) that something either is or is not the case, saying only that it no more is than is not, or that it sometimes is and sometimes is not, or that it is for one person and not for another (fr. 71C6-7) (see Pyrrhonism §§1, 3).

This, according to Aenesidemus, amounts simply to following the appearances, reacting to the way things seem to be; about reality the Pyrrhonist suspends judgment, the result of such suspension being tranquillity (Diogenes Laertius, IX 106-7).

The remainder of The Pyrrhonian Discourses cast doubt on the concepts of dogmatist physics (cause, principle, generation, motion, and so on) (see Pyrrhonism §5) and the veridicality of perception, as well as dealing sceptically with signs, the gods, scientific explanation and various topics in ethics, the aim being to emphasize the dubiousness of all dogmatic positions on these topics and the extent of their differences, with a view to promoting suspension of judgment (and hence tranquillity).

Some of these arguments are preserved elsewhere: signs should be evident as signs (that is in what they signify) to everybody if they are to function as signs, but they are not (Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors VIII 215); the concept of cause is incoherent (IX 219-26); scientific ‘explanations' are underdetermined (Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism I 180-5).

Aenesidemus' Scepticism appears both consistent and complete.

Elsewhere, however, Sextus reports that ‘Aenesidemus…says that the Sceptic way is a road leading to Heraclitean philosophy, since saying that opposites appear to hold of the same thing precedes saying that they actually do hold of the same thing' (Outlines of Pyrrhonism I 210) (see Heraclitus §3).

Thus, apparently, indeterminacy in appearances is grounds for belief in indeterminacy in the objects, which is unsceptical, involving a commitment to the way things actually are.

Perhaps Aenesidemus simply offered such arguments dialectically, to emphasize dogmatic disagreement; perhaps he thought (possibly following Pyrrho - see Pyrrhonism §1, and compare Pyrrho §3) that such statements were coherently Sceptical; or perhaps he simply changed his mind.

The evidence is insufficient - and we can only suspend judgment on the issue.. »

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