Philosophers

Pyrrho

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Pyrrho Biography

Feelosofi – Pyrrho was an ancient Greek philosopher known as the founder of the school of skepticism. Born in Elis around 360 BC, Pyrrho spent most of his life traveling with Alexander the Great’s military expeditions. Known as a “sage”, Pyrrho developed a deeply skeptical view of human knowledge.

The main concept in his thinking is that absolute truth cannot be achieved and humans should rely on epoche, that is, refrain from making definite judgments. Pyrrho viewed all claims as “uncertain” (acatalepsia), thereby doubting the human ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Although there are no writings directly attributable to him, his ideas live on through the works of his successors, such as Sextus Empiricus. Pyrrho left a valuable legacy in the history of philosophy, contributing to the development of a school of skepticism that has continued to influence philosophical thought into modern times.

Pyrrho’s thoughts

Skepticism

Pyrrho’s skeptical thinking emphasizes the uncertainty and diversity of interpretations in human knowledge. Central to this view of skepticism is the concept of epoche, namely refraining from definite judgments and adopting a neutral mental attitude towards knowledge claims.

Pyrrho believed that humans could not attain absolute truth and that wisdom lay in indifference to contradiction. The concept of acatalepsia, namely the courage to doubt everything, underlies Pyrrho’s skepticism, which also includes the idea of ataraxia, the attainment of inner peace through the cessation of judgment. By emphasizing the equivalence of conflicting claims (isostheneia) and doubting human ability to know the world objectively, Pyrrho contributed to the development of a tradition of skepticism that influenced various schools of philosophy until modern times.

Epoche

Epoche, in the context of Pyrrho’s thought, refers to the concept of refraining from making definite judgments or adopting a neutral mental attitude towards knowledge claims. Pyrrho, as the founder of the school of skepticism, taught that humans should not believe claims of knowledge unequivocally and should avoid the tendency to make definitive judgments.
By applying epoche, individuals are expected to consider that absolute truth is unattainable and that interpretations of the world are subjective. This thinking created the foundation for Pyrrho’s framework of skepticism, where wisdom is found in indifference to contradiction and uncertainty. Epoche, as a central aspect of Pyrrho’s philosophy, plays an important role in creating inner peace (ataraxia) through the cessation of judgment, reflecting a skeptical view of the relative and versatile nature of human knowledge.

Acatalepsy

Pyrrho believed that, due to limited perception and reliance on subjective interpretation, humans cannot definitively differentiate between truth and error. In the concept of acatalepsia, Pyrrho encourages a mental attitude that is open to various views, questions claims of knowledge, and maintains uncertainty as a philosophical principle. This view asserts that a firm belief in absolute truth is not only difficult to achieve but also unsatisfying. By understanding these limitations, Pyrrho believed that humans could achieve inner peace (ataraxia) through indifference to conflict and uncertainty.

Ataraxia

In the context of ataraxia, indifference to conflict and uncertainty is considered the key to achieving inner peace. Pyrrho believes that humans can achieve wisdom and happiness by not being tied to relative and subjective knowledge claims. The concept of ataraxia became central to Pyrrho’s skeptical thinking, suggesting that when individuals remove themselves from anxiety and mental debate, they can achieve a peaceful state of mind. Although the legacy of Pyrrho’s direct writings cannot be determined, the concept of ataraxia passed down through his successors, such as Sextus Empiricus, continues to play an important role in our understanding of the role of uncertainty in achieving mental peace.

Isothenia

Isostheneia, in the context of Pyrrho’s philosophy, is a concept that emphasizes the equality between conflicting claims or arguments. Pyrrho believed that humans cannot distinguish between true and false claims with certainty, so they must adopt a mental attitude that is neutral towards contradictions. Isostheneia reflects Pyrrho’s skeptical view that absolute truth is difficult to achieve and that equality between conflicting claims should be the basis of philosophical attitudes. In this thought, Pyrrho recommends that humans should not get caught up in endless debates, but rather maintain a mental attitude that is open to various views. The concept of Isostheneia highlights the relative nature of human knowledge and suggests that wisdom lies in recognizing that conflicting claims have equal weight.

Apatheia

Apatheia, in Pyrrho’s framework, is a concept that refers to a state of emotional calm or freedom from extreme disturbances of feeling. Pyrrho believed that achieving apatheia was a form of achievement that emerged when individuals were able to accept events and circumstances with a calm attitude without overreacting. This concept is closely related to Pyrrho’s view of skepticism, in which wisdom is found through indifference to contradiction and uncertainty. By achieving apatheia, individuals can cope with life’s uncertainties and changes without becoming entangled in excessive emotional turmoil. Pyrrho saw that through the cessation of judgment and acceptance of the relative nature of all claims to knowledge, humans could achieve the desired inner calm.

Subjective Relativism

Subjective relativism in Pyrrho’s thinking is a concept that emphasizes the view that the knowledge and experience of each individual are subjective, depending on each individual’s point of view and personal context. Pyrrho believed that it was impossible to achieve an objective and universal understanding of the world because human perception is always influenced by personal and cultural factors. Within the framework of skepticism, Pyrrho recommends recognizing that this subjective view cannot be avoided, and therefore, humans should be open to various interpretations and knowledge claims. Subjective relativism became the basis for epoche, namely refraining from making definite judgments, because Pyrrho believed that absolute certainty could not be achieved within the framework of this relative view.

Pyrrho’s work

There are no remaining direct works by Pyrrho that can be identified. Pyrrho lived in the 4th century BC, and at that time, oral traditions were more common than writing. Therefore, Pyrrho’s writings were not preserved, and information about his thoughts and teachings was passed on through the writings of his successors and historical testimonies.

Conclusion

The conclusion of the thought of Pyrrho, an ancient Greek philosopher who founded the school of skepticism, can be summarized as an understanding of fundamental uncertainty in achieving absolute truth. Pyrrho emphasized the importance of epoche, that is, refraining from making definite judgments, as a step towards achieving a calm state of mind, or ataraxia. The concepts of acatalepsia, which signifies that absolute truth is unattainable, and isostheneia, which emphasizes the equivalence between conflicting claims, were also integral to Pyrrho’s skepticism.

By embracing subjective relativism, Pyrrho understood that human perception is always influenced by personal and cultural factors. Pyrrho’s philosophical conclusions encouraged humans to accept uncertainty, maintain emotional calm (apatheia), and avoid the tendency to insist on certain knowledge claims. Although Pyrrho’s direct writings do not exist, the legacy of these concepts continues to influence the thinking of skepticism and philosophy in general, highlighting the diversity of views and uncertainty in achieving an understanding of the world.

FAQs

What was Pyrrho’s main contribution to the history of philosophy?

Pyrrho is known as the founder of the school of skepticism in ancient Greek philosophy. His contribution lies in the development of concepts such as epoche (suspension of judgment), acatalepsia (acceptance of absolute uncertainty), and isostheneia (equivalence between conflicting claims), which form the basis of skepticism’s view of human knowledge.

Does Pyrrho have any live written works that are accessible?

Unfortunately, no written work directly attributable to Pyrrho remains today. Information about his thoughts and teachings is passed on through the writings of his successors and historical testimonies.

How does Pyrrho view inner peace (ataraxia) and how to achieve it?

Pyrrho viewed ataraxia as the ultimate goal in life, namely a state of inner calm that can be achieved through the cessation of judgment and acceptance of life’s uncertainties. By implementing epoche and maintaining a neutral mental attitude towards conflict, individuals can achieve the desired inner calm.

Reference

  • Pyrrhonian Skepticism in Diogenes Laertius – Emidio Spinelli (Emidio Spinelli, 2017)
  • Pyrrho, his Dog, and its Master – Richard Bett (Richard Bett, 2002)

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Raymond Kelvin Nando, "Pyrrho," Feelosofi, 14 November 2023, https://feelosofi.com/en/pyrrho/
Raymond Kelvin Nando
Writer, Researcher, & Philosophy Enthusiast