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Sextus Empiricus

(fl. c. 200)


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Pyrrhonist Sceptic (see pyrrhon; sceptics) and medical doctor. Nothing is known about his life, but the name ‘Empiricus’ shows that he was a member of the Empiricist school of medicine (see medicine, 5(b). He probably wrote towards the end of the 2nd cent. ad. His extant works are traditionally cited under two titles.1.Outlines of Pyrrhonism, abbrev. PH, in three books; the first offers a general outline of Pyrrhonist scepticism, and a discussion of the differences between Pyrrhonism and other schools or philosophers alleged to have held similar views; the second and third books contain refutations of dogmatic philosophies, divided by subject‐matter: theory of knowledge and logic, physics, ethics.2.Against the professors, abbrev. M, in eleven books, originally no doubt two different works. M 7–11, also entitled Against the dogmatists, is a critique of dogmatic philosophies parallel to but more detailed than PH 2–3; M 1–6 (Against the professors) criticizes other disciplines, as follows: grammar (1), rhetoric (2), geometry (3), arithmetic (4), astrology (5), music (6).Sextus is the only Pyrrhonist philosopher whose work has survived. The first book of PH offers a detailed and subtle defence of scepticism, its aims, and methods. Though Sextus obviously draws upon his predecessors, he is an intelligent compiler who writes clearly and concentrates on argument rather than on anecdotes. His discussions of the doctrines of other schools have preserved valuable information, esp. about Stoic logic (see stoicism) and Hellenistic theory of knowledge.

1.Outlines of Pyrrhonism, abbrev. PH, in three books; the first offers a general outline of Pyrrhonist scepticism, and a discussion of the differences between Pyrrhonism and other schools or philosophers alleged to have held similar views; the second and third books contain refutations of dogmatic philosophies, divided by subject‐matter: theory of knowledge and logic, physics, ethics.

2.Against the professors, abbrev. M, in eleven books, originally no doubt two different works. M 7–11, also entitled Against the dogmatists, is a critique of dogmatic philosophies parallel to but more detailed than PH 2–3; M 1–6 (Against the professors) criticizes other disciplines, as follows: grammar (1), rhetoric (2), geometry (3), arithmetic (4), astrology (5), music (6).

Subjects: Classical Studies — Philosophy.


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