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Posts Tagged ‘Sceptic’

Pyrrhonian Scepticism Against Learning

Posted by allzermalmer on October 13, 2012

This comes from Sextus Empiricus in his book “Against the Ethicists”. I broke up the one long argument to put it in a more readable manner.

“These, then, are the objections of a more general character brought forward by the Sceptics to show the non-existence of learning; and it will be possible also to apply these difficulties in turn to the so-called art of life.

For either the wise man will teach this to the wise, or the unwise to the unwise, or the unwise to the wise, or the wise to the unwise. But neither would the wise man be said to teach it to the wise (for both are perfect in virtue and neither of them needs to learn), nor the unwise to the unwise (for both of them have need of learning and neither of them is wise so as to teach the other). Nor yet will the unwise teach to the wise; for neither is the blind man of instructing the man who sees about colours. It only remains, therefore, that the wise man is capable of teaching the unwise; and this too is a matter of doubt.

For if wisdom is “the science of things good and evil and neither,” the unwise man, when the wise man is teaching him the things good and evil and neither, will merely hear the things since he does not possess any wisdom but is in ignorance of all these things. For if he should comprehend them while he is in a state of unwisdom, unwisdom will be capable of knowing things good and evil and neither. But, according to them, unwsidom is not capable of perceiving these things; therefore the unwise man will not comprehend the things said or done by the wise man in pursuance of the rule of his wisdom. And just as he who is blind from, so long as he is blind, has no conception of colours, and he who is deaf from birth, so long as he is deaf, does not apprehend sounds, so also the unwise man, in so far as he is unwise, does not comprehend things wisely said and done. Neither, therefore, can the wise man guide the unwise in the art of life.

– Moreover, if the wise man teaches the unwise, wisdom must be cognizant of unwisdom, even as art is of lack of art; but wisdom cannot be cognizant of unwisdom; therefore the wise man is not capable of teaching the unwise. For he who has become wise owing to some unwise. For he who has become wise owing to some joint exercise and practice (for no one is such by experience (for no one is such by nature) either has acquired wisdom in addition while his unwisdom still subsists within him, or else has become wise through getting rid of the latter and acquiring the former. But if he has acquired wisdom in addition while his unwisdom still subsists within him, the same man will be at once both wise and unwise, which is impossible. And if has acquired the former by getting rid of the latter, he will not be able to know his pre-existing condition, which is not now naturally so;

for certainly the apprehension of every object, whether sensible or intelligible, comes about either empirically by way of sense-evidence or by way of analogical inference from things which have appeared empirically, this latter being either through resemblance (as when Socrates, not being present, is recognized from the likeness of Socrates), or through composition (as when from a man and a horse we form by compounding them the conception of the non-existent hippocentaur), or by way of analogy (as when from ordinary man there is conceived by magnification the Cyclops who was “Less like a corn-eating man than a forest-clad peak of the mountains,” and by diminution the pygmy). Hence, if unwisdom is perceived by wisdom and also the unwise man by the wise, the perception takes place either by experience or by inference form experience. But perception does not take place by experience (for no one gets to know wisdom in the same way as white and black and sweet and bitter), nor by inference from  experience (for no existing thing resembles unwisdom) [But if the wise man makes the inference from experience this, it is either through resemblance or through composition or through analogy];so that wisdom will never perceive unwisdom.

– Yes, but possibly someone will say that the wise man can discern the unwisdom of another by the wisdom within himself; but this is puerile. For unwisdom is a condition productive of certain works. If, then, the wise man sees and apprehends this in another, either he will apprehend the condition directly by means of itself, or by attention to its works he will also get to know the condition itself, just as one knows the condition of the medical man from works in accordance with the arts of medicine, and that of the painter from works in accordance with the art of painting. But he cannot perceive the condition by means of itself; for it is obscure and invisible, and it is not possible to view it closely through the shape of the body; nor by means of the works which result from it; for all the apparent works are, as we showed above, common to wisdom and unwisdom alike. But if it is necessary that the wise man, in order that he may teach the art of life to the unwsise, should himself be capable of perceiving unwisdom-even as the artist lack of art,- and it has been shown that unwisdom is to him imperceptible, then the wise man will not be able to teach the unwise the art of life.”

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