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Inspirational Sextus Empiricus quotes

Sextus Empiricus (c. 160 – c. 210 CE), was a physician and philosopher, and has been variously reported to have lived in Alexandria, Rome, or Athens. This post features some inspirational Sextus Empiricus quotes.

His philosophical work is the most complete surviving account of ancient Greek and Roman skepticism. In his medical work, tradition maintains that he belonged to the “empiric school”, as reflected by his name. However, at least twice in his writings, Sextus seems to place himself closer to the “methodic school”, which might be suggested by his philosophical views.

Sextus Empiricus raised concerns which applied to all types of knowledge. He doubted the validity of induction long before its best known critic David Hume, and raised the regress argument against all forms of reasoning. Sextus’s Outlines were widely read in Europe during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, and had a profound effect on Michel de Montaigne, David Hume, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, among many others.

Because of these and other barriers to acquiring true beliefs, Sextus Empiricus advises that we should suspend judgment about virtually all beliefs; that is to say, we should neither affirm any belief as true nor deny any belief as false. This view is known as Pyrrhonian skepticism, as distinguished from Academic skepticism, as practiced by Carneades, which, according to Sextus, denies knowledge altogether.

Sextus did not deny the possibility of knowledge. He criticizes the Academic skeptic’s claim that nothing is knowable as being an affirmative belief. Instead, Sextus advocates simply giving up belief; in other words, suspending judgment about whether or not anything is knowable. Only by suspending judgment can we attain a state of ataraxia (roughly, ‘peace of mind’). Sextus did not think such a general suspension of judgment to be impractical, since we may live without any beliefs, acting by habit.

An influential Latin translation of Sextus’s Outlines was published by Henricus Stephanus in Geneva in 1562, and this was followed by a complete Latin Sextus with Gentian Hervet as translator in 1569. Petrus and Jacobus Chouet published the Greek text for the first time in 1621. Stephanus did not publish it with his Latin translation either in 1562 or in 1569, nor was it published in the reprint of the latter in 1619.

Sextus Empiricus quotes
Sextus Empiricus quotes

Sextus Empiricus quotes

“The wise man is always similar to himself.”
– Sextus Empiricus

“By skepticism we arrive first at suspension of judgment, and second at freedom from disturbance.”
– Sextus Empiricus

“Skepticism relieved two terrible diseases that afflicted mankind: anxiety and dogmatism.”
― Sextus Empiricus

“Those who claim for themselves to judge the truth are bound to possess a criterion of truth. This criterion, then, either is without a judge’s approval or has been approved. But if it is without approval, whence comes it that it is truthworthy? For no matter of dispute is to be trusted without judging. And, if it has been approved, that which approves it, in turn, either has been approved or has not been approved, and so on ad infinitum.”
― Sextus Empiricus

“To every argument an equal argument is opposed.”
– Sextus Empiricus

“Guard yourself from lying; there is he who deceives and there is he who is deceived.”
Sextus Empiricus quotes

“Scepticism is an ability, or mental attitude, which opposes appearances to judgments in any way whatsoever, with the result that,owing to the equipollence of the objects and reasons thus opposed we are brought firstly to a state of mental suspense and next to a state of “unperturbedness” or quietude.”
– Sextus Empiricus

The ten modes of Pyrrhonism Sextus Empiricus quotes

Pyrrhonism is more a mental attitude or therapy than a theory. It involves setting things in opposition and owing to the equipollence of the objects and reasons, one suspends judgement. “We oppose either appearances to appearances or objects of thought to objects of thought or alternando.”

“The same impressions are not produced by the same objects owing to the differences in animals.”

“The same impressions are not produced by the same objects owing to the differences among human beings.”

“The same impressions are not produced by the same objects owing to the differences among the senses.”

“Owing to the “circumstances, conditions or dispositions,” the same objects appear different. The same temperature, as established by instrument, feels very different after an extended period of cold winter weather (it feels warm) than after mild weather in the autumn (it feels cold). Time appears slow when young and fast as aging proceeds. Honey tastes sweet to most but bitter to someone with jaundice. A person with influenza will feel cold and shiver even though she is hot with a fever.”

“Based on positions, distances, and locations; for owing to each of these the same objects appear different.”

“The same tower appears rectangular at close distance and round from far away. The moon looks like a perfect sphere to the human eye, yet cratered from the view of a telescope.”

“We deduce that since no object strikes us entirely by itself, but along with something else, it may perhaps be possible to say what the mixture compounded out of the external object and the thing perceived with it is like, but we would not be able to say what the external object is like by itself.”

“Based, as we said, on the quantity and constitution of the underlying objects, meaning generally by “constitution” the manner of composition.” So, for example, goat horn appears black when intact and appears white when ground up. Snow appears white when frozen and translucent as a liquid.”

“Since all things appear relative, we will suspend judgement about what things exist absolutely and really existent. Do things which exist “differentially” as opposed to those things that have a distinct existence of their own, differ from relative things or not? If they do not differ, then they too are relative; but if they differ, then, since everything which differs is relative to something…, things which exist absolutely are relative.”

“Based on constancy or rarity of occurrence.” The sun is more amazing than a comet, but because we see and feel the warmth of the sun daily and the comet rarely, the latter commands our attention.”

“There is a Tenth Mode, which is mainly concerned with Ethics, being based on rules of conduct, habits, laws, legendary beliefs, and dogmatic conceptions.”

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