Castalian Stream’s Confusion About Pyrrhonism

Douglas C. Bates
11 min readAug 18, 2023
Skeptics in Raphael’s School of Athens painting.

Matthew Sharpe, author of Stoicism, Bullying, and Beyond, who writes about philosophy as a way of life on Medium.com under the nom de plume, “Castalian Stream,” has written an article critiquing Pyrrhonism as a way of life: “Some sceptical remarks on Pyrrhonian scepticism as a way of life.”

Castalian Stream's self-description says he writes “articles on philosophy, psychology & classical thought (notably Stoic), aimed at renewing, spreading, and applying these ideas today.” When he comes to writing about Stoicism, he’s one of the best sources to be found on Medium.com. Unfortunately, this, his first article on Pyrrhonism, is full of misunderstandings — misunderstandings likely related to the author’s Stoicism.

Stoicism and Pyrrhonism are competing philosophies of life. Pyrrhonists have for long criticized Stoicism. There’s also a long tradition of Stoics critiquing the two ancient Greek schools of skepticism — Pyrrhonism and Academic Skepticism (see, for example, Epictetus’ Discourses, “Against the Academics”). However, it is also traditional for the Pyrrhonists to have to point out that these critiques are either strawmanning, or that the Stoics simply fail to understand what it is that they’re critiquing.

Let’s be charitable and assume it is a misunderstanding. The Pyrrhonist way of looking at things is tremendously different from that of the Stoics. It requires a shift in understanding, like the shift needed to see that this picture can be interpreted in two different ways.

One can talk about the chin of the woman depicted in this picture. With respect to the woman pictured, the location of the chin seems to be the same (e.g., below the eyes), but depending on whether one interprets the image to be a young woman or an old woman, the chin is in different places, leading to endless confusion and disagreement about the location of the chin.

Stoic critiques of Pyrrhonism are like this. In this case, the “chin” is about what knowledge is understood to be. Once there’s no agreement on what constitutes knowledge, many other disagreements arise.

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Douglas C. Bates

Ancient Greek philosophies of life. http://www.pyrrhonism.org Author of “Pyrrho’s Way: The Ancient Greek Version of Buddhism.”