The Pyrrhonist Logos
This is the first of at least two articles promised in my review of Plínio Junqueira Smith’s book, Sextus Empiricus’ Neo-Pyrrhonism. As the book is expensive and dense, but its ideas are tremendously valuable for understanding Pyrrhonism, this is one in a series of articles to expand upon and unpack those ideas for people who are interested in understanding the practice of Pyrrhonism — a practice that reduces distress and anxiety and helps one lead the best life possible.
This article is fairly technical and not suitable for those without good familiarity with Pyrrhonism. If you’re not familiar with Pyrrhonism, I suggest you begin here.
But, for the small audience who has this familiarity, Smith’s observations are fascinating.
Smith has noticed something extraordinary about the first few pages of Sextus Empiricus’ Outlines of Pyrrhonism — the text that gives us our most thorough understanding of ancient Pyrrhonism, and which since late antiquity has been the main source of inspiration for all subsequent Pyrrhonists, such as Montaigne.
This extraordinary discovery is about the Pyrrhonist method of reasoning, called the Pyrrhonist logos, and how part of that method has been overlooked and ignored.
Smith is a Pyrrhonist. So am I. Smith’s book is a scholarly explanation of the Pyrrhonist methods. My book, Pyrrho’s Way, is a self-help book, based on my personal experience of following the Pyrrhonist methods. In his book, Smith has made explicit several things that are implicit in mine with regard to how to practice Pyrrhonism. Smith points out that most interpretations put forward of the Pyrrhonist logos (i.e., method of reasoning) and of Pyrrhonism in general have been made by people who are not Pyrrhonists, and because of this, they have misunderstood Pyrrhonism. I expressed the same concerns in my book.
Certain parts of the Pyrrhonist logos have been obvious to everyone. Other parts have been overlooked, ignored, or disregarded as they do not fit well with the stereotype of Pyrrhonism created by non-Pyrrhonists. This stereotype is that Pyrrhonism is a form of “radical” skepticism focused on the use of dialectical methods to suspend judgment on everything so that they have no beliefs. This…