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Pyrrhonism is the earliest Greek skeptical movement, originating with Pyrrho of Elis (365275 b.c.). Fragmentary evidence relating to Pyrrhonism is found in Aristocles of Messene (preserved in Eusebius's Praeparatio Evangelica, ), Sextus Empiricus, and Diogenes Laertius in one tradition and in Cicero in another. Pyrrho himself, once a painter, seems to have accompanied Anaxarchus of Abdera on Alexander's Asian campaign. He may have assimilated Oriental ideas through association with the Magi and Gymnosophists. Democritean influence is traceable in his doctrines on knowledge and the practical life, and he may have had some contact with the cyrenaics. He left no writings, and from ancient sources alone it is impossible to determine with certainty his philosophical positions.

Teachings. Pyrrho was essentially a moralist, not a dialectical or speculative thinker. Cicero characterized him as an austere teacher of an uncompromising ethic, one who advocated absolute indifference to the circumstances of life. He conceived philosophy as a way of life whose goal was happiness, which for him was a state of interior tranquillity (ταραξία). Pyrrho regarded things in themselves as wholly incomprehensible to man and consequently incapable of grounding either true or false judgment; they are wholly indifferent, neither more this way than that. Appearances alone are evident; beyond them one cannot go. Since reasons of equal weight can be advanced both for and against any opinion, the wise man withholds judgment.

Though the true Pyrrhonian did not make truth judgments, he could not be reduced to complete inactivity in the affairs of life. Pyrrho advocated the making of practical decisions not by basing them on the real values of things, for these cannot be known, but rather by following accepted usages, customs, and laws. His program for attaining inner tranquility entailed, in the speculative order, the total suppression of reason's natural desire for truth; in the moral order it demanded total conformity and the consequent abandonment of personal freedom and self-determination.

Disciples. Timon of Phlius (c. 325c. 235 b.c.) was the apologist of early Pyrrhonism. In his prolific writings he developed the ideas of Pyrrho and also lampooned the dogmatic philosophers in verse (Σίλλοι). According to Aristocles, he summarized Pyrrho's teaching under three headings: (1) the intrinsic nature of things (they are indifferent); (2) the human situation in reference to them (man can say nothing about them); and (3) the ultimate result (man will attain tranquility). Other disciples were Philo of Athens and Nausiphanes of Teos, the Democritean philosopher who taught epicurus.

The movement declined after the time of Timon and enjoyed but small popularity until it was given new life through the theoretical contributions of Aenesidemus (c. 10040 b.c.) at Alexandria. Sextus Empiricus (c. a.d.200), the historian of Pyrrhonism, has preserved the ten tropes (τρóποι) of Aenesidemus; these are ways of achieving suspension of judgment.

See Also: skepticism; greek philosophy.

Bibliography: f. c. copleston, History of Philosophy, (Westminster, Md. 1946) v. 1 Greece and Rome (1950). j. owens, A History of Ancient Western Philosophy (New York 1959). e. r. bevan, Stoics and Sceptics (New York 1959). l. robin, Pyrrhon et le scepticisme grec (Paris 1944).

[l. a. barth]