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Suspending Belief

Tamer here (and here and here). This is my first post and I’d like to thank Dhananjay for inviting me to contribute. I am currently working principally on metaphysics, especially in Aristotle and Hellenistic philosophy; however, I have been thinking about a number of issues at the intersection between epistemology and ethics for a while now and I thought that for my first couple of posts, I’d write about these issues as they were discussed the ancient sceptics. In this first post, I’ll offer a brief introduction to Pyrrhonism. Subsequent posts will offer slightly more detailed discussion of a number of puzzles posed by what the Pyrrhonists were up to.

It is frequently emphasised that ancient scepticism, at least in its Pyrrhonist flavour, was as much about belief as it was about knowledge. We might understand this scholarly platitude as follows. The modern sceptic is usually taken to argue for something like the following:

(1) For any proposition p, one does not know that p.[1]

In contrast, the Pyrrhonist is typically taken to argue for something like the following:

(2) For any proposition p, one should not believe that p.

How does one accomplish (2) and refrain from believing? Well, by producing arguments for p and against p (or for not-p, or else for some proposition which entails not-p).[2] If the arguments of equal strength, one is placed in a position where the reasonable thing to do is to suspend belief: neither to believe that p, nor to believe that not-p.

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