Sextus Empiricus: The Transmission and Recovery of Pyrrhonism

Sextus Empiricus: The Transmission and Recovery of Pyrrhonism

Sextus Empiricus: The Transmission and Recovery of Pyrrhonism

Sextus Empiricus: The Transmission and Recovery of Pyrrhonism

Synopsis

The subject is Sextus Empiricus, one the chief sources of information on ancient philosophy and one of the most influential authors in the history of skepticism. Sextus' works have had an extraordinary influence on western philosophy, and this book provides the first exhaustive and detailed study of their recovery, transmission, and intellectual influence through Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. This study deals with Sextus' biography, as well as the history of the availability and reception of his works. It also contains an extensive bibliographical section, including editions, translations, and commentaries.

Excerpt

For one can hardly deny that mankind has a common store of thoughts, which is transmitted from one generation to another. Gottlob Frege (1952)

Sextus Empiricus is one of our chief sources of information on ancient philosophy and, for contingent reasons, one of the most influential authors in the history of skepticism, comparable to Montaigne, Descartes, and Hume. His extant writings are not philosophical masterpieces but three intelligent companions to Pyrrhonism that could have been commissioned by an academic publisher with farseeing sagacity. They cleverly summarize, structure, and perhaps improve on the topics and arguments of other skeptics and philosophers. They cover a wide variety of subjects, from ethics to astrology, from linguistics to logic, providing a consistent defense of Pyrrhonism as a philosophically sound position, in fact as the only one that can reasonably be accepted by an intelligent person.

Texts by other, perhaps more important, Pyrrhonians, like Aenesidemus, have been lost. Sextus' works managed to survive the shipwreck of ancient philosophy partly by chance, partly because of their intrinsic philosophical value, and partly because of their encyclopedic and editorial nature. They floated around Europe for more than a millennium, emerging here and there in the works of disparate writers, ultimately to be rescued by the humanists. They became popular at the end of the sixteenth century, thanks to Stephanus and Hervetus' Latin translations, and were finally printed in Greek by Petrus and Jacobus Chouet in 1621. Once recovered, they immediately became philosophical classics, for they are the only substantial account of ancient Pyrrhonism that has reached us almost intact.

A few years ago, in a brilliant excursus, Michael Baxandall wrote that the very idea of “influence, ” as it is used in the history of art, is misleading and shifty. Things are at least as bad in the history of philosophy. the . . .

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