Greek Scepticism And The Good Life

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The Good Life of the Skeptic?"¦ A number of Hellenistic philosophers, most notably the Stoics, suggested that a good life was impossible unless one had the proper view about the world and what was good and bad; this was the aim of the philosophical quest for wisdom. From this perspective, a sceptical life would appear bound to fail, since it draws one no closer to certain knowledge or wisdom. How, then, could the sceptics share with their contemporaries the notion of a good life consisting in ataraxia - freedom from disturbance? The very idea of such an end would seem on its face to be antithetical to the sceptical mantra of "suspended judgment" in matters of open inquiry.

The sceptics, as represented by Sextus Empiricus, reply that it is in fact the sceptic who will achieve what dogmatic philosophers had attempted to achieve - that is, peace of mind - precisely because of his scepticism.

This is so because the sceptic discovers that one can live without having settled all the open questions the dogmatic philosophers saw as crucial to living a good life. Freedom from disturbance, then, is a good for the sceptic, but a qualified, undogmatic one: first, it arises from the understanding that no good is itself the end or aim of the sceptic; the notion that ataraxia comes with suspension of judgment is not a dogmatic moral goal, but a mere observation. Second, ataraxia is freedom from self-imposed disturbance, for while there is no freedom from involuntary discomforts such as illness or hunger, they can be borne in "moderate affection", so that we experience only the pain of the sensation and no added pain as a result of our own thoughts.

The novelty of this perspective is most apparent when it is compared to the...