In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pyrrhonism

  • Introduction
  • Collections

Philosophy Pyrrhonism
Diego E. Machuca
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0240


Pyrrhonism can safely be said to be the most prominent and influential form of skepticism in the history of Western philosophy. It was an important philosophical movement in the Hellenistic and Imperial ages, made a tremendous impact on modern philosophy, and some of its arguments continue to be a central topic of discussion in the contemporary philosophical scene. This can be taken to be a strong indication of the intriguing and challenging character of the Pyrrhonian outlook. After presenting the collections entirely or primarily devoted to ancient Pyrrhonism and its presence in, or connection with, both modern and contemporary philosophy, this article deals consecutively with Pyrrhonian skepticism in the three historical periods. The reason for not including a part on Pyrrhonism in medieval philosophy is simply that knowledge of this type of skepticism was so limited in the Middle Ages that it exerted almost no influence whatsoever on medieval thinkers. Given that Pyrrhonian skepticism is essentially an ancient philosophy, the great majority of the citations concern ancient Pyrrhonism. This article focuses primarily on scholarship in English but also included are works in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Let us finally note that when “Skepticism” and “Skeptical” are capitalized, they are taken as synonyms for “Pyrrhonism” and “Pyrrhonian.”


Particularly in the past few years, several volumes have been entirely devoted to Pyrrhonian skepticism. Those dealing (almost) exclusively with ancient Pyrrhonism are devoted to a specific controversy (Burnyeat and Frede 1997) or a specific Sextan work (Algra and Ierodiakonou 2015, Delattre 2006), or else they address several philosophical and philological issues concerning Sextus’s skepticism (Janáček 2008, Machuca 2011a, Spinelli 2005). Other volumes also explore ancient Pyrrhonism’s influence on modern philosophy, examine it in relation to present-day analytic philosophy, or discuss contemporary forms of Pyrrhonism (Machuca 2011b, Sinnott-Armstrong 2004). There are also collections devoted to the various ancient skeptical traditions that contain a considerable number of studies on Pyrrhonism (Giannantoni 1981, Voelke 1990).

  • Algra, Keimpe, and Katerina Ierodiakonou, eds. Sextus Empiricus and Ancient Physics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    Focusing on the two books Against the Physicists, this volume includes nine essays (some by specialists in Pyrrhonism) offering an in-depth analysis of the different topics successively addressed in those books.

  • Burnyeat, Myles, and M. Frede, eds. The Original Sceptics: A Controversy. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1997.

    This now-classic volume brings together five previously published papers by Myles Burnyeat, Michael Frede, and Jonathan Barnes that propose differing interpretations of the nature, scope, and viability of ancient Pyrrhonism, sometimes in comparison with modern and contemporary forms of skepticism.

  • Delattre, Joëlle, ed. Sur le Contre les professeurs de Sextus Empiricus. Lille, France: Presses de l’Université Charles de Gaulle–Lille 3, 2006.

    Contains eight essays that examine the type of Skepticism expounded in Sextus’s Adversus Mathematicos, as well as the various kinds of arguments he uses, his sources, and his targets.

  • Giannantoni, Gabriele, ed. Lo scetticismo antico. 2 vols. Naples, Italy: Bibliopolis, 1981.

    This voluminous collection includes essays on Pyrrho, Sextus Empiricus, and the relationship of Pyrrhonism with other ancient philosophies and the medical schools.

  • Janáček, Karel. Studien zu Sextus Empiricus, Diogenes Laertius und zur pyrrhonischen Skepsis. Edited by Jan Janda and Filip Karfik. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008.

    Collects fifty studies by the renowned Czech philologist Karel Janáček dealing particularly with Sextus but also with Diogenes Laertius and other authors such as Philo of Alexandria and Photius—but with Sextus’s work always in the background. Although they focus on the linguistic and stylistic aspects of the texts and engage in Quellenforschung, the studies constitute an excellent tool for those interested in the philosophical aspects of Pyrrhonian skepticism.

  • Machuca, Diego, ed. New Essays on Ancient Pyrrhonism. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2011a.

    Collects eight original essays that examine issues such as the Pyrrhonist’s stance on ordinary life, religion, language, and ethics, sometimes drawing comparisons with contemporary discussions in epistemology, metaethics, and philosophy of mind.

  • Machuca, Diego, ed. Pyrrhonism in Ancient, Modern, and Contemporary Philosophy. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2011b.

    Contains twelve essays that discuss some thorny questions about ancient Pyrrhonism, explore its influence on certain modern thinkers, and examine it in connection to contemporary analytic philosophy.

  • Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter, ed. Pyrrhonian Skepticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1093/0195169727.001.0001

    This is a Festschrift for Robert Fogelin (a self-proclaimed neo-Pyrrhonist). The first five essays either compare his kind of Pyrrhonism with its ancient ancestor or refer to his interpretation of certain modern and contemporary philosophers, while the six remaining essays critically examine his neo-Pyrrhonism.

  • Spinelli, Emidio. Questioni scettiche: Letture introduttive al pirronismo antico. Rome: Lithos, 2005.

    Brings together six previously published essays that deal with, among other issues, the Ten Modes, Sextus’s assault on induction and definition, his attack on the notion of cause, and his response to the inactivity charge. The essays mainly offer a close commentary on the primary texts and a survey of the secondary literature.

  • Voelke, André-Jean, ed. Le scepticisme antique: Perspectives historiques et systématiques; Actes du Colloque international sur le scepticisme antique, Université de Lausanne, 1–3 juin 1988. Cahiers de la Revue de Théologie et de Philosophie 15. Geneva, Switzerland: University of Lausanne, 1990.

    Most of the fourteen essays of this volume are devoted to Pyrrhonism, mainly in its Sextan variety. They examine, among other subjects, the skeptical attack on signs, the argument from disagreement, the therapeutic use of arguments, and the skeptical assault on the liberal arts.

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