restricted access Skeptic Purgatives: Therapeutic Arguments in Ancient Skepticism
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Skeptic Purgatives: Therapeutic Arguments in Ancient Skepticism MARTHA NUSSBAUM ASTHE MEDICALARTSTANDSto the body, so philosophy stands to the soul. This analogy, which lies deep in the Greco/Roman philosophical tradition, becomes especially important in the Hellenistic schools. Drawing on still earlier precedents , Aristotle had elaborated the analogy in a number of areas, using it to clarify his conception of philosophy's techniques and goals. But Aristotle had also questioned the analogy, holding that in a number of important respects the philosophical teacher must not emulate the medical doctor (see section 3 below ). Epicureans, Stoics, and skeptics, by contrast, embrace the analogy in a far more wholehearted way. The appropriateness of the analogy is taken for granted by all three schools. That is why it can be used, as it is in all of them, as both a heuristic and ajustificatory device, contributing both to the imagining of new philosophical procedures and to the justification of already existing practices . The analogy serves, as well, to organize the competition of these schools with one another, and of all of them with Aristotelianism. A close study of the uses of the medical analogy in a school can thus show us a great deal about how it sees itself, how it understands the relationship between its characteristic techniques of argument and the goal of human happiness. The philosopher is a doctor of the human soul. How does and how should he proceed in that capacity ? What types of arguments will he use? And how can he justify his claim that philosophical arguments, which might seem to be refined and rather weak "medical" instruments, have the requisite curative power?' ' This article is chapter 8 in my The Therapy of Desire: Theoryand Practice in Hellenistic Ethics, The Martin Classical Lectures 1986 , and forthcoming. It has been revised only to avoid direct reference to the arguments of other chapters; but it remains closely linked to those arguments. Other chapters in the book have been published in article form as follows: [52~] 522 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 29:4 OCTOBER i991 The aim of this paper is to investigate the therapeutic strategies of Greek skepticism, comparing these with "medical" practices in the other schools. This project requires a detailed imagining of the life of a pupil in the course of skeptical therapy. For if we are to understand how philosophical medicine works, our theme must be the daily life of philosophical argument as well as its logical form, the social character of the school as well as its theoretical basis. Let us, then, imagine the course of skeptical therapy by choosing as our "case study" an allegedly historical figure: the courtesan Nikidion, introduced by Diogenes Laertius as a pupil in the Epicurean school.~ We choose a pupil already committed to Epicureanism since we must begin by imagining, from the point of view of skepticism, the difficulties and dissatisfactions that will be likely to inhere in the dogmatic way of life--the motivations she would allegedly have, within her Epicurean life, for going over to skepticism. Nikidion is, then, let us imagine, a believing Epicurean. And Epicurus, embracing the medical analogy, will have taught her a view of philosophy that he shares, up to a point, with the other "dogmatic" schools of the day, Stoics and Peripatetics. For all of these teach the pupil that human health requires having many definite beliefs, including ethical beliefs. Aristotle's attitude to ethical belief seems less dogmatic and more open-ended than Epicurus's; but he too holds that the good human life cannot be lived without beliefs--some of which will be held very firmly indeed. Both agree that Nikidion must go through life with some well-defined views about how the world operates, about what sort of creature, in that world, she is, and also about what she is aiming for. Though no single belief of hers will be treated as entirely unrevisable in Aristotle's programme--with the exception of the basic principles of logic that must, he believes, ground all coherent discourse--at any point she must hold at least some of her beliefs firm and use these as a basis Chapter 5 (on Epicurus and...