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V. Tsouna-McKirahan: Conservatism and Pyrrhonian Skepticism 69 Conservatism and Pyrrhonian Skepticism Voula Tsouna-McKirahan Early modem skepticism has frequently been associated widi conservative tendencies to preserve the established order and to look with suspicion on any proposal for radical change. The grounds for associating skepticism with this broad non-ideological sense of conservatism lie in some fundamental features of early modem thought. Allowing for distinctions which apply to individual philosophers, the early modem skeptics denied die autonomy and universality ofreason, questioned die audiority of philosophy to vindicate values and judgements in practical life, and challenged die pertinence and even die desirability of philosophical knowledge widi regard to moral and political matters. Their criticisms against the philosophical tendency to view the structures of common life as objects of theoretical reflection often aimed to re-institute diese structures as die frame or die form through which we think. To die extent diat diese criticisms applied to social and political matters, diey appear to reveal conservative tendencies and to lead to more or less rigid conservative attitudes. For on the one hand, the possibility of locating and solving concrete problems is left open. On die otherhand, the existing order as a whole seems to be entirely protected against radical attempts to replace it by an alternative social and political system. Recently, diere have been attempts to extend charges ofconservatism targeted against modem thinkers to dieir acknowledged forebears.1 It has been argued diat Greek Skepticism, and in particular Pyrrhonian Skepticism, is die very source of a dieme which was subsequently exploited by thinkers such as Montaigne and Hume, and also Rousseau, Heidegger, Foucault and Rorty: the advocacy of the end of philosophy and the reassertion of ordinary values, institutions and practices as the only legitimate foundation for moral and political life. The ancient Skeptics2 have 1 Surprisingly, the question ofconservatism has not been systematically raised with regard to Greek Skepticism until very recently. The reason must be, partly, its anti-theoretical character and, partly, the absence of direct evidence concerning the Skeptic's attitudes on social and political matters. One of the most sustained arguments interpreting the Pyrrhonian Skeptics' opposition to dogmatism along conservative lines is developed in D. Hiley, Philosophy in Question: Essays on a Pyrrhonian theme (Chicago and London 1988) chapter 1. 2 The argument is focused on the so-called Pyrrhonian Skeptics and leaves out othervarieties of Greek Skepticism. The Pyrrhonist movement was officially established in the 1st century B.C. 70Syllecta Classica 6 (1995) been presented as having achieved this aim at die cost of adopting an attitude that is uncritical, unreflective and intrinsically inimical to change-an inherently conservative moral stance.3 The key text which constitutes the basis for this interpretation is Sextus Empiricus, Outlines ofPyrrhonism (PH) 1.21-24.4 "That we adhere to appearances (fa???µe?a) is plain from what we say about the criterion of the skeptical way of life (a????). The word criterion is spoken of in two ways, namely as a standard regulating belief in existence or non-existence (about which we shall talk in the refutation part), and also as a standard of action by attending to which in practical life (?at? t?? ßtou) we do some things but abstain from others. It is of this that we are now speaking. We say, then, that the criterion of the skeptical way of life is the appearance, calling by this name what is equivalent to the impression (fa?tas?a) of it. For since this lies in undergoings and involuntary affections, it is not open to enquiry. Thus, perhaps nobody disputes that the underlying object appears such or such. But whether the object is such as it appears constitutes a subject of enquiry. By attending, then, to the appearances we live without belief (?d??ast??) in accordance with the observance of common life (?at? t?? ß??t???? t???s??) since we cannot be wholly inactive. And it seems that this observance ofcommon life is fourfold and that one part of it lies in the guidance of nature, another in the compelling force of the affections, another in the tradition oflaws and customs, another in the instruction in the arts. The natural...


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