The word "Skeptic" comes from a Greek verb
meaning "to examine carefully". Sextus Empiricus
was one of the skeptics - he looked into questions of philosophy
, but suspended judgment
because he was unable to resolve
contrary attitudes, opinions and arguments of philosophy. Thus, being unable to arrive at a definitive position
of his own on any of them. Instead of adhering to an existing standard of philosophy, the skeptic describes himself as someone who continues to investigate -- a zetetic
Sextus describes Pyrrhonian skepticism's relationship with other ancient philosophers in his opening of Outlines of Pyrrhonism:
When people search for something, the likely outcome is that either they find it or, not finding it, they accept that it cannot be found, or they continue to search. So also in the case of what is sought in philosophy, I think, some people have claimed to have found the truth, others have asserted that it cannot be apprehended, and others are still searching. Those who think that they have found it are the Dogmatists, properly so called -- for example, the followers of Aristotle and Epicurus, the Stoics, and certain others. The followers of Clitomachus and Carneades, as well as other Academics, have asserted that it cannot be apprehended. The skeptikoi continues to search.
The admission of learned ignorance of Pyrrhoism is not the end of the journey, but rather a first step in honest inquiries of the truth. It is a dishonest peace of mind if it was not continually challenged and nourished by the search for truth.
There are two primary goals of classical skepticism: truth and peace of mind. True knowledge is the theoretical end of skepticism, and peace of mind is the practical end. Some Pyrrhoneans prefer failure (continued skepticism) to success (dogmaticism) in their inquiries, at least when peace of mind followed the confession of ignorance. Others admitted to a willingness to assent to a good argument when they saw one. Nescio is of the second type and Nesciam is of the first type.
Sextus also claims a third goal of skepticism: to cure dogmatists of their rashness and self-conceit. Skeptics seek this end because the skeptic is "a lover of his kind".
There has been the misconception that Pyrrho was an academic skeptic - doubting that knowledge can exist at all. This is incorrect. There are several branches of skepticism, Pyrrhonism being one of them. In Pyrrhonisim it is believed that absolute and universal knowledge can and does exist. The fact that two philosophers disagree about its nature does not mean that it is not knowable.
Please read the the description of Pyrrhonism by Sextus again:
... some people have claimed to have found the truth, others have asserted that it cannot be apprehended, and others are still searching.
This is a key point. The academic skeptic is of the second group, the Pyrrhonian skeptic is of the last group.
Sextus then goes on to give the names of the various schools of philosophy and their position on knowledge.
Those who think that they have found it are the
Dogmatists, properly so called -- for example, the followers of
Aristotle and Epicurus, the Stoics, and certain others. The
followers of Clitomachus and Carneades, as well as other
Academics, have asserted that it cannot be apprehended.
The skeptikoi continues to search.
The Academic Skeptics are named precisely and as a clear and distinct
group from that of the skeptoikoi of which Pyrrho is - one who continues
to search for the truth.
If one was to compare skepticism with with religious faith, the Dogmatists
would be those with undeniable faith in a diety. Granted, each group
has a different deity or truth sought for, but faith remains the same.
Great debates have been waged over who is right.
The Academics would be atheists - no truth is knowable, no higher power
exists. With as with atheists, there are a number of proofs (though these
much more interesting) about the non-existence of the subject at hand.
The followers of Pyrrhonism are a different sort of skeptic than the
academics and could best be described as agnostics when it comes to the
matter of knowledge. Knowledge does exist, and certain knowledge too.
Just because others can't make up their mind about what that knowledge
is, or which one is correct does not mean it does not exist.
Admitting that one doesn't know is not the end of the search, but rather
The admission of lack of knowledge is not a 'cannot be known' but rather 'I do not know now'. The pursuit of truth does not and cannot end with 'it is impossible to know'.