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"Knowledge and Reality" -- spring '07

The Pyrrhonists were a group of skeptics. Their main goal in life was to find tranquility. The way they felt they could get this tranquility was by not believing in anything. This seems like a radical stance to take, but when compared to other skeptics’ philosophies it may make more sense.

The aim of both Socrates and the Pyrrhonists seems nearly the same when taken for face value. Neither of them will really say that they know anything and neither are completely sure that there is anything to know. One of the differences between them though is that even though Socrates is unsure if knowledge truly exists, he never stops searching for it. The Pyrrhonists, on the other hand, do not search for knowledge at all. Another difference between Socrates and the Pyrrhonists is that the Pyrrhonists are perfectly fine believing that they know nothing. What they are after is quietude. They take solace in there lack of knowledge. They are not looking for the truth, but what they are looking for is a settled state of mind. Socrates wants to find real knowledge though. He doesn’t feel that same comfort in not knowing as the Pyrrhonists do. He is not denying the existence of knowledge to feel comfortable; he is denying the existence of knowledge simply because he has yet to find it.

The closest thing to knowledge that the Pyrrhonists will trust is sense data. If someone says, “To me this feels hot,” the Pyrrhonists will, in a sense, believe that. They will trust that to that person that thing that they are touching feels hot. But they won’t go as far to say that that thing actually is hot; it just feels hot. St. Augustine seems to take it one step further. In order to convey our pain we can use words, but how do we know that the words we’re saying have the same meaning in other people’s minds? And not just that, but St. Augustine questions whether or not the feeling is even the same. It is impossible to get into someone elses mind and feel what they feel. When someone says that something is hot it may not feel hot for someone else. And saying that something is hot may not even mean the same thing to someone else. While the Pyrrhonists say that you can trust the senses, St. Augustine doesn’t even think you can trust the senses.

When compared to Socrates, the Pyrrhonists almost come off as slackers. They seem like they’re not taking a stance just so that they can sit back and relax all their lives. But when compared with St. Augustine, the Pyrrhonists’ viewpoint seems almost valid. How can you really believe anything to be true if it’s possible that you’re the only one who sees it the way that you see it?
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