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Cause and Explanation in Ancient Greek Thought$
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R. J. Hankinson

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780199246564

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0199246564.001.0001

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The Sceptics

The Sceptics

(p.268) VIII The Sceptics
Cause and Explanation in Ancient Greek Thought

R. J. Hankinson (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

In this chapter, Hankinson discusses the sceptical attacks on dogmatic accounts of cause and explanation, beginning with the Eight Modes of Aenesidemus, before moving on to discuss Sextus Empiricus’ general attack on the very coherence of the notions of causation. Aenesidemus’ Eight Modes (or tropoi, i.e. general patterns of argument) are a set of arguments of varying scope and power against the Aetiology of the Dogmatists; they demonstrate the fundamental difficulties in any attempt to investigate the hidden structures of things, and also raise methodological difficulties. Sextus Empiricus argues that the very concepts of cause and effect are incoherent, and he also criticizes the notions of agent and patient, and the dogmatist account of sign‐inference. Hankinson also discusses the Modes of Agrippa, according to which an explanation is either circular, infinitely regressive, or arbitrary. The sceptical attacks on astrology and divination are also important in that they undermine the claims of pseudo‐science; such arguments, Hankinson adds, contribute to the understanding of the standards towards which genuine science must strive.

Keywords:   Aenesidemus, Aetiology, agent and patient, astrology, divination, Dogmatists, pseudo‐science, Pyrrhonism, Sextus Empiricus, the Modes of Agrippa

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