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The Development of Ethics: Volume 1From Socrates to the Reformation$
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Terence Irwin

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780198242673

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198242673.001.0001

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The Sceptics

The Sceptics

(p.233) 10 The Sceptics
The Development of Ethics: Volume 1


Oxford University Press

The most extensive evidence on Sceptical argument about ethics comes from Sextus Empiricus, writing in the second century AD. Sextus describes his outlook as ‘Pyrrhonian’, referring to Pyrrhon, who lived around 360 to 270 BC, and hence was a contemporary of Aristotle, Zeno, and Epicurus. It is reasonable to discuss Scepticism between Aristotle and the Epicureans and Stoics. Even if the specific Sceptical arguments in Sextus were formulated long after the lifetime of Aristotle, it is useful to see how they emerge naturally from arguments and claims in Plato and Aristotle. Moreover, both the Epicureans and the Stoics regard their views as offering replies to Sceptical objections. Sextus' ethical arguments often apply to ethics some of the argumentative techniques that rest on his general epistemological assumptions. The chapter sketches some influential Sceptical ideas that raise questions about the prospects of constructive moral philosophy and about the outlook that replaces it for a Sceptic. Some of Sextus' arguments also anticipate arguments in modern philosophy against moral objectivity.

Keywords:   Sextus Empiricus, Pyrrhon, Aristotle, Zeno, Epicureans, Stoics, ethics, Scepticism, moral philosophy, moral objectivity

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