1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pyrrho of Elis

PYRRHO OF ELIS (c. 360-270 B C), a Greek sceptic philosopher and founder of the school known as Pyrrhonism. Diogenes Laértius (ix. 61), quoting from Apollodorus, says that he was at first a painter, and that pictures by him were in existence in the gymnasium at Elis. Later he' was diverted to philosophy by the works of Democritus, and became acquainted with the Megarian dialectic through Bryson, pupil of Stilpo. With Anaxarchus, he went to the East in the train of Alexander, and studied in India under the Gymnosophists (q.v.) and under the Magi in Persia. From the Oriental philosophy he seems to have adopted a life of solitude. Returning to Elis, he lived in poor circumstances, but highly honoured by the Elians and also by the Athenians, who gave him the rights of citizenship. His doctrines are known mainly through the satiric writings (E£)}oL) of his pupil Timon of Phlius (the Sillographer) The main principle of his thought is expressed in the word acatalepsia, which implies the impossibility of knowing things in their own nature. Against every statement the contradictory may be advanced with equal reason (icroo6e1/eta 'rébv }'yw1/). Secondly, it is necessary in view of this fact to preserve an attitude of intellectual suspense (évroxh), or, as Timon expressed it, obéév p.§)}ov (i.e. no assertion more valid than another). The same idea is expressed also by the terms eippexkia' (equilibrium) and dqbarria. (refusal to speak, non-committal silence). Thirdly, these results are applied to life in general. Pyrrho concludes that, since nothing can be known, the only proper attitude is imperturbability (ataraxia). The impossibility of knowledge, even in regard to our own ignorance or doubt, should induce the wise'man to Withdraw into himself, avoiding the stress and emotion which belong to the contest of vain imaginings. This drastic scepticism is the first and the most thorough exposition of agnosticism in the history of thought. Its ethical results may be compared with the ideal tranquillity of the Stoics and the Epicureans. (For its relation to the New Academy and to scepticism in general see SCEPTICISM and MEGARIAN SCHOOL or PHILOSOPHY.)

See histories of philosophy by Zeller, Erdmann, Ueberweg; Ritter and Preller, § 364; Waddington, Pyrrhzm et le pyrrhonisme (1877); Zimmermann, Darstellung d. pyrrh. Phil. (1841) and Ueber Ursprung und Bedeutung d. pyrrh. Phil. (1843); Wachsmuth, De Timone Phliasio (1859).