February 11th, 2006


can the bullshitter live his bullshit?

Herewith a seminal passage in the tradition of repudiating all allegiance to dogma. It is offered in support of an ongoing conversation, reproduced in an old-fashioned English rendering, the original text, and the latest standard translation:
    Chapter VII. Does the Skeptic Dogmatize?
    (13) When we say that the skeptic refrains from dogmatizing we do not use the term “dogma,” as some do, in the broader sense of “approval of a thing” (for the skeptic gives assent to the feelings which are the necessary results of sense impressions, and he would not, for example, say when feeling hot or cold “I believe that I am not hot or cold”); but we say that “he does not dogmatize,” using “dogma” in the sense, which some give it, of “assent to one of the nonevident objects of scientific inquiry”; for the Pyrrhonean philosopher assents to nothing that is non-evident. (14) Moreover, even in the act of enunciating the skeptic formulae concerning things non-evident — such as the formula “No more (one thing or another),” or the formula “I determine nothing,” or any of the others which we shall presently mention, — he does not dogmatize. For whereas the dogmatizer posits the things about which he is said to be dogmatizing as really existent, the skeptic does not posit these formulae in any absolute sense; for he conceives that, just as the formula “All things are false” asserts the falsity of itself as well as of everything else, as does the formula “Nothing is true,” so also the formula “No more” asserts that itself, like all the rest, is “No more (this than that),” and thus cancels itself along with the rest. And of the other formulae we say the same. (15) If then, while the dogmatizer posits the matter of his dogma as substantial truth, the skeptic enunciates his formulae so that they are virtually cancelled by themselves, he should not be said to dogmatize in his enunciation of them. And, most important of all, in his enunciation of these formulae he states what appears to himself and announces his own impression in an undogmatic way, without making any positive assertion regarding the external realities.
    ― Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism: translated by R. G. Bury, Prometheus Books, 1990, pp. 19-20
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