The Nature of Disagreement: Ancient Relativism and Skepticism

Sextus’ skepticism has roots in metaphysical discussions about disagreement. Ancient relativism and early Pyrrhonism respond to pervasive and persistant disagreement. They ask: what must the world be like such that it gives rise to disagreement? Against this metaphysical take, Sextus proposes an epistemic approach: in the face of disagreement it is rational to step back from one’s views and investigate. And yet, Sextus’ response is metaphysically sophisticated. It benefits from engagement with earlier Greek analyses of disagreement. Skeptical suspension of judgment has two dimensions: the skeptic suspends on a given question, and on whether there is an answer to the question. This presentation is based on, and develops some aspects of, chapter 4 in my Belief and Truth: A Skeptic Reading of Plato (OUP 2012). Throughout the presentation, I work with images by Jens Haas.