a timeless story…

Posted on Tuesday 24 February 2009

Now, about Pyrrho of Ellis, 360 BC – 270 BC, a Greek Philosopher I discovered while roaming around looking for a topic for a talk I was asked to give several years ago. Pyrrho started his life as a painter, but changed to philosophy. He signed on with Alexander the Great and roamed the world as a resident philosopher [good idea]. The dominanant philosophy of his time was Dogmatism. Dogmatism has gotten a bad name [due largely to the Catholic Church] but back then it was something noble – the search for truth, the absolute truth.

Pyrrho came back from his wanderings [Persia, India, China] and began to teach against Dogmatism. He noted that since one could mount an effective counterargument against anything, there is no such thing as absolute truth, only relative and ever changing truth. We don’t know much about Pyrrho because he didn’t write. Mostly, the stories about him are the sarcastic jokes of the time – like when he supposedly ran from a rabid dog, his critics joked, "how did you know it was rabid?" Another story: Pyrrho saw a man fall face down in the mud. The man died while Pyrrho was said to be musing about whether the man was dying.

Why Pyrrho this morning? Pyrrho is recorded to be the founder of the school of Skepticism, which I consider to be the forerunner of Liberalism. The word Liberal has gotten a bad rap in recent times, but it more or less means what Pyrrho said. But back to Dogmatism – it means a belief that there are absolute truths. The Republicans believe that there are absolute truths – small government, low taxes, military prowess, free markets, etc. They also believe that people who oppose them are wedded to ideas like Communism, Socialism, big spending, high taxes, government control, welfare states, etc. For a Dogmatist, the opposite of Dogmatism is some other kind of Dogmatism.

And as for we Skeptics [Pyrrho-maniacs], we can’t believe that they [Republican Dogmatists] are sticking to their ideas in the face of such a cataclysmic failure of those ideas [an unnecessary cataclysmic failure at that]. As in Toles’ cartoon, it looks like suicidal behavior. Rigid Dogmatism is like that [Papal Catholicism, Fundamentalist Protestantism, or Jihadist Islam] – over the cliff in defense of absolute truth. So why don’t we Skeptics win the day every time? It’s because we look so damned unsure of ourselves [which we are].

Were Pyrrho with us, he’d have a fine time tonight. Obama is going to make a case for his attempts to save us from a sure financial holocaust. Jindal is going to attack those ideas as fundamentally wrong because they do not express the universal dogmas found in the Conservative Holy Books [revealed in the teachings of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News]. Remember that Pyrrho’s original argument against absolute truth was that for every argument, there is an equally compelling counterargument [So keep your copy of Πυῤῥώνειοι ὑποτύπωσεις (Outlines of Pyrrhonism) written by the Greek physician Sextus Empiricus, 160 AD – 210 AD, handy for reference during their speeches].
    March 1, 2009 | 8:02 PM

    […] beach, I had something of a revelation – they actually might believe what they are saying. To quote myself: But back to Dogmatism – it means a belief that there are absolute truths. The Republicans believe […]

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