Sceptics-Arg Philosophers: Volume 33 (The Arguments of the Philosophers)
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Throughout the years, many other conferences on skepticism were held in Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico in which philosophers from many countries took part and collective books on skepticism appeared. They were the founding fathers of skepticism in Latin America. One can speak of a second generation that was in touch from the s onwards because they paved the way first. Philosophers in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and Colombia have been collaborating in the last twenty years because they both inaugurated a friendly, collaborative way of doing philosophy that has been preserved by their followers.
Though Olaso, Porchat and some of their disciples were in touch with many philosophers from other countries and had a far-reaching influence, there is no single, integrated explanation for that widespread interest. There is no doubt that skepticism flourished in Brazil like in no other Latin American country. In Brazil, an important group of philosophers around Porchat was organized throughout the country in the s, and they were devoted not only to understand the history of skepticism but also to discuss contemporary skepticism, by developing it and criticizing it.
The group held conferences every year, sometimes twice a year, and many books, individual monographs and edited collections, were published. Moreover, Porchat was professor and supervisor of a number of young philosophers as well as a reference to all other philosophers studying skepticism. In fact, the group has always systematically invited non-skeptical philosophers to enrich its discussions.
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As a result, as time went by, the group grew larger and larger. Argentina, Mexico, and Colombia have also shown a lot of interest in skepticism with many important contributions to it, albeit perhaps not as systematically as in Brazil. In Argentina, work on skepticism remained at first somewhat confined to Olaso and to some historians of modern philosophy around him. Later, there has been a growing interest in Argentina, this time from philosophers belonging to the analytic tradition, who were and still are also in touch with the Brazilian group, including, more recently, a new impulse to the study of ancient skepticism.
In Mexico, there is also a deep interest in skepticism. Their focus is on modern skepticism. Some Mexican philosophers, working within a Kantian tradition, focused on transcendental arguments as weapons against skepticism. Others work on contemporary skepticism in connection to questions such as disjunctivism and perception.
Finally, skepticism and its connections to fallibilism and skeptical or epistemic concepts, such as doubt and certainty , were a major theme of some Mexican philosophers. There has also been some interest in skepticism in many other countries, most notably in Colombia. Usually, this interest is combined with a classic author, such as Descartes, Hume, or Kant, or with an analytic philosopher, like Wittgenstein or Dennett.
More recently, an interest in ancient skepticism has also arisen. In other countries such as Peru, Chile and Uruguay, the interest in skeptical issues is more scattered.
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No more than a minor or incidental interest in either the history of skepticism or in current epistemological questions that bear on the skeptical challenge is found. The study and diffusion of skepticism in Argentina and in other countries such as Brazil and Mexico owes a great deal to Ezequiel de Olaso. But his leadership and influence was vast, as Popkin testified:.
Ezequiel de Olaso was one of the most prominent historians of philosophy. He contributed enormously to arousing interest in a wide range of topics in the history of philosophy through his writings, his teachings and his lectures in Latin America, North America and Europe. Popkin Olaso taught in many universities both in Argentina and elsewhere. His Ph. Olaso wrote a number of important papers on skepticism, both ancient and modern. These developments were summarized in Olaso Olaso argued that Hume was an Academic skeptic, not a Pyrrhonist, as Popkin had supposed.
More importantly, his study of certain Enlightenment authors made Popkin revise his interpretation that, apart from Hume, there was no interest at all in skepticism during the 18 th century. He also devoted his efforts to interpret certain concepts of the main lexicon of skepticism.
Olaso interpreted it as an inquiry whose goal was suspension of judgment, which defined Pyrrhonism, and contrasted it to the open inquiry led by Academic and modern skeptics, whose goal is truth.
These new interpretations were part of his debate with scholars like Naess, Chisholm, Mates, Frede and, of course, Porchat in order to find an acceptable form of contemporary skepticism. First, skepticism emerged as an epistemological problem and, in the light of the linguistic turn, he set the task of reinterpreting and making sense of this philosophical stance. Second, he initiated a scholarly investigation of the history of skepticism; particularly of modern skepticism, but also both versions of its ancient form.
Later, in a number of papers, he explored the main ideas further, corrected minor points, developed new aspects, and wrote some introductory and accessible texts. Skepticism is not, as it is usually presented in epistemological circles, a mere doubt on this or that topic that should be superseded, that is, it is not a methodological doubt or an expedient to strengthen a dogmatic position. For most philosophers concerned with skepticism, the coherence and intelligibility of the skeptical position is not really important. Any doubt, however crazy, may be useful, if it allows the philosopher to learn something about an argument.
But Porchat does not think so. For him, skepticism is thought of as an articulated, plausible stance proposed by some philosophers. One should also emphasize that his neo-Pyrrhonism has to be sharply distinguished from Cartesian skepticism. Porchat makes it clear that neo-Pyrrhonian aporiai are a different sort of argument from Cartesian doubts.
In particular, neo-Pyrrhonism is not committed to mentalism the doctrine that one can conceive the mind, and its representations, as independent from the body and does not it invite any sort of solipsism. Thus, most of the criticisms leveled against Cartesian skepticism do not apply to neo-Pyrrhonism. Neo-Pyrrhonism has two parts: one negative, and the other positive. Given the conflict of philosophies, Porchat draws the skeptical conclusion: being genuinely unable to choose between the various philosophical views, he suspends his judgment.
He argues vigorously that the disagreement between philosophies is undecidable. The conflict involves the dogmatism not only of philosophers of the common view of the world, but also of ordinary people. However, not all philosophies are part of the conflict, since some philosophies are not dogmatic: they do not intend to describe the ultimate nature of things. Porchat distinguishes between two kinds of skeptical arguments: dialectical and empirical. Let us consider, first, dialectical arguments.
But, of course, Porchat also considers the other modes of Agrippa as important skeptical weapons against dogmatism. More importantly, he recognizes that for ancient Pyrrhonism the skeptical method of antinomies arguing both pro and con with equal persuasiveness is indispensable against the dogmatic claim that some doctrines and arguments are felt stronger than others.
That is, the method is indispensable to neutralize that dogmatic experience of unbalanced arguments, by making stronger the weaker arguments. By arguing on both sides of an issue, the skeptic experiences them as being equally strong. For the following reason: any criterion proposed to decide the issue will itself be part of the dispute, and disagreement about it re-emerges.
Skeptics do not commit themselves to these dialectical arguments. They just use what dogmatists admit against dogmatism. There is, however, another route toward suspension of judgment. Skeptics can employ arguments they are able to endorse, which lead to the conclusion that one ought to suspend judgment. As skeptics Pyrrhonists live their ordinary life like everyone else, they can also reason like everyone else.
They can search for the conjunction of phenomena in the world, establish empirical correlations, and infer the presence of fire from the fact of smoke or the occurrence of a wound from the presence of a scar. Empirical reasoning leads us from one phenomenon to another. That explains why he once construed that notion as implying some form of mentalism: what appears was conceived of as a mental representation. He later rejected that identification Porchat At the same time, common life is to be understood as what is apparent what appears to those who live it , not as a reality in itself.
According to Porchat, phenomena are a kind of residue from suspension of judgment; they are what is left after we have suspended judgment about dogmatic discourse. And once dogmatism is left behind, life is what is left for us. The phenomena impose themselves to us, and it is not up to us to accept them or not. At first, Porchat asserted that language is a kind of constitutive ingredient of the phenomena and language permeates all our experience Porchat ; later, perhaps to avoid some Kantian or idealist connotation, he preferred to talk of an association between what appears and language Porchat , Thus, phenomena are impregnated by language, not given to us.
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One important comment Porchat makes concerning phenomena is that they are always relative to someone. In fact, they may be personal or public. Something may appear to someone or to more than one person, maybe even to all of us. For instance, it may appear to you right now that your are reading this article; and it may appear to many of us that Brasilia is the capital of Brazil; and it may appear to all of us that there are trees in the world.
Here it can be noted that there is no solipsistic tendency in neo-Pyrrhonism, since many people in fact share most phenomena. That solipsism is not an inherent tendency in neo-Pyrrhonism can already be seen due to the connections between the phenomena and common life. After all, what is apparent to us are objects and events in the world, part of the life all of us live. Another remark is that phenomena are sensible or intellectual. When something appears to the senses, such as the perception of a table in front of you, it is a sensible phenomenon; when it appears to the intellect, such as a law, it is an intellectual phenomenon.
For Porchat, there is no sharp line between these two kinds of phenomena. A sensible phenomenon also has some intellectual aspect: when you see a table in front of you, the very idea of a table includes in it something that goes beyond what is present in your sensory modalities. However, although Porchat does not develop this idea explicitly, most intellectual phenomena seem to have a reference to something sensible, or at least to have something sensible in its origin.
Therefore, many phenomena are typically of one kind, always including both a sensible and an intellectual aspect in them. Very recently, however, Porchat dropped that doctrine, and he now prefers to distinguish between two kinds of phenomena Porchat It seems that, for him just like for Frede, skeptics have many beliefs in ordinary life, but are not committed to philosophical beliefs beliefs about the truth of various philosophical views about the world. His neo-Pyrrhonism, therefore, would seem to be an urbane form of skepticism cf.
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Barnes However, the very distinction at the basis of that dispute between Frede and Burnyeat presupposes what Porchat rejects: a contrast between philosophers and ordinary people. From a neo-Pyrrhonist point of view, both are typically, though not always, dogmatists: most philosophers are dogmatists and so are ordinary folk; dogmatic philosophers only tend to be more refined in some of their conceptions.
The crucial distinction is that between dogmatism and non-dogmatism. Sometimes, ordinary people are not dogmatic, and neither are some philosophers, such the skeptics Pyrrhonists. For Porchat, many contemporary philosophers are skeptics or have a skeptical tendency without knowing it Porchat Accordingly, the basic neo-Pyrrhonian distinction is that between the phenomena and what is said about the phenomena. Dogmatic discourse is about the phenomena. Thus, they are no longer talking about the world, but about a further reality posited by their theory. No one disputes whether a rose appears red, but whether it is in fact red.
Not all discourse, however, is about the phenomena and some merely expresses the phenomena. Such is ordinary language in daily life, and such is also the use of language by neo-Pyrrhonists: they use language to express what appears to them or to us, if the phenomenon is a common one , but not to state how things really are.
Therefore, neo-Pyrrhonism is not, in one sense of the word, a form of relativism, since it accepts an objective knowledge about the world.