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Greek Philosopher: Pyrrho

Updated on September 4, 2010


A system of skeptic philosophy taught by Pyrrho of Elis founder of Pyrrhonian school, holding that nothing can be certainly known and that suspension of judgement is true wisdom and the source of happiness. Its central doctrine concerns the impossibility of attaining certainty of knowledge.


Greek philosopher, born in Elis, the founder of a school of Greek skepticism known as Pyrrhonism. Lived from around 365 BC to 275 BC.

His teacher was the Greek philosopher Anaxarchus, a disciple of the Greek philosopher Democritus.

Pyrrho accompanied Alexander III, King of Macedonia, on his expedition to the East, and became acquainted with the teachings of the Persian magi and the Indian Brahmans.

Much of Pyrrho's long life was spent in seclusion. He did not put his doctrines into writing, and they are known chiefly from the works of his follower Timon of Phlius, a philosopher and writer of satires.

Pyrrho taught that the real nature of things can never be truly comprehended and hence objective knowledge is impossible to attain.

He held that the correct attitude for the philosopher is imperturbability and complete suspension of judgment, and that in this attitude lies freedom from passion, calmness of mind, and tranquility of soul, which comprises man's greatest qualities. Pyrrho was the first to introduce the idea of pure skepticism into Greek philosophy, and he is therefore regarded by many as the father of skepticism.


The principles of skepticism were first given systematic formulation by the Pyrrhonists, a school of Greek philosophy deriving its name from its founder, Pyrrho of Elis.

Pyrrho maintained that man can know nothing of the nature of things, and that consequently it is the part of wisdom to suspend judgment.

Timon of Philius, Pyrrho's pupil, carried skepticism to its logical conclusion by asserting that equally good reasons can be adduced both for and against a philosophical proposition.

With respect to skepticism itself, this assertion implies that equally valid reasons can be given for an antiskeptical as for a skeptical view point.

The members of the so-called Middle Academy, which was intermediate between the Old Academy of Plato and the New Academy of Carneades and Clitomachus, were somewhat less radical in their skepticism than the Pyrrhonists, since they entertained some doubt as to the value of a skepticism that doubted everything.

Carneades maintained that no beliefs can be proved conclusively but that some can be shown to be more probable than others.

Aenesidemus set forth in his Ten Tropes ten arguments in support of the skeptical position. Another noted skeptic of antiquity was the Greek physician Sextus Empiricus, whose writings are an important source of information about other schools of philosophy as well as skepticism.


  • Standard College Dictionary, 1963, Funk & Wagnalls
  • Great Encyclopaedia Dictionary, Volume One, 1965, Readers Digest
  • The World Book Dictionary, Volume 2 L-Z, 1971, Thorndike Barnhart
  • New Encyclopedia, Volume 20, 1971, Funk & Wagnalls
  • The Standard English Desk Dictionary, Volume 1 A-L, Bay Books, 1983


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    • profile image


      6 years ago


    • darkside profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Australia

      Hi Alex. It was first published on 25th June, 2008. You can credit it as Darkside or Glen F.

      Hope you do well with your assignment!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Can i ask u two questions, i used ur site to research on Pyrrho for my class and i need to do a Work Cited:

      What's the date u originally published this on?

      Are u willing to tell me ur real name or should i just go with Darkside?

    • darkside profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Australia

      Thanks Haunty. You've given me something to chew on, on this otherwise lazy Sunday morning.

    • Haunty profile image


      8 years ago from Hungary

      Antique-Skepticism is the philosophical school of thought that I studied at the university and it had a big impact on me too. I learned that Pyrrho sought to attain a tranquil, detached state of mind whereby he becomes completely free from worry. This he called ataraxia, and he thought the only way to attain it was by giving up judgment on what was real and what was not.

      We were required to read the Roman philosopher Sextus on the outlines of Pyrrhonism. I still have that volume on my shelf. Also, Hilary Putnam's 'Brains in a vat' from Reason, Truth, and History, which presented a concept that we found very interesting at that time considering that it was when the original Matrix movie came out.

      Great hub! Thanks.

    • darkside profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      Doing research into the philosophers of Ancient Greece has been a real eye opener for me.

    • terenceyap07 profile image


      10 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Darkside,

      I especially enjoyed reading this article. I didn't know that Pyrrho had come into contact with Middle Eastern mystics and clergy. As such, you can well imagine how limited my scope of knowledge really is.

      I now can better appreciate the basis of his philsophy, which has always struck me as being very similar to that of Middle Eastern gurus. These gurus hand over their entire repository of knowledge to their disciples so that no time is wasted on rediscovering all that had already been discovered by their gurus.

      I am unqualified in the field of philosophy and can only rely on whatever my limited level of perception allows me. But I am compelled to see how scientific processes represent the ever evolving nature of truth.

      Thank you again for sharing this source of knowledge, my friend.


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