Scepticism about value is the kind of scepticism which impinges most immediately on our daily lives and activities; for our actions and deliberations presuppose that we find some things and courses of action valuable and others not, and that we react to these accordingly, in positive and negative ways. If our conviction that things and courses of action really are valuable is undermined, we cannot avoid the question, why do we act and deliberate in the ways that we do?


Ethical Belief Objective View Sceptical Argument Rational Ground Ethical Knowledge 
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  1. 1.
    I have discussed ancient and modern scepticism about value in “Doing Without Objective Values: Ancient and Modern Strategies,” in The Norms of Nature: Studies in Hellenistic Ethics,eds. M. Schofield and G. Striker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 3–29, and in “Scepticism, Old and New,” forthcoming. Further extensive work has been done by Richard Bett and Mark McPherran. See R. Bett, “Is Modern Moral Scepticism Essentially Local?,” Analysis 48.2 (March 1988): 102–107, “Scepticism as a Way of Life and Scepticism a ‘Pure Theory’,” Homo Viator,Essays in Honour of John Bramble (Bristol Classical Press, 1986), pp. 49–57; also M. McPherran, “Ataraxia and Eudaimonia in Ancient Pyrrhonism: Is the Sceptic Really Happy?” Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy,vol. 5, eds. J. J. Cleary and D. Shartin (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1989), pp. 135–171, and “Pyrrhonism and the Arguments against Value,” Philosophical Studies 60 (1990): 127–142.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For the purposes of this paper I shall concentrate on Sextus and his version of Pyrrhonism, and leave out the Academic sceptics. For their response to similar problems, see my “The Heirs of Socrates,” a discussion review of A. M., Ioppolo, Opinione e Scienza, Phronesis 33 (1988): 100–112.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    In what follows I shall refer to the Outlines of Pyrrhonism as PH and the Adversus Mathematics as M. The Sceptical arguments about value can be found in (i) PH I 145–163, the Tenth Mode. This material is found also in Diogenes Laertius IX 83–84 and Philo de Ebrietate 193–205. For translation and discussion of this Mode in all three sources see J. Armas and J. Barnes, The Modes of Scepticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), Ch. 13. (ii) PH III 169–234, (iii) M XI 1–109. The material discussing the sceptic’s reaction to the sceptical arguments is found at (i) PH I 1–30 (a general discussion of scepticism), (ii) PH III 235–238 and (iii) M 110–167.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    In Sextus’s ordering; it is the fifth in Diogenes and the eighth in Philo. For more detail on this Mode see “Doing Without...” p. 4 ff. and The Modes of Scepticism,Ch. 13.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    He does give us some, but only as a by-product of larger pieces of argument (e.g., PH III 183–190, M XI 79–89; PH III 193–196, M XI 96–109). Given the interest of ancient ethical theories, this philistinism on Sextus’s part is regrettable. So is the clumsiness of his criticism, which frequently misses the point — for example, his long and tedious demolition of the Stoic “skill (technē) of life” at PH III 239–279 and M XI 168–256 focuses on non-ethical points about skill and learning, wasting a golden opportunity for discussing several central ethical issues.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Here I diverge from the account in “Doing Without..” and in The Modes of Scepticism,in which I discussed only the first of these ways.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    J. Mackie, Ethics (1977), Ch. 1.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    I discuss the contrast of Hume with the ancient sceptics on value in “Scepticism Old and New.”Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    In the first Appendix to the Second Enquiry. Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Here I am replying to Richard Bett in “Is Modern Moral Scepticism Essentially Local?”Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    The metaphor of insulation was introduced by M. Burnyeat in “The Sceptic in his Place and Time,” pp. 225–254 of Philosophy in History, eds. R. Rorty, J. B. Schneewind, and Q. Skinner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984 ). In “Doing Without... I explore the implications of insulation for scepticism about value in particular. Richard Bett discusses this issue in “Scepticism as a Way of Life....Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Bett claims that there are two senses of “insulation” relevant here: (i) in the claim that our everyday beliefs and practices are insulated from sceptical arguments because the latter are philosophical arguments, which can have no impact on our deep-seated everyday practices (ii) in the claim that sceptical arguments and their results are purely theoretical matters, which cannot have an impact on our practical lives. Bett argues that (i) can be found in both ancient and modern philosophers, while it is (ii) that marks a contrast. Bett’s (i) is relevant to sceptical argument itself, while (ii) concerns the results of successful sceptical argument. In what follows I shall concentrate simply on (ii).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    In this they differ from the Academics, who make no such claim. See G. Striker, “Über den Unterschied zwischen den Akademikern and den Pyrrhoneern,” Phronesis 26 (1981): 153–171. (This claim about happiness leads to some problems, notably whether the Pyrrhonists are thereby committed to Dogmatic claims contrary to their Sceptical stance. I discuss this problem in Chapters 8, 11 and 17 of Morality of Happiness 1993.)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    A Treatise of Human Nature I,IV, vii. See also Hume’s First Enquiry XII. Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Cf. Treatise,II, III, iii.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    For a particularly clear example of this, see Mackie’s book (n. 7).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Hume’s own view is peculiar in two other respects. First, he takes it that losing our beliefs about value will make no impact on our active life, but that losing our beliefs about physical objects, space, causality, etc., will lead to the paralysis he so vividly describes. (This paralysis does not upset out lives, because, although it is natural for this to happen to us, it is also natural for us not to be able to stand the effect for very long, and to revert to our usual patterns of living [dining, backgammon, etc.]. However, there is an unanswered question for Hume, why it is natural for us to be led to Pyrrhonian paralysis and panic by losing beliefs about cause, but not by losing beliefs about value, which are far more directly linked to action.) Second, as McPherran has pointed out, Hume allows for at least one belief of which his account is not true, namely the belief that there are in fact no objective values. For losing this belief changes our attitude to the claim that there are: we become inclined to reject it,to accept Hume’s kind of account and so on. On Hume’s own account, losing this belief should on its own alter none of our attitudes.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    See, e.g., M XI 113.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Sextus, M XI 163.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Diogenes Laertius IX 62, 66.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    M XI 164–165, PH III 235, PH I 23–24.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Diogenes Laertius IX 62, 64. Aenesidemus, the refounder of Pyrrhonism in the first century B.C., either appealed to, or actually established, this tradition.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    M XI 68–78, 118; interestingly, there is nothing corresponding in PH III.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    I am now inclined to accept the claim of McPherran (n. 1) that the sceptic’s (private) good involves a sceptical restriction on belief in good, not a gross error resulting from confusing scepticism and relativism (as argued in “Doing without...” and The Modes of Scepticism). I still think that sceptical arguments often show traces of contamination with relativism, and that Sextus is capable of confusing the two; but I accept that, since ancient theories about what is “relative” are very various, there is no assumption that a single explanation should cover all the cases, and that it is methodologically preferable not to foist a gross mistake on Sextus here.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Partly, this is because our notion of happiness has become contaminated by sources such as utilitarianism, which connect it with momentary pleasures; but, more profoundly, because our expectations as to the overall form of an ethical theory differ widely from the ancient ones.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    All these points are thoroughly and sympathetically discussed by McPherran (n. 1).Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Personally, I think that this foreign impression, which is largely due to our lack of familiarity with happiness as a framework for ethical discussion, tends to disappear on deeper acquaintance with the various ancient ethical options and reflection on their relationship to modern ethics. But I admit that there is a prima facie impression of strangeness.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    I am grateful for very useful discussion at the conference, in particular from Ezequiel de Olaso, and for written comments from Richard Bett and Mark McPherran.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1996

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  • Julia Annas

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