Spring 2011 - Graduate Course Descriptions
Description of Course:
The Outlines of Pyrrhonism (Pyrrôneioi hypotypôseis) by an obscure Greek physician named Sextus Empiricus (ca. second century C.E.) provoked many of the most enduring themes of modern European thought since its rediscovery in the fifteenth century. Montaigne, Descartes, Hume, Kant, and Kierkegaard, along with a host of non-canonical thinkers, were each confronted by skepticism and attempted to refute or combat it through their philosophical work. This course will introduce students to the skeptic way, which was not a positive doctrine, but a way of life (agôgê) or disposition (dumanis). The skeptics did however employ a battery of arguments and a powerful dialectic, with great consequences for Western science and religion.
After we become reacquainted with the Western tradition of skepticism, we shall turn to the Indian tradition—specifically, the Mâdhyamaka school of Buddhist philosophy, which was founded by Sextus Empiricus’s contemporary Nâgârjuna. After situating Mâdhyamaka in the traditions of Indian philosophy, we shall read Nâgârjuna’s great treatise, Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way (Mûlamadhyamakakârikâ) and then consider Jay Garfield’s and Thomas McEvilley’s claims that the philosophical outlook of the “Middle Way” is nearly identical to that of Pyrrhonism.
Benson Mates, The Skeptic Way: Sextus Empiricus’s Outlines of Pyrrhonism, translation with introduction and commentary (Oxford Univ. Press, 1996) ISBN 0195092139
René Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy (Hackett, 1998) ISBN 0872204200
George Berkeley, Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (Hackett, 1979) ISBN 978-0915144617
David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature (Penguin, 1986) ISBN 978-0140432442
Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Revised Ed. (Cambridge UP, 2004)
José R. Maia Neto, The Christianization of Pyrrhonism : scepticism and faith in Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Shestov [excerpt]
William James, Pragmatism and Other Writings (Penguin, 2000) ISBN 0140437355
Robert J. Fogelin, Wittgenstein (The Arguments of the Philosophers), 2nd ed. (Routledge, 1995)
Nagarjuna, The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, translation with commentary by Jay L. Garfield (1995) ISBN 978-0195093360
Adrian Kuzminski, Pyrrhonism: How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism (Lexington Books, 2008) ISBN 9780739125076
Course Requirements/Evaluation Criteria:
regular attendance, weekly short written assignments