Sextus Empiricus

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Sextus Empiricus (Σέξτος Ἐμπειρικός; c. 160 – c. 210 CE, dates uncertain), was a Pyrrhonist philosopher and a physician.


  • It is probable that those who seek after anything whatever, will either find it as they continue the search, will deny that it can be found and confess it to be out of reach, or will go on seeking it. Some have said, accordingly, in regard to the things sought in philosophy, that they have found the truth, while others have declared it impossible to find, and still others continue to seek it. Those who think that they have found it are those who are especially called Dogmatics, as for example, the Schools of Aristotle and Epicurus, the Stoics and some others. Those who have declared it impossible to find are Clitomachus, Carneades, with their respective followers, and other Academicians. Those who still seek it are the Sceptics. It appears therefore, reasonable to conclude that the three principal kinds of philosophy are the Dogmatic, the Academic, and the Sceptic.
  • If Socrates died, then either he died when we was living, or when he was dead. But he couldn't have died when he was living, for he was not dead when he was living. But he couldn't have died when he was dead, for when he was dead he had already died. Therefore, Socrates never died.
    • Sextus Empiricus quoted in Introduction to Logic by Paul Herrick (2013)
  • If [the gods] provided for all things, there would be nothing bad and evil in the universe; but [people] say that everything is full of evil. Therefore the gods will not be said to provide for everything. But if they provide for some things, why do they provide for these and not for those? Either they both want to and can provide for all, or they want to but cannot, or they can but do not want to, or they neither want to nor can. If they both wanted to and could, then they would provide for all; but they do not provide for all, for the reason I have just given; therefore it is not the case that they both want to and can provide for all. If they want to but cannot, they are weaker than the cause in virtue of which they cannot provide for the things for which they do not provide; but it is contrary to the concept of god that a god should be weaker than anything. If they can provide for all but do not want to, they will be thought to be malign. If they neither want to nor can, they are both malign and weak – and only the impious would say this about the gods.
The gods, therefore, do not provide for the things in the universe. But if they have providence for nothing and have no function and no effect, we will not be able to say how it is apprehended that there are gods, since it is neither apparent in itself nor apprehended by way of any effects. For this reason too, then, it is inapprehensible whether there are gods.
  • Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Scepticism, circa 160-210 CE
  • Furthermore, as regards what is said by Euripides about the gods, ordinary folk too hold the same opinion. For the sentence—
    Whoe'er of mortals, sinning day by day,
    Deemeth the gods are blind to his misdeeds,
    Thinks evil thoughts and thinking thus is caught
    When Justice, haply, has some leisure time—
    is matched by the sentence commonly quoted:
    The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small [ὀψὲ θεῶν ἀλέουσι μύλοι, ἀλέουσι δὲ λεπτά]—
    for the difference is only in the metre.
    • Against the Professors i.287. The saying was apparently known to Plutarch about a century earlier; see On the Delays of the Divine Vengeance.
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