For the American technical death metal band, see Pyrrhon (band).
Born c. 360 BC
Died c. 270 BC
Era Ancient philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Pyrrhonism
Notable ideas

Pyrrho (/ˈpɪr/; Greek: Πύρρων Pyrrōn, c. 360 BC – c. 270 BC), a Greek philosopher of Classical Antiquity is credited as being the first Greek skeptic philosopher.


Pyrrho was from Elis, on the Ionian Sea. Diogenes Laertius, quoting from Apollodorus of Athens, says that Pyrrho was at first a painter, and that pictures by him were exhibited in the gymnasium at Elis. Later he was diverted to philosophy by the works of Democritus, and according to Diogenes Laertius became acquainted with the Megarian dialectic through Bryson, pupil of Stilpo.[1]

Diogenes reports further that Pyrrho, along with Anaxarchus, travelled with Alexander the Great on his exploration of the East, 'so that he even went as far as the Gymnosophists in India and the Magi' in Persia. This exposure to Eastern philosophy seems to have inspired him to adopt a life of solitude; returning to Elis, he lived in poor circumstances, but was highly honored by the Elians and also by the Athenians, who conferred upon him the rights of citizenship.

Pyrrho wrote nothing. His doctrines were recorded in the writings of his pupil Timon of Phlius. Unfortunately these works are mostly lost. Today Pyrrho's ideas are known mainly through the book Outlines of Pyrrhonism written by the Greek physician Sextus Empiricus.


Pyrrho is renowned for creating the first formal approach to skepticism in Western Philosophy: Pyrrhonism.

Pyrrho summarized his philosophy as follows: "Whoever wants to be happy (eudaimonia) must consider these three questions: First, how are pragmata (ethical matters, affairs, topics) by nature? Secondly, what attitude should we adopt towards them? Thirdly, what will be the outcome for those who have this attitude?" Pyrrho's answer is that "As for pragmata they are all adiaphora (undifferentiated by a logical differentia), astathmēta (unstable, unbalanced, not measurable), and anepikrita (unjudged, unfixed, undecidable). Therefore, neither our sense-perceptions nor our doxai (views, theories, beliefs) tell us the truth or lie; so we certainly should not rely on them. Rather, we should be adoxastous (without views), aklineis (uninclined toward this side or that), and akradantous (unwavering in our refusal to choose), saying about every single one that it no more is than it is not or it both is and is not or it neither is nor is not.[2]

Adiaphora, astathmēta, and anepikrita are strikingly similar to the Buddhist Three marks of existence,[3] suggesting that Pyrrho's teaching is based on what he learned in India, which is what Diogenes Laertius reported.[4]

The main principle of Pyrrho's thought is expressed by the word acatalepsia, which connotes the ability to withhold assent from doctrines regarding the truth of things in their own nature; against every statement its contradiction may be advanced with equal justification.

Pyrrhonians (or Pyrrhonism) can be subdivided into those who are ephectic (a "suspension of judgment"), zetetic ("engaged in seeking"), or aporetic ("engaged in refutation").[5]

See also


  1. Diogenes' testimony is doubtful. See Bett (2000) 1.
  2. Beckwith, Christopher I. (2015). Greek Buddha: Pyrrho's Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia (PDF). Princeton University Press. pp. 22–23. ISBN 9781400866328.
  3. Beckwith, Christopher I. (2015). Greek Buddha: Pyrrho's Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia (PDF). Princeton University Press. p. 28. ISBN 9781400866328.
  4. "The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers". Peithô's Web. Retrieved March 23, 2016.
  5. Pulleyn, William (1830). The Etymological Compendium, Or, Portfolio of Origins and Inventions. T. Tegg. p. 353.


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