Pyrrhonism and Wittgensteinian Quietism

Duncan Pritchard

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


It is argued that a fruitful way of understanding the distinctive kind of philosophical quietism advocated by Wittgenstein is in terms of Pyrrhonian scepticism. Some of the commonalities between Wittgensteinian quietism and Pyrrhonism are fairly straightforward, such as the focus on philosophy as an activity rather than a body of doctrine, and the general immunity that our everyday practices are held to enjoy from philosophical/sceptical critique. But there are also more substantive points of contact, not least in how an understanding of Pyrrhonism can inform our interpretation of Wittgensteinian quietism, and vice versa. I am especially interested, in this regard, in Wittgenstein’s treatment of our hinge commitments in his final notebooks, published as On Certainty. I argue that this proposal can help us refine our thoughts about why certain commitments are immune to the Pyrrhonian sceptical modes (I also marshal Montaigne in this regard), and help support the interpretation of Pyrrhonism as being engaged in perpetual inquiry. Finally, it is claimed that a Wittgensteinian quietism—in line with Pyrrhonian scepticism, but unlike more straightforward forms of philosophical quietism—is not aimed at returning us to a state of innocence prior to one’s engagement with philosophy (for there is no such return available). It is instead concerned with ensuring that one gains a kind of intellectual quietude even while detached from one’s everyday practices.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAncient Scepticism and Contemporary Philosophy
Place of PublicationMilan, Italy
PublisherMimesis International
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 15 May 2020

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