How I fell in love with Pyrrho of Elis

February 26, 2018

 

You and I have both heard that there is only a narrow step between hate and love. Except for the fact that it looked rather dashing on thirteen-year-old girls’ Instagram bio, I didn’t think much of this maxim. That was until, through the enlightening of my lovely philosophy teacher, I met Pyrrho. 

At the start, I wasn’t aware that my strong feelings for who Pyrrho was and what Pyrrho said occulted a form of true love. Oh no, then, it was pure irritation. The fact that Pyrrho had lived a few thousand years before our time did not alter the flow of utter exasperation that filled my being when I heard the lovely Mr.Alexandre briefly expose the man's theories. On the contrary, because it prevented me from contacting Pyrrho through any of our many modern means of communication, it fueled my frustration. This man was a fake, a fraud, a charlatan and the movements emanating from his thinkings were illegitimate, screamed my enclosed spirit. 

One might say I was being rash, exaggerated and harsh. However, I doubt that anyone with the slightest bit of the exasperated realism I inherited from my father would react differently if you were to inadvertently throw to them the basis of Pyrrho’s thinking.

Indeed, Pyrrho was the founding father of a movement that is still relevant nowadays and touched most of Philosophy after him: Skepticism. The basic idea behind this rhythmic word is an attitude of constant questioning. Who am I ? Where am I going? And most importantly, are all of these questions relevant since there is no certainty that any of what I believe in, work for and interact with, actually exists? 

This was basically all I knew about Pyrrho for a while, and, internally, I could hear my dad going :” Oy, stop fooling around Pyrrho boy, wake up, smell the coffee!” and to think that someone whose aim was to question everything from the nature of our existence to the presence of the chair I sat on, had created a myriad of disciples and a movement relevant to our day, just drove me mad.

I didn’t get it. And, for a while, I did not even allow myself to look into it since none of these shenanigans deserved my attention. Boy was I mistaken.

As I entered my philosophy class a  few weeks back, I heard that the day’s lesson would be about the Skeptics. I almost turned right back and out of the classroom. I then remembered that I wrote a weekly column which is basically about questioning life and decided to suck it up and stay. The fact that I would probably get a detention for openly skipping class might have also crossed my mind. My point is, this is when I fell in love with Pyrrho.

The idea of questioning our every move isn’t actually relevant to the Skeptics. Pyrrho’s point was rather to formulate questions about things and events that had never been before, and to keep wondering about them.  Skeptics weren’t the frauds I thought, hiding their ignorance behind a sophisticated term in order to sound smart, they were the epitome of humility. The recognized philosopher Montaigne allegedly put a sign up in his gigantic library ( filled with books he had actually read, unlike you and I) which said: “What do I know?”.

It wasn’t until I properly understood what Pyrrho’s ideas were that I respected Montaigne for this entirely. This philosopher, writer and thinker had the humility to question his knowledge, or rather the very vague term of “intelligence”.  He thus acknowledged the fact that all humans can aspire to grand ambitions and most of all, should never stop searching for an answer. The fact that Skeptics don’t ever find this answer is not what is relevant, as I had originally thought. They’re not asking questions for the sake of it, they’re doing it because they know that our time on earth is limited and that the only way to keep the humility necessary to achieving beautiful things, whatever their nature or their domain, is accepting that we know nothing.

To all of the Skeptics out there: Keep looking, keep wondering. It’s okay to not know, to “be unsure” as some beautiful Irish gal'friend of mine would say in despair. It’ll give the drive it takes to go further.It doesn’t matter if you find an exact truth or something you agree with. What you achieve, create and who you meet along the way is what counts. 

 

So, as much to Pyrrho as to the thirteen-year-old girls I hurt, I’d like to apologize. There IS only a narrow step between hate and love, and Pyrrho made me skip it in wonder.

 

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