Sextus Empiricus: Tenth Mode


            The ten modes of skepticism as defined by Sextus Empiricus, argue that it is impossible to know what is right or wrong and therefore people should suspend judgment. In particular, the tenth mode analyzes how different laws, customs, dogmatic action and mythical beliefs are in opposition to each other making it difficult to know what is right or wrong (Sextus 69). This mode explains how people have different approaches to life issues further challenging the basis of human decisions. In this view, Sextus makes it clear that since it is very difficult to discern what is right or wrong, human beings should suspend making any judgment especially concerning what is right or wrong. I disagree with Sextus view on right and wrong. Human beings must be guided by whatever laws and customs exist in their culture.


The tenth mode of Sextus Empiricus’ modes describes what people base their judgment on and how it is impossible to make out what is right or wrong. First, Sextus recognizes the use of laws, customs, disciplines, dogmatic notions and mythical beliefs as a basis for decision-making (Sextus 69). However, he is opposed to this usage as these laws and customs are in constant opposition to one another (Sextus 70). Sextus notes that people in different cultures have different views on different issues. This then translates to a difference of opinion where something may be right according to one culture while it is wrong in another. Subsequently, something may be prohibited by law, but mythical beliefs in the same society acknowledge it as right. This difference is what creates Sextus’ skepticism as he notes that whatever is considered right in the present may soon be considered wrong. According to Sextus, the different disciplines are in constant opposition to one another and therefore insufficient for the basis of making judgment (Sextus 70). In making his conclusion that it is impossible to know what is right or wrong, Sextus is convinced that the differences on laws, customs, dogmatic notions and even mythical beliefs will always exist. He argues that it is only a matter of time before a new theory comes up to either support or go against what is popularly believed to be right or wrong.

Sextus’ point of view is not applicable to the modern society since people must be governed by specific laws and customs that define right and wrong. His premise that people in different cultures have different customs, which may vary in their definition of right and wrong, is correct. This is because it is a common phenomenon to find customs and laws that are contradictory to each other or to other disciplines. However, this premise does not guarantee that the conclusion that Sextus has made is true. In this perspective, it is important to understand that laws and customs are defined by people according to their culture and upbringing, in this perspective it would be difficult to have similar laws in all cultures that give a general definition of right and wrong. The conclusion made from the examples given in the tenth mode is inconsistent, as people cannot be convinced to suspend judgment by the view that laws and customs do not agree on what is right or wrong.

Sextus gives an example of the custom where most people view engaging in sexual activity in public as wrong while Indians view it as right (Sextus 70). In his view, Sextus says that this is a custom-to-custom opposition. Sextus goes further to support his argument by saying that, dogmatic notions that can be defined as acceptable arguments, which are based on certain lines of reason, are set in opposition against one another. For example, there are differing scientific opinions that explain certain concepts in the world. In his view, the perception that there is only one element in chemistry differs from another notion that there are numerous elements (Sextus 70). The discrepancies in laws and customs are the basis for Sextus’ skepticism in making judgment.

Sextus tenth mode is incorrect in saying that we should suspend judgment concerning what is objectively right and wrong. The explanations given above do not constitute enough reason to come up with the conclusion that people should suspend all judgment. The inconsistencies that exist in people’s customs and beliefs in different issues will always be there. However, this is no reason enough for people to disregard all the laws that exist. More importantly, it is vital to acknowledge the advantages of having laws that support people’s opinions on right and wrong. Moreover, no particular culture is above others, thus having power to constitute laws that govern all people. Furthermore, the differences have existed since early historical periods. For example, through dogmatic notions or the use of reason has led to a clearer understanding of the scientific world. We cannot disregard the contribution of such notions to the society and opt for a suspension of judgment. Without laws, the world would be more chaotic than it already is making it difficult for people to live in harmony. In this perspective, I agree with Sextus that inconsistencies do exist in laws and customs of different people but this does not make it correct to disregard the power of right and wrong.


               Sextus presents arguments that support the notion that people should suspend all judgment due to the discrepancies that exist in laws, customs and mythical beliefs. Through the examples given, he concludes that it is impossible to know what is right or wrong (Sextus 72). His recommendation is for people to suspend all judgment concerning what is right and wrong. However, his perception is incorrect as his arguments are insufficient in proving his conclusion. As seen above, differences of opinions are a part of the society and should not be a basis for suspending judgment. In conclusion, people should use whatever laws, customs, dogmatic notions or mythical beliefs that exist in their culture to know what is right and wrong.

Work Cited:
Sextus, Empiricus. Selections from the Major Writings on Skepticism, Man, & God. Ed. Phillip Hallie. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1985. Print.


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