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The History of Skepticism

In Search of Consistency


Renata Zieminska

This book reconstructs the history of skepticism ranging from ancient to contemporary times, from Pyrrho to Kripke. The main skeptical stances and the historical reconstruction of the concept of skepticism are connected with an analysis of their recurrent inconsistency. The author reveals that this inconsistency is not a logical contradiction but a pragmatic one. She shows that it is a contradiction between the content of the skeptical position and the implicit presumption of the act of its assertion. The thesis of global skepticism cannot be accepted as true without falling into the pragmatic inconsistency. The author explains, how skepticism was important for exposing the limits of human knowledge and inspired its development.

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Chapter I. The Notion and Types of Skepticism


Not simply skeptical stances, but the very term “skepticism” has undergone considerable evolution. Nevertheless, it would be hard to conduct the aforementioned reconstruction without using skepticism as understood in a contemporary manner. As already indicated, I will assume that the word skepticism stands for a thesis claiming that knowledge does not exist. I will treat this contemporary thesis as a model of skepticism in comparison with less typical theses or those positions that do not propose any thesis whatsoever.

1. Genealogy of the Term Skepticism

Skepticism was not always named this way and the representatives of such schools were not always called skeptics. Along with their critics, the skeptics of previous ages did not use the term skeptikoi (σκεπτικοί, skeptics) to name thinkers from the schools of skepticism, even though the Greek verb skeptomai, the noun skepsis and the adjective skeptikos already existed. The verb skeptomai, meaning “I look,” “I research” can be spotted already in the works of Homer. Many writers, including Thucydides, Hippocrates, Sophocles, Plato (Laches 185b) and Aristotle (EN 1103b), use the verb regularly. The noun skepsis, meaning “a look,” “research” can be found in the works of Plato (Phaedo 83a, Theaetetus 201a) and Aristotle (Physics 228, EN 1159b). All of this usage comes from the pre-skeptic period. However, in the times of Pyrrho and the academic skeptics, the situation was similar. Pyrrho’s student, Timon of Phlius, uses the word skeptosyne in his poem Silloi, but it carries its common, vernacular meaning...

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