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The History of Skepticism

In Search of Consistency


Renata Ziemińska

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 III. Christian Reception of Ancient Skepticism and Medieval Skepticism


1. The Early Christian Thinkers about Skepticism

The ancient Christian thinkers interpreted skepticism in many different ways. Scholars from Byzantine studied Greek texts, especially Pyrrhonian, while in Rome the main source of knowledge about skepticism was Cicero’s account of academic skepticism, which, by virtue of its moderate form, gained some rare proponents among the Christians. Arnobius of Sicca (Adv. 2. 9–10) in the 3rd century and his disciple Lactantius36 (Div. 3. 6) in the 4th century used Cicero’s skeptical arguments in order to show the void of human knowledge in contrast with the divine light. However, academic skepticism in Cicero’s account had been thoroughly criticized by St. Augustine (see section 2 below).

Radical Pyrrhonism was both criticized and rejected by Christian authors, even if its didactic merits were sometimes recognized. The reception of Pyrrhonian skepticism (Pyrrho, Aenesidemus, Sextus) was developed mostly in the East. Gregory of Nazianzus (ca. 330–390) described Pyrrho and Sextus as the progenitors of “the vile and malignant disease” of arguing on both sides of the same issue, a pestilence which infected churches across the Christian world (Orationes 21.12; Hankinson 1995: 6; Floridi 2002: 12). Also the emperor Julian the Apostate in his letter to Arsacius advises against reading the Pyrrhonians (Letter to Arsacius, High-priest of Galatia; cf. Floridi 2002: 13).

Clement of Alexandria (the second/third century), a Christian thinker whose generally favorable attitude toward Greek is well-known, refers to Pyrrho in Stromata, putting forward the charge...

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