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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 V. Contemporary Skepticism


1. The Problem of Skepticism and the Change of the Concept of Knowledge at the Beginning of the 20th Century

Already the Ockhamists of the 14th century proposed the concept of probable knowledge, later it was propagated by Francis Bacon and used in scientific practice, but until the 20th century it remained on the margins of philosophical discussions concerning skepticism. In the modern period even David Hume was faithful to the Cartesian concept of knowledge based on certainty. At the beginning of the 20th century, strong tendencies toward repudiating this strong concept of knowledge emerged, and now this position is firmly established. In contemporary philosophy, skeptical arguments have not been overcome, but instead they have been deepened through its analysis of language and mind. It seems that philosophers learned to make do with these arguments and exercise philosophy in spite of their existence. Now, the concept of knowledge is no longer restricted by the condition of certainty. The lack of knowledge has been widely accepted and described as fallibilism, while the concept of skepticism has been limited to a rejection of all knowledge.

1.1. Pragmatism

Izydora Dąmbska writes that pragmatism is a “modern form of theoretical skepticism” (Dąmbska 1948b: 247), which does not entail the directive of suspension of judgment only because it assumes different axiology. Pragmatism, she argues, is wrongly described as a logical overcoming of skepticism (Dąmbska 1948: 88), as it avoids skepticism only verbally, that is,...

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