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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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This book is an attempt to recreate the history of a current of thought that, for centuries, was called skepticism. It is also an attempt to present the current state of research on skepticism, focusing on the most recent interpretations of the works of ancient skeptics and contemporary positions in debates over skepticism. This book belongs to two disciplines of philosophy: the history of philosophy and epistemology. In pursuing both these lines, a historical reconstruction of the most important skeptical stances, ranging from ancient times to contemporary times, is connected with their assessment, particularly in terms of their consistency.

The skeptical stance is most easily expressed by the thesis “knowledge does not exist.” This particular thesis of global skepticism played an extremely significant role within the history of philosophy, but is also the position most likely to be attacked for a lack of internal consistency. If knowledge does not exist, how can we know, or prove this fact? Skeptics, who were not willing to keep quiet and stood by their skeptical view, were forced to search for answers to this accusation. Ancients differentiated between theory and practice, that is, between theory and situations where one could be guided by probability (Carneades), and/or appearances (Sextus Empiricus). Modern thinkers pointed to other ways of learning about the world, ways outside of intellectual investigation, such as faith (William Ockham, Michel de Montaigne) or instinct (David Hume). That was their way of searching for a possibility to continue their skeptical...

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