Article

History of Skepticism

Baron Reed

in Philosophy

ISBN: 9780195396577
Published online June 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0110
History of Skepticism

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The skeptical tradition originated in the Hellenistic period of ancient philosophy. After mostly lying dormant through much of the medieval era, it was revived and—to some extent—transformed in early modern philosophy. Determining to what extent there is a single view shared across the different periods is complicated by the fact that at least some of the main figures in the tradition said quite explicitly that they did not have any view at all. But if there are no theoretical commitments binding all of the different skeptics together, then what allows us to say that there is in fact a single tradition? There are at least two relevant considerations. The first is that the later figures in the tradition make use of many of the arguments originally formulated by the ancient skeptics—and, indeed, given their centrality to epistemology, those arguments are likely to be an enduring legacy of the skeptical tradition. The second consideration is that many of the later skeptics—Hume is a good example—arrived at their philosophical outlook through profound reflection on the earlier figures in the tradition. It is a matter of controversy whether key aspects of ancient skepticism have been retained or lost—for example, some scholars of ancient philosophy have argued that modern skepticism is in certain ways a watered down version of its ancient predecessor, given that the ancient skeptics focused on what we ought to believe and the modern skeptics focus, supposedly, only on whether we have knowledge. But, whether or not this is true, it has become increasingly clear that there is much to be learned about skepticism through study of the tradition as a whole. Given that so much of philosophy has been shaped by both skepticism and anti-skeptical responses to it, the importance of the history of skepticism cannot be overstated.

Article.  8025 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art ; Epistemology ; Feminist Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Metaphysics ; Moral Philosophy ; Non-Western Philosophy ; Philosophy of Language ; Philosophy of Law ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic ; Philosophy of Mind ; Philosophy of Religion ; Philosophy of Science ; Social and Political Philosophy

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