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scepticism

Monday 14 November 2005

Scepticism is actually not a philosophical school, but one could generally group a number of Hellenistic schools under this rubric, including the Second Academy (Hellenistic Platonists), the Second Sophistic, the Cynics, the Skeptics, and so on, and, for the most part, the Stoics as well.

All these schools to some degree or another espoused the idea that human beings cannot arrive at certain truth about anything (not all denied certainty was impossible, only that human beings could never be certain).

Basically, life became this great guessing game: the lot of humanity is to be cast into a twilight world in which all that we know and think is either false or occupies some middle position between the false and the true (which was called the "probable," "readily believable," or the "verisimilar").

This comes to dominate thought in late antiquity; the first philosophical attacks Christianity levels against the thought of antiquity are refutations of sceptical principles. Of all the philosophies of antiquity, this is perhaps the most familiar to you: the skeptic principle of doubting everything became, in the modern era, the fundamental basis of the scientific method.