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scepticism, modern

richard popkin

Subject Philosophy » Epistemology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631192589.1993.x


Modern scepticism began in the sixteenth century with the revival of knowledge of and interest in ancient Greek Pyrrhonian scepticism, as posed in the writings of S extus E mpiricus , and Academic scepticism as presented in Cicero's De Academica . The term ‘sceptic’ was not used in the Middle Ages, and was first just transliterated from the Greek. Sextus's writings were published in Latin in 1562 and 1569, and in Greek in 1621. Editions of Cicero's text appeared during the sixteenth century. The revival of these writings took place at a time when a fundamental issue concerning religious knowledge had been raised by the Reformation and Counter-Reformation – how does one distinguish true religious knowledge from false or dubious views? Erasmus denied that this could be done, and advised following the sceptics in suspending judgement, and accepting the views of the Catholic Church on questions in dispute. The translator of Sextus, Gentian Hervet, a Catholic priest, said that the views of the Pyrrhonists constituted the perfect and complete answer to Calvinism. If nothing can be known, then Calvinism cannot be known. Counter-Reformers used the sceptical arguments to constitute a ‘machine of war’ against their Protestant opponents, and Protestants sought to show that the Catholics would undermine their own views because of the same sceptical challenges. The most important presentation ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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