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19. Socrates and Skepticism


Subject Classics » Classical Philosophy

People Socrates

Key-Topics skepticism

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405108638.2005.00022.x


Sextus Empiricus refers to the members of his Pyrrhonist school as skeptikoi , “inquirers.” Precisely when the Pyrrhonists began to use this label for themselves is debatable, but it is clearly well entrenched by Sextus' time. The Academy during a portion of its lifetime - beginning with Arcesilaus and ending roughly with Philo of Larissa - is also regularly referred to as skeptical; the common ground between the Pyrrhonists and the Academics of this period was already noticed in the ancient world, and is sufficient to license the borrowing of the term. The crucial point of similarity between the two outlooks is a withdrawal from definite belief . This may take different forms in the hands of the two schools, and of different individuals within each school. But it is at the core of Sextus' explicit presentation of skepticism, and it is what is generally regarded as the hallmark of a skeptic in the ancient Greek context. That Socrates might be a figure of special interest to skeptics, in this sense of the term, would be unsurprising. His repeated professions of ignorance in a number of the dialogues of Plato, together with his ongoing commitment to inquiry and refusal to act as if matters are resolved when they are unresolved, are clearly points on which we might expect the Greek skeptics to find Socrates congenial. In fact, however, things are not so simple. What we find is a ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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