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Gail J. Fine
Cornell University (Ithaca, NY 14853-2801)
Skepticism, Ancient and Modern

Lately, several commentators have argued that there are significant differences between ancient and modern (i.e. Cartesian and post-Cartesian) skepticism. For example, it's been argued that ancient skepticism is less all-encompassing than modern skepticism, in that it does not question whether there is an external world. One reason for this alleged difference is that the ancients allegedly lack a sufficiently robust notion of subjectivity. Some have also argued that ancient skepticism is a way of life, whereas modern skepticism is merely theoretical and methodological; and that ancient skepticism disavows belief, whereas modern skepticism disavows only knowledge. I propose to write a book, considering differences and similarities between ancient and modern skepticism. I shall focus on Sextus Empiricus (our main source for Pyrrhonian skepticism, which is one of the two main schools of ancient skepticism), the Cyrenaics (another, but much less-discussed, school of ancient skepticism), and Descartes (who allegedly introduces a newly radical different form of skepticism); but shall also pay some attention to various post-Cartesian skepticisms. My current view is that ancient and modern skepticism do not differ in the ways they are alleged to differ. Hence we need to redraw our picture of the history of skepticism, and of epistemology more generally.

Project fields:
History of Philosophy

Fellowships for University Teachers

Research Programs

$40,000 (approved)
$40,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
7/1/2004 – 6/30/2005