The history of the transmission, recovery and posthumous influence of ancient scepticism is a fascinating chapter in the history of ideas. An extraordinary collection of philosophical texts and some of the most challenging arguments ever devised were first lost, then only partly recovered philologically, and finally rediscovered conceptually, leaving Cicero and Sextus Empiricus as the main champions of Academic and Pyrrhonian scepticism respectively. This chapter outlines what we know about this shipwreck and what was later salvaged from it. It cannot provide many details, given its length. And, being a review, it does not try to solve the many puzzles and mysteries still unsolved. But, as an introduction, it does seek to give a general idea of what happened to ancient scepticism in the long span of time occurring between Augustine and Descartes. It covers a dozen centuries of Western philosophy, so a few generalizations, some schematism and a good degree of abstraction from specific information will be inevitable.
LATE ANTIQUITY AND THE MIDDLE AGES
Our story begins with a dramatic loss of memory, roughly in the fourth century. By the time Augustine was writing Contra Academicos, Academic scepticism, transmitted in Latin, had become the brand of scepticism known to philosophers and theologians, at the expense of Pyrrhonism in general and Sextus Empiricus’ Greek texts in particular. There may still be some sporadic references to the Pyrrhonians at the beginning of the fifth century, but it is significant that the word academicus had become synonymous with sceptic, a linguistic use that will remain unchanged until the seventeenth century.
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