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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: May 2006

10 - Montaigne and skepticism

Summary

Montaigne has been called the founder of modern skepticism. According to this view, he was the first to put forward in a compelling way the arguments of ancient skepticism that had been rediscovered in the sixteenth century. The “Apology for Raymond Sebond,” Montaigne's longest and most explicitly philosophical essay, presents the skeptical case in a sympathetic way and that presentation has been taken to express Montaigne's own philosophical position. But is Montaigne a skeptic? Is his philosophical stance a reappropriation of ancient skepticism or is he rather a profoundly original philosopher who in some way incorporates a skeptical tone or “moment” within his own original thought?

ANCIENT SKEPTICISM

The history of ancient skepticism spans five centuries, from the third century b.c. to approximately 200 a.d. Skepticism was not, however, one continuous philosophical movement or school. Rather, there were two forms of skepticism, the Pyrrhonian and the Academic. Pyrrho of Elis, the first skeptic, left no writings, so that what we know of him comes through his disciple Timon and Diogenes Laertius’ Life of Pyrrho. Academic skepticism emerged out of Plato’s Academy when Arcesilaus became head of the Academy in the third century b.c. The Academic skeptics were inspired by the Socratic dialectic of some of the earlier dialogues. Carneades became head of the Academy in the mid-second century b.c. and continued the skeptical tradition there. Aenesidemus broke away from the New Academy and founded a movement based on a revival of Pyrrhonism.