Many have turned to ancient philosophical schools and traditions such as Stoicism and Epicureanism for practical guidance on how to live a good life. One often overlooked source of ancient wisdom is Academic skepticism, or the form of skepticism that flourished in Plato’s Academy and that is in crucial respects distinct from the more widely known Pyrrhonian skeptical tradition. My aim is to rectify this disparity by offering a novel interpretation of the way Cicero governed his epistemic life as an Academic skeptic.
On my view, Cicero was a “radical” Academic skeptic who practiced universal suspension of judgment (ἐποχή). Suspension of judgment did not prevent him from holding rationally warranted views (of a certain sort) or from having diachronically stable commitments, values, and life projects. And yet, I argue, Cicero lacked conviction in at least two ways: (1) he did not hold his views with conviction, or beyond a certain threshold of confidence; and (2) he never committed, even in an appropriately skeptical way, to an all-encompassing view of the goal of life (τέλος)—that is, he lacked a central conviction. Thus understood, I suggest that Cicero’s example provides a plausible and distinctive picture of intellectual humility.
Michael Vazquez is a Teaching Assistant Professor and Director of Outreach in the Department of Philosophy and the Parr Center for Ethics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also a lecturer on the Social Foundations of Education for Penn’s Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership.
His research centers on Ancient Greek & Roman philosophy. he also has research and teaching interests in democratic theory, ethics, logic, and philosophy of education.