The Ancient Skeptic Mind Hack That Society Needs Now

You really should investigate….

Douglas C. Bates
4 min readFeb 12, 2022

The Skeptics in Raphael’s painting, “The School of Athens.”

The ancient Greek Skeptics — followers of the related philosophies of Pyrrhonism and Academic Skepticism — approached issues very differently from how followers of competing philosophies such as Stoicism and Epicureanism did. The other schools of philosophy focused attention on training people to follow their school’s doctrines. Instead of this, Pyrrhonism and Academic Skepticism focused attention on the thorough investigation of all philosophical doctrines.

Today we think of “skeptics” as being engaged in doubt, debunking, or disbelief. That’s not “skepticism mean to the ancient Greeks, and that’s not what the ancient Greek Skeptics were engaged in. The ancient Greek term from which “skepticism” is derived is σκέψις, which means “to inquire, inspect, or investigate.” It is cognate with Latinate words relating to seeing, including scop- (from which we get in English “scope”) and spic- (from which we get in English “spy,” “-spect,” “spectrum” and even “species”). Hence, “skepticism” is looking into matters.

Ancient Greek Skeptics investigated all doctrines. While the Pyrrhonists and Academic Skeptics differed about how to proceed following such investigations, the thorough investigation of all views was a central feature of both schools.

Far too often today, instead of actively investigating, people insulate themselves. They consume only media that confirm what they already believe. They interact only with people whose beliefs are similar. They reside in neighborhoods and work in organizations full of people with similar beliefs.

The result is an echo chamber that is the opposite of the practice of the ancient Skeptics. This echo chamber is producing a vicious cycle of ever-increasing agitation, animosity, and intolerance. Look at what kinds of issue-based articles tend to be popular here on Medium. The authors consider no perspective but their own, and they’re full of condemnation of those who think otherwise.

This is the opposite of cultivating wisdom.

In antiquity, philosophy was viewed as medicine for the soul. The medicine the soul of our society needs right now is a tincture of Skepticism.

Douglas C. Bates

Ancient Greek philosophies of life. Author of “Pyrrho’s Way: The Ancient Greek Version of Buddhism.”