Elenchos 40 (1):199-215 (2019)

This article draws out the political implications of some of the avatars of ancient skepticism in modern fiction. It relies on Martha Nussbaum’s claim that fiction can provide some of the best lessons in moral philosophy to refute her claim that ancient skepticism was a bad influence on morals. It surveys references to skepticism from Shakespeare through such diverse writers as Isabel de Charrière, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Anatole France, and Albert Camus down to recent writers such as Orhan Pamuk and Michel Houellebecq. The most substantial treatment is of Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy, which is interpreted in two ways: one, as an example of isosthenia or equipollence in arguments on both sides of questions about gender in the Islamic world, and two, as the biography of a person who claims to be a self-conscious skeptic. Skepticism emerges as a multi-faceted concept in modern literature, but there are definite references back to the ancient skeptics, including mention of the name Pyrrhonism and knowledge of the writings of Sextus Empiricus. The political implications militate against dogmatic claims to truth and knowledge of a one-dimensional justice.
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DOI 10.1515/elen-2019-0008
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