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Doubt and Its Names

Final Report Summary - DOUBTANDITSNAMES (Doubt and Its Names)

Over the three years of the fellowship, Dr Cao has been able to take advantage of, and contribute to, the intellectual life of Princeton University and the Warburg Institute. The opportunity to carry out his research in two highly stimulating environments has had a tremendous impact on his project and on his scholarly profile.
Throughout the outgoing phase of the fellowship (Princeton, 2009-2011), he was able to appreciate the excellence and variety of the many overlapping communities that constitute Princeton University, not only by attending many seminars, workshops, and lectures on a wide range of topics, but also by interacting with scholars and students of different ages and backgrounds engaged in cutting-edge research in the humanities. This range of approaches and aims, along with his constant dialogue with Prof. Anthony Grafton, has encouraged him to broaden his project by expanding its interdisciplinary ambitions. Most notably, the geographical and chronological boundaries, as initially conceived, have given way to a sequence of contexts which extend well beyond the Continental, and mostly Italian, Renaissance. Furthermore, the sociological assumptions of the project have come to play a larger role through a comparative treatment of the national traditions of classical scholarship from the 18th to the 20th century.
Throughout the return phase (London, 2011-2012), Dr Cao has worked in a context uniquely capable not only to support, but also to challenge, his project in many ways. The opportunity of teaching a course on “Early Modern Scepticism: Trends, Dissemination, Criticism” for the Warburg Institute MA in ‘Cultural and Intellectual History 1300-1650’ has contributed significantly to the implementation of the project, providing Dr Cao with both the focus and the impetus to complete his monograph *Doubt and Its Names* (a draft of which he plans to submit to an academic publisher by the end of 2012). Teaching and mentoring a number of graduate students, as well as by sharing his questions and ideas with the remarkable group of scholars based at the Warburg Institute, and especially with Prof. Jill Kraye, has helped him to devise an appropriate structure for the different components of his study.
The idea of setting the problem of scepticism against a background of philology has eventually led him to connect the question of doubt and uncertainty in classical scholarship to the emergence of an antagonistic, charismatic type of scholar – a typology which can be related both to the rise of the modern academic profession and to the ancient tradition of divination. This may help to explain how subjectivity came to be regarded as the source of authority on textual and editorial matters. The emergence in the history of classical scholarship of diverse and competing views of the dialectic between method and intuition, procedure and talent, has been fruitfully compared by Dr Cao to other treatments of certainty and evidence occurring at the same time in philosophical and scientific studies.