Skepticism in Renaissance and Post-Renaissance Thought: New Interpretations by Jose Raimundo Maia Neto, Richard H. Popkin (JHP Books Series: Humanity Books) This second volume in the "Journal of the History of Philosophy" book series is devoted to the resurgence of skepticism in the Renaissance and after. It contains eight original essays by historians of early modern philosophy from Europe and North and South America, with remarks by Richard H. Popkin, who reviews fifty years of scholarship on the history of early modern skepticism and evaluates its present stage. Essays by Jean-Robert Armogathe, Harry M. Bracken, Luciano Floridi, Sarah Hutton, John Christian Laursen, Thomas M. Lennon, Jose R. Maia Neto, and Gianni Paganini uncover new interpretations of the nature, role, and influence of skepticism from Montaigne to Berkeley. The contributors discuss such important figures as Michel de Montaigne, Thomas Hobbes, Pierre Bayle, Henry More, Rene Descartes, Pierre-Daniel Huet, Pierre Gassendi, and George Berkeley.
The essays in this important new volume will contribute to discussions in epistemology and metaphysics. Questions about the reliability of our knowledge and the criterion of true knowledge are dealt with as well as questions about whether our knowledge is subjective, whether we can have knowledge of an external world, the mind-body problem, and the limits of human understanding. Eight essays revised from presentations at a March 2002 conference in Los Angeles cast light on the role and influence of ancient skepticism in early modern philosophy, particularly drawing on developments in the field over the past decade. Scholars of philosophy, political science, and the history of science examine the works of such figures as Montaigne, Henry More, John Finch, Hobbes, Descartes, Wallis, and Berkeley. Only names are indexed.
Excerpt: Earlier versions of the essays published in this volume were presented at the conference "Skepticism as a Force in Renaissance and Post-Renaissance Thought: New Findings and New Interpretations of the Role and Influence of Modem Skepticism" held at the Clark Library, UCLA, Los Angeles, March 8-9, 2002.
In 1953 Richard H. Popkin published in the Review of Meta-physics the embryo of his thesis that the rediscovery, translation, and publication of Sextus Empiricus's Pyrrhonian works in the Renaissance found a fertile intellectual terrain in the religious and theological controversies raised by the Reformation, rendering this Hellenistic school central in the unfolding of modern philosophy. The thesis was detailed and expanded in the publication of the book The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Descartes (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1960), later further expanded to Spinoza (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979). In 2003, exactly fifty years after its first publication, a new edition is appearing. This edition builds on extensive research on the reappraisal of ancient skepticism in early modern philosophy, which has been largely generated, directly or indirectly, by the earlier edition of the book and by the extensive number of articles on the subject published by Popkin during these fifty years. The new expanded edition of the History of Scepticism either incorporates or relates to the skeptical tradition an impressive number of secondary and virtually all primary philosophers of the seventeenth century, thereby corroborating further the thesis that most early modern philosophers were engaged in either establishing, refuting, or finding a way to live with the skeptical challenge.
During these fifty years, the research on the role of skepticism in early modern philosophy grew worldwide, and this is reflected in the translation of Popkin's History of Scepticism into Spanish (1983), Italian (1995), French (1995), and Portuguese (2000), and in the publication of a tremendous number of papers and books on the early modern philosophers' struggle with (or support of) skeptical issues. A radiography of this massive production appears in the skeptical bibliography published in R. Popkin and J. van der Zande, eds., Scepticism around 1800 (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1998), pp. 387-453, which lists eighty-six articles and chapters of books on modern skepticism published all over the world from 1989 to 1991. Not surprisingly, scholarship on early modern philosophy emphasizing the role of skepticism has been particularly strong in countries in whose languages Popkin's book has been published: the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Spain, Argentina, Italy, Brazil, and France. In fact, a scholarly boon on the return of ancient skepticism in the modern philosophical scene has been taking place in the last few years, as attestedin Italian and French journals.
To cite only the French context, where the investigation of the role of skepticism in early modern philosophy has been most intense, two important books building on Popkin's History but proposing new interpretations of the nature and role of the skepticism held by the same philosophers studied by Popkin were published in 2001: Fréderic Brahami, Le Travail du Scepticisme: Montaigne, Bayle et Hume (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France) and Sylvia Giocanti, Penser l'irrésolution. Montaigne, Pascal, La Mothe Le Vayer: Trois itinéraires sceptiques (Paris: Honoré Champion). Besides these mono-graphic studies, three collective volumes were recently published. Two special numbers of French periodicals: "Histoire du scepticisme: De Sextus Empiricus à Richard Popkin" in Revue de Synthèse 119 (1998): 2–3, in which the authors discuss various aspects of Popkin's historiography and interpretations of the most relevant philosophers of the time; and "Le Doute Philosophique: Philosophie Classique et Littérature Clandestine" in La Lettre Clandestine 10 (2001). Finally, Pierre-François Moreau has organized a large volume, Le scepticisme au XVIe et au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Albin Michel, 2001), in which the known figures related to the history of Renaissance and seventeenth-century skepticism are reassessed and philosophers who were not primarily concerned with epistemological issues are shown to be deeply involved with the skeptical tradition (such is the case, according to Catherine Larrère, of Grotius, one of the fathers of the modern natural law theory). Moreau and Anthony McKenna, who have been showing the deep and far-reaching presence of skepticism in Pascal's views, are editing the collection Libertinage et Philosophie au 17ème Siècle (Publications de l'Université de Saint-Etienne), which has appeared annually since 1996. The reinterpretation of what René Pintard called "libertinage érudite," now within the early modern skeptical frame-work set up by Popkin, led to a considerable expansion and improvement of the research on the so-called libertines—François de La Mothe Le Vayer, Gabriel Naudé, and Samuel Sorbière—whose skepticism has been shown to be much more complex and interesting than previously thought.
The aim of the Clark conference was to bring together in one place, with Popkin physically present, some of the European and North and Latin American scholars who have been working in the field to reassess some of this material on the history of early modern skepticism, including Popkin's new expanded edition of his History, which was previously e-mailed to the speakers.
The results of the conference appear in the essays published in this volume. They are representative of the two major tendencies in recent scholarship on the role and influence of skepticism in early modern philosophy. The first tendency is the realization of the relevance of skepticism to philosophers hitherto thought unrelated (or just remotely or peripherally related) to this tradition. Jean-Robert Armogathe shows that this was the case of the late scholastic Roderigo Arriaga, thereby opening up a new field of research of the role and influence of skepticism in the period, which seems not to have been confined to the new philosophy. Sarah Hutton on the Cambridge Platonists, Luciano Floridi and Gianni Paganini on Hobbes, and Harry Bracken on Berkeley show that skepticism was as much a living issue in the British philosophical context as it was in the French. The involvement of Hobbes with skepticism has been emphasized in recent Hobbesian scholarship (see in particular the work by Richard Tuck). Popkin was the first to point out the relevance of skepticism in Hobbes's political philosophy. In this volume, Gianni Paganini shows the close relation of Hobbes's materialism and natural philosophy to early modern French skepticism, and Luciano Floridi shows the role of Sextus's mathematical skepticism in Hobbes's polemics with Wallis.
The second tendency in contemporary research on the recovery of ancient skepticism in modern philosophy is the revision of interpretations of the nature and import of skepticism in figures already recognized as belonging to the skeptical tradition. We find in the literature new studies either confirming and expanding Popkin's views by developing more detailed research, or pointing out lacunae and problems in these views and proposing different interpretations. Two cases worth mentioning are those of Francis Bacon and Herbert of Cherbury, whom Popkin has placed on the side of those engaged in refuting skepticism. Scholars have argued that, despite their opposition to radical forms of skepticism, some of their most important positive views were influenced by ancient and modern varieties of skepticism, notably the tradition of what Popkin has called "mitigated or constructive skepticism," the role of which in the development of modern science is one of Popkin's major contributions to the history of modern philosophy. (See Bernardo Jefferson de Oliveira, Francis Bacon e a Fundamentaçáo da Ciência como Tecnologia [Belo Horizonte: Editora da UFMG, 2002], and Jacqueline Lagrée, "Herbert of Cherbury ou les effets sceptiques d'une récusation du scepticisme" in Moreau, Le scepticisme au XVIe et au XVIIe siècle, pp. 277-92.) This tendency is represented in this volume through the essays by Thomas Lennon on Huet's skeptical reaction to Descartes, by myself on Montaigne's elaboration of the ancient epoche, and by Harry Bracken on the relevance of ancient and modern Pyrrhonism in Berkeley's idealism. Finally, John Christian Laursen criticizes the prevailing tendency in recent scholarship on ancient skepticism of condemning the moral and political aspects of ancient skepticism. The essay of Laursen's, who has done extensive research on the political and moral aspects of early modern skepticism, shows that the revival of ancient skepticism in early modern philosophy and the extensive research that has been done on this revival has an important role to play in the reassessment of ancient skepticism.
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