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What are some other notable works by Montaigne?

In addition to his skeptical writings, Montaigne (1533-1592) became famous for the whole of his Essais (1560; literally, "Attempts"), the most substantial of which was his

The Apology of Raimond Sebond. The essays here were far-ranging, witty, digressive, and all about him; his tastes, opinions, and large and petty problems. He also wrote about his trip to Germany, Switzerland, and Italy in his Journal de voyage en Italie par la Suisse et al Allemagne en 1580 et 1581 (Travel Journal), undertaken after he had presented a copy of his Essays to the French king. Montaigne was diplomatically active in trying to quell religious antagonism and instrumental in securing Henry of Navarre's ascension to the throne as King Henry IV. He probably would have become a member of Henry's court had illness not intervened.

What is the "problem of the criterion" as put forth by Montaigne?

Montaigne's more theoretical arguments went to the heart of theories of knowledge. All human knowledge comes from sense experience, but all humans perceive things differently and we are all vulnerable to illusions, dreams, and ordinary distortions of perception. On top of these doubts, Montaigne then introduced "the problem of the criterion." We need a criterion to determine if our experience is reliable as a basis for knowledge, but the criterion itself needs to be tested and for that a second criterion is necessary, and to test this second criterion, a third one is necessary, and on and on. All theoretical and natural philosophers after Montaigne had to come up with some sort of answer to the skeptical problems he raised: the unreliability of sensory information; the disagreement of experts; cultural differences in values and customs; individual differences in perception; the possibility of human error; and above all, the necessity for a criterion, or neutral standard to settle disagreements.

When discussing religious belief, which did Montaigne consider to be more important: reason or faith?

In considering reason versus faith as a foundation for religious beliefs, Montaigne (1533-1592) claimed that faith, simple belief, was the best course, because all reasoning can be shown to be unsound. Philosophical views had been in conflict since the ancients, so only Pyrrhonic skepticism, with its prescribed suspension of judgment, was acceptable. There was no certainty even in the knowledge of the new sciences, since the experts disagreed and scientific knowledge was subject to change.

Was Montaigne the only skeptical philosopher to reason in this Pyrrhonnic way?

No. Montaigne (1533-1592) derived his views from Sextus Empiricus (160-210 c.e.), who held that we could not even know whether we had knowledge in certain cases. By 1590, Sextus Empiricus' (150-210) Hypotoses had been published in Latin, Greek, and English. Pyrrhonic skepticism died out by the third century c.e. Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) was a closer predecessor to Montaigne, who defended Catholicism based on faith in De Libro Arbitro (1524) on the grounds that theological controversies were inconclusive. Martin Luther (1483-1546) responded to Erasmus with a dogmatic claim about his subjective certainty about God, based on his own conscience, as well as scripture.

What was dogmatism?

Dogmatism, then and now, was the position that there is at least one true thing about the world that we can know with absolute certainty.

What was some of the Catholic response to Martin Luther's dogmatism?

The Catholic response was to question whether Luther really had any knowledge at all and to emphasize the importance of Christian faith. Gentian Hervet published a 1569 edition of Sextus' Hypotoses, specifically as a cure for dogmatism, which would lead to serene confidence in the Church's doctrine of Jesus. Portuguese philosopher and physician Francisco Sánchez (c. 1551-1623) developed Pyrrhonic skepticism as a criticism of Aristotelianism in Quod Nihil Scitur (1576). (Although in his arguments for nominalism, combined with empirical observation, that led him to conclude that knowledge itself could not be obtained, Sanchez was closer to Academic than Pyrrhonic skepticism.)

The philosopher Francisco Sanchez is portrayed in a 1979 bank note from Portugal (BigStock Photos).

The philosopher Francisco Sanchez is portrayed in a 1979 bank note from Portugal (BigStock Photos).

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