Manual Entretien de M. Pascal et de M. de Sacy (French Edition)

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Popkin, , pp.

Charles, Sébastien

As Jeremy noted, Richard Popkin never completed the project of carrying his history of skepticism to Hume. Popkin, , p. Part of his studies on post-Cartesian skepticism not only on Huet and Bayle, but also on Glanvill, Pascal, Foucher and Locke was incorporated in the last edition of "The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Bayle", published in by Oxford University Press, just two years before his death. In the first part of section XII, Hume distinguishes antecedent from consequent skepticism. Antecedent skepticism is a precautionary provision made by the inquirer before the epistemological inquiry, the result of which is consequent skepticism.

Each of these is further divided into two kinds, one that Hume dismisses, and another he recommends and develops. I comment first on consequent and then on antecedent skepticism. Consequent skepticism is divided into popular and philosophical. The former is immediately dismissed whereas the latter-divided into skepticism about the senses, about reason and about reasonings concerning matters of fact-is the subject of parts I and II of section XII. On skepticism about the senses, Hume writes: "I need not insist upon the more trite topics, employed by the sceptics in all ages, against the evidence of the sense " E, p.

This is, apart from a footnote mentioned bellow, the unique occasion in the first Inquiry and in the whole Treatise where Hume refers to the ancient skeptics. Hume gives as examples the case of the variations of visual images deriving from different distances seventh mode in Diogenes Laertius' classification, fifth in Sextus' , the image of a crooked oar immersed in water sixth mode , and the case of double visual images caused by pressing one's eyes. These two last examples are not found in the available sources of ancient Pyrrhonism but in the most complete available source of ancient Academic skepticism we have, Cicero's "Academica".

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These basic beliefs which are not ordinarily doubted are doubted through the famous skeptical scenarios of the dream and the deceiver, which are originally Cartesian in their scope. Pascal's distinction resembles Hume's to the extent that he says that ancient Pyrrhonism may be set aside since the strongest skeptical arguments are the Cartesian ones concerning the problem of distinguishing wake from dream perceptions and that of the uncertainty of our origin, and so of our faculties La If the philosophical skepticism explored by Hume is Cartesian why does he call it "Pyrrhonian"?

As Pascal's reception of Descartes's doubt illustrates, this doubt was immediately related to the Pyrrhonian ancient tradition. One of such interpretations was by Jean-Pierre Crousaz who published a 2, page "Examen du Pyrrhonisme ancien et modern" La Haye: Pierre de Hondt, , pages of which dedicated to Sextus, 90 to Huet and 1, to Bayle. Descartes's and Pascal's strongest skeptical arguments are among the philosophical consequent skeptical arguments dealt with by Hume in part I.

The philosophical arguments against the senses are two, the first is the problem of the veil of ideas, the second is the problem of distinguishing primary from secondary qualities. Both put in doubt the existence of an external material world. The first problem was first raised by Descartes in the "Meditations". Belief in external material objects is a sentiment, an "instinct" or "propensity" of nature that the profound or philosophical skeptic shows to be ungrounded by reason.

So when philosophers attempt to prove the existence of external material objects they cannot appeal to this deceiving sentiment nor rationally demonstrate their existence, for, unlike ideas, matters of fact cannot be demonstrated. The problem set up by Hume appears in the Third Meditation where Descartes argues that our natural belief on adventitious ideas is unsupported by the natural light of reason.

Descartes says that belief in the external material world derives from a "spontaneo impetus" AT, VII, 38 , 20 an "impetus naturales" AT, VII, 39 , 21 which is not trustful, first because natural impulses often play us wrong as we sometimes learn from our moral choices and, second, these perceptions may have other causes unrelated to the supposed external material object.

These may be either internal-as in dreams-or external but non material such as evil demons or God. This same blind natural impetus makes us believe that not only our perceptions are caused by an external object but also that they either are or resemble qualities really existent in the external objects. As is well known, only in the Sixth Meditation is Descartes in conditions to give an answer to skepticism about the external material world. It is acknowledged, that, in fact, many of these perceptions arise not from anything external, as in dreams, madness, and other diseases" E, pp.

In the Sixth Meditation, Descartes raises precisely these alternative causes for sense perception and rules them out, arguing that only the external material objects can be the cause of our sensible ideas. After the knowledge of the mind acquired through the six Meditations we know that we do not have such a hidden faculty capable of causing ideas of external material objects.

And because we also learned with clarity and distinction that God exists and is not a deceiver, we can rule out that either he or some evil genius is causing such ideas. If his veracity were at all concerned in this matter, our senses would be entirely infallible; because it is not possible that he can ever deceive. Not to mention, that, if the external world be once called in question, we shall be at a loss to find arguments, by which we may prove the existence of that Being or any of his attributes.

Descartes of course does not attempt to prove the existence of God and his attributes from the external world, but from the innate idea of God. And he also has a reply to the problem of reconciling God's veracity with ordinary sense deceptions, a problem that was also raised by Bayle. It can be trusted when it teaches us that our perceptions of external material objects are caused by these objects.

But the belief that our perceptual ideas resemble the external objects is "true" only pragmatically, not metaphysically. If we did not feel the irresistible feeling that makes us strongly believe that fire exists as an independent external material object which is warm we would not avoid putting our hands on it.

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In the synopsis of the Sixth Meditation, he presents this impossibility as something positive to the extent that it corroborates one of his main theses in the "Meditations", namely, that the existence of material things is less certain than that of immaterial things God and the mind. The fact that it is not possible to demonstrate the existence of external material objects is entirely harmless, says Descartes, "since no sane person has ever seriously doubted these things" CSM, II, Descartes is not saying in the Sixth Meditation that the doubt of the First Meditation was not serious.

What he means is that such doubt holds only in the very special metaphysical, Hume says, "philosophical", exercise of the Meditations. In ordinary life the force of the natural impulse makes the ordinary man and the philosopher firmly believe in the existence of the external material world.

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This leads to the second philosophical skeptical consequent argument about the senses. As it was argued by Bayle, 26 if the latter are only in the mind, so are the former. But remounting to the origins of the argument, Bayle cites Simon Foucher as his source. Foucher's project was to revive Academic skepticism after Descartes.

Academic Scepticism in the Development of Early Modern Philosophy

He agreed with Augustine's view that the New Academics secretly held Plato's doctrines and exoterically attacked Stoic materialism. According to Foucher, Descartes, in combatting materialism through a radical doubt about the external material world, was a follower of the Academic skeptics, but when he attempted to prove the existence of this world in the Sixth Meditation he fell pray of that deceiving bodily natural impetus.

As Watson and Popkin , pp. Likewise, Hume's second skeptical argument about the existence of an external material world does not strike Descartes but an empiricist such as Locke. I have briefly mentioned Hume's second skeptical argument against the senses just to show that, like the previous one, it is also modern, having the ancients being dismissed at the outset. The same holds for the "natural instincts," whose immediate background is Cartesian. It might be argued that though Descartes talks of impetus and impulse as an irresistible feeling that determines assent independently of reason, he does not talk of "instinct.

It will therefore be useful to bring a "Cartesian skeptic" who dismissed metaphysics.


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This brings to mind the "deplorable" condition in which Hume finds himself at the conclusion of the first book of the "Treatise" pp. The dilemma resembles Pascal's tragic description of man-"la nature confond les pyrrhoniens et la raison confond les dogmatiques"-in a way such that neither can the skeptic suspend judgment upon verifying the lack of reason of his beliefs about the external world nor can the dogmatic philosopher rationally justify these beliefs which he cannot but hold.

The opposition of skepticism and sentiment in Hume, which may be remotely and indirectly related to the ancient Pyrrhonians, 30 is directly related to the modern Cartesian skeptics. That Descartes is the main proponent of antecedent skepticism is evident in Hume's claim that it was "much inculcated by Descartes and others" E, p.

Furthermore, Hume calls "Cartesian doubt" its extreme species, which he rejects. Les principales forces des pyrrhoniens La If the scope of universal doubt comprises not only our beliefs but also our faculties, it is impossible to resolve this doubt philosophically without begging the question.

Hume argues that the Cartesians cannot refute such doubt. Even if the cogito were "self-evident," an "original principle" with a "prerogative above others," we would not be able "to advance a step beyond it, but by the use of those very faculties, of which we are supposed to be already diffident" E, p. This is one of Huet's objections to Descartes, first that the cogito is not self-evident, and second that, even if it were, nothing could be derived from it with certainty since the veracity of our reasoning faculty was put in doubt by the hypothesis of the deceiver. Pascal, Huet and Bayle claimed that Descartes's hyperbolic doubt could be resolved only supernaturally by Grace, or by blindly accepting from Scripture that God is not a deceiver.

However, Pascal and Bayle held that such doubt cannot be sustained, except momentarily, since the feeling of nature is too strong to let skeptical reason lead to suspension of judgment. Before them, Gassendi "approved," like Hume, Descartes's "project for freeing [his] mind from all preconceived opinions" CSM, II, , but, also like Hume, considered Descartes's doubt in the First Meditation impossible to be held.

The aim of antecedent skepticism of preserving the inquirer from "error and precipitate judgment" was the main recommendation made by the early modern skeptics. According to Hume, this is done by moderating the previous species of antecedent skepticism, that is, by not considering our intellectual faculties as completely unreliable but, recognizing their fallibility, that they must be employed with caution.

This species of antecedent skepticism is nothing but the Academic skepticism recommended in part III, which is also a moderation of the excessive or "Pyrrhonian" that is, Cartesian type of skepticism. Descartes's rules, Foucher holds, are the Academic rules of philosophize which were ignored by scholastic philosophers. I can here only very briefly trace down how Hume came to recommend and adopt antecedent Academic skepticism in the first Inquiry.

This ancient view was recovered against the scholastics by an associate of Petrus Ramus who attempted a reform of the University of Paris in the mid-sixteenth century named Omer Talon. Talon published Cicero's "Academica" and, in a commentary , showed how the intellectual freedom exercised by the Academic skeptics corresponded to genuine philosophical practice not subservient to Aristotelianism nor to any dogmatic system, even Plato's.

These two kinds of Cartesian doubt correspond, respectively, to the "more moderate" antecedent skepticism that "is a necessary preparative to the study of philosophy," and to the antecedent skepticism which Hume says would be "incurable" "were it ever possible" E, p. Hume's Academic skepticism also has two "species," but unlike the cases of antecedent and consequent skepticism, both are endorsed.

The first is the good species of antecedent skepticism just mentioned: the caution, moderation, and intellectual integrity, characteristics of the Academic way of philosophize, which was recovered by Renaissance and seventeenth-century philosophers. Of these, I would highlight the role-even if indirect-played by Charron.


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He wrote a book "Of Wisdom" that was a best seller in the first half of the seventeenth century. It was almost immediately translated to English, where it had 12 editions in the seventeenth-century. His skeptical wise man is opposed above all to the opinionated and the superstitious man.

This corresponds to Hume's view that. But could such dogmatical reasoners become sensible of the strange infirmities of human understanding, even in its most perfect state, and when most accurate and cautious in its determination; such a reflection would naturally inspire them with more modesty and reserve, and diminish their fond opinion of themselves, and their prejudice against antagonists E, p. Furthermore, Charron identifies religion as the field in which non-rationally based attachment to opinions is most common and dangerous. It was above all as a critic of the Christian religion that he was read in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century by free thinkers.

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