What are academic and Pyrrhonic skepticism?

In the Renaissance and early modern revival of ancient Greek ideas, academic skepticism was the position that no knowledge is possible, whereas Pyrrhonic skepticism was the position that we do not have enough evidence to know whether any knowledge is possible. The conclusion of Pyrrhonic skepticism is that all judgment on all questions about knowledge should be suspended.

How did Pyrrhonic skepticism get its name?

It was named after Pyrrho of Elis (360-270 b.c.e.), who thought that knowledge was impossible.

Were Pyrrhonic skeptics anxious about the impossibility of knowledge?

No. Pyrrhonic skeptics were reluctant to commit themselves on either opposing side of an issue and instead cultivated ataraxia, a mental state of peace and quiet. Pyrrhonic skepticism was supposed to be a cure for the disease of dogmatism in which positions on truths that were not evident were taken up and defended, causing distress. Third century Pyrrhonists organized this process into sets of two, five, or ten tropes, each one of which suggested how to suspend judgments about matters that went beyond appearances.

What are the Pyrrhonic tropes?

They were what the skeptics took to be typical subjects of knowledge about which people disagreed.

How did the Pyrrhonic skeptics alleviate dogmatism?

Their idea was that once they showed that any contentious claim could be balanced by pro and con reasons and arguments, there was no reason to believe one side or the other. This was supposed to quiet the mind and make dogmatism impossible.

How did Pyrrhonic skepticism affect early modern natural philosophy?

If there could be no certain knowledge about the world, this left the uncertainty of "sense knowledge" as the only knowledge available about the world. Modern natural philosophy, or modern science, was based on the principle that sense knowledge is the foundation of all our knowledge about the world.

What is sense knowledge?

Sense knowledge is information gathered through our senses, such as sight, touch, hearing, and so forth.

Who were the main defenders of sense knowledge at the beginning of modern science?

Jean Bodin (1530-1596) and Pierre Le Loyer (1559-1634) offered defenses of sense knowledge between 1581 and 1605. They held that even though sense knowledge is sometimes unreliable, its errors are corrected by further sensory experience. By the 1620s two priests highly influential in both scientific and intellectual circles, Fathers Marin Mersenne (1588-1658) and Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655), used Pyrrhonic anti-Aristotelian arguments against Rosicrucianism and alchemy.

What was Rosicrucianism?

Rosicrucianism was the practice of the secret christian Rosicrucian Order, which was dedicated to helping mankind develop spiritually. The practices of the Rosicrucians were not published or otherwise known to the general public, but they were believed to involve ancient Neopla-tonic knowledge, alchemy, and ways to cure the sick. Some believe it began after Dante degli Alighieri (c. 1265-1321) wrote The Divine Comedy in the early 1300s. Others locate its beginnings within a group of German Protestants in the early 1600s. Three documents circulated throughout Europe in the fifteenth century to promote what the Rosicrucians called "The Universal Reformation of Mankind": Fama Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis, Confessio Fraternitatis, and Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz anno 1459.

Who were the early seventeenth century "free thinkers" after Montaigne?

The "free thinkers" after Montaigne (1533-1592) combined Pyrrhonic skepticism with anti-Aristotelianism against both religious orthodoxy and traditional authority.

The most famous free thinkers, or libertines erudits, were Gabriel Naude (1600-1653), Guy Patin (1601-1672), Frangois de la Mothe le Vayer (1588-1672), Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655), and Isaac la Peyrere (1588-1672). Naude and Patin were humanists with little interest in scientific claims. But La Mothe Le Vayer took up skepticism to undermine scientific knowledge. Out of this group, only Gassendi had a lasting influence on the course of both "natural philosophy" (what we would today call science) and philosophy proper.

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