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Lecture 2

PHIL 2160 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Michel De Montaigne, Dogma, Sextus Empiricus

Course Code
PHIL 2160
Patricia Sheridan

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Lecture – Scepticism and the “new” science: Montaigne & Bacon’s sceptical positions developing new
method of inquiry
Heliocentric universe idea is representative of radical shifts in thinking that are taking place at this
time – shift from geocentric understanding of universe based on apriori assumption of universe and
influenced by Aristotelean ideas
Heliocentric account is based on actual scientific observations and this demotes human beings in the
sense of their importance in the universe because they are no longer the centre of the universe
Skepticism – human reason isn’t that reliable, if at all – demotion of human beings due to evidence,
starting with no assumptions whatsoever
This period of philosophy is criticized and is considered start of all the problems – this interpretation
does it injustice because it is the start of the individual starting to think on its own
Rise of Pyhrronian scepticism, named after Pyhrro of Ellis, a sceptical philosopher in late ancient
period - Sextis was his student, and he wrote a work outlining Pyhrro’s thoughts that humans cannot
know anything for certain
Montaigne was very struck by Pyhrronian philosophy and he fell into a Pyhrronian crisis when he
realized human beings cannot know anything – he is no longer dogmatic of his views, he is open to
other people’s views because this will make him a better person, and all people should realize this in
order to become better – his scepticism has very heavy dose of ethics about it – normative approach:
we happen not to be able to attain knowledge, but we ought to recognize this feature and act
accordingly – scepticism becomes a way of life for him
Ataraxia – peace/calm/contentment achieved after people accepted and were tolerant of views of
Problems with knowledge – is believing in aliens, dark matter, magic a knowledge claim? What if we
change it to ‘I know aliens exist’?
Hume is interested in beliefs because he thinks they carry the same kind of force as what we might
call knowledge because he is a sceptic and says it’s all beliefs
Where do we draw the line between defensible, good beliefs, and crazy beliefs? Looking for some
kind of evidence
Knowledge or belief? Belief – to believe it we must think it’s true. Knowledge is usually called
justified true belief. For it to be a belief, one has to believe that it is true, but to push it to the
knowledge category it actually has to be true and it must be justified (we have to have reasons for
belief to be true) – what counts as a good reason for believing something to be true?
Scepticism – the evidence, reasons and proofs for our judgments about the world can never be
sufficient to justify a knowledge claim. For every belief you make, the opposite belief may well be
true. Persuasive and compelling evidence not the same as adequate and certain grounds for believing
something to be true. When things seem true, is it possible I’m mistaken? Even the most obvious
grounds of our beliefs are open to doubt, according to the sceptic. Interesting or relevant evidence is
not the same as conclusive evidence
The problem with having many beliefs instead of knowledge is that you can’t prioritize any of them –
subjectivity versus objectivity
We can’t aim for no objectivity whatsoever, but at better accountability
The sceptic is a total relativist so scepticism can be a problem – can we establish some means of rank
ordering our beliefs? The anti-sceptic says if you hold views, you should have reasons for them
It is never a contradiction to affirm the opposite of any of our beliefs about the world
Socrates is a sceptic in some regards and goes around finding holes in other people’s reasoning
Even in the case of pure reason (e.g. math), at best this tells us nothing about the world, at worst it
may also be mistaken
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