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Pyrrhonian Skepticism

Pyrrhonian skepticism begins with the proposition that human reason is frail and continually misdirects human experience and behavior. In AR, Montaigne introduces the conceit that a theologian named Sebonde developed a discourse around the idea that the experience of God is not something that can be determined with certainty but can only be experienced as an exercise in faith. To insist that one may reason one's way toward certainty is folly because reason has always led mankind astray. If human reason cannot be trusted, how is it possible for human reason to arrive at any truth whatever?

Montaigne explicates that starting-point of discourse by referencing the certainty with which multiple and mutually hostile religions are adopted by mankind. Yet it is God's creation, not the artifice of religions, that must elicit faith and trust in the divine.

Is it possible to imagine anything so ridiculous as this miserable and wretched creature, which is not so much as master of himselfe, exposed and subject to offences of all things, and yet dareth call himselfe Master and Emperour of this Universe? (Montaigne)

"Presumption," he continues, "is our naturall and originall infirmitie," which means that valorization of reason is an exer-cise in vanity. Philosophers who declare that they have found the secret of knowledge are just fooling themselves. Certainty being a trap, the "profession" of Pyrrhonian skeptics is "ever to waver, to doubt, and to enquire; never to be assured of any thing, nor to take any warrant of himself." That is the highest and best use of human reason. Reason, supposedly man's glory, is "pernicious unto many and healthfull to very few" (Montaigne). Indeed, he says, "man hath nothing that is properly his owne but the use of his opinions." The distinction between reason and opinion yields perpetual uncertainty as to what is true.

Montaigne characterizes Plato as Pyrrhonian to the extent that the dialogues are full of...

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Pyrrhonian Skepticism. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 23:58, June 15, 2019, from