Michel de Montaigne

With the recovery of classical knowledge, there arose a concern that had occupied the Greek and Roman Skeptics: With so many claims of truth, is there any valid way of distinguishing among them? The Skeptics answered in the negative, and we see indications of Skepticism in the works of Petrarch, Pico, and especially Erasmus. Luther demonstrated Skepticism, at least toward Aristotelian philosophy and the religious practices that developed since the time of Augustine. It is in the work of Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), however, that we find the extreme Skepticism that had been represented earlier by Pyrrho (see Chapter 3). In a series of influential essays, Montaigne questioned the very possibility of indisputable knowledge. Like Erasmus, he argued that both Catholic and Protestant theol- ogies were equally indefensible on rational grounds and that the only justifiable basis for a religious con- viction was faith.

In sharp contrast to most earlier Renaissance humanists, Montaigne did not glorify human nature, nor did he believe humans to be superior to other animals (in this he was in agreement with Eras- mus). In fact, he argued that it was human rational- ity that caused most human problems (such as the holy wars) and that because nonhuman animals lack rational powers, they are superior to humans. He analyzed the most famous philosophical doctrines, pointed out the contradictions within and among them, and showed them to be open to multiple interpretations. This is similar to what the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) became famous for doing many years later.

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