Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bayle, Pierre - "Historical and Critical Dictionary" on Skepticism

Article on "Pyrrhonism"
  1. Bayle begins his discussion of Pyrrhonism with a description of the historical Pyrrho
    1. Pyrrho taught the incomprehensibility of all things
      1. He found in all things reasons both to affirm and to deny
      2. Thus, he believed that we should suspend judgment and proceed with further inquiry
  2. Pyrrhonism is "the art of disputing everything, with doing anything else but suspending judgment."
    1. It not dangerous for natural philosophy or the state
      1. In science there is not danger in thinking that the true natural of things are beyond the reach of man and reconciling oneself with probable hypotheses with which to conduct experiments
      2. In the state and morality there is not danger in eschewing certainty, one can still think it is obligatory to follow the established laws and those moral duties that are probable.
    2. It is dangerous to theology
      1. This is because religion ought to be grounded on certainty
        1. The design, effects, and use of religion are destroyed once certainty is lost
      2. However, most people are not even sophisticated enough to be deceived by Pyrrhonist arguments so this is not such a big problem
  3. Bayle continues his discussion of Pyrrhonism using the frame of a debate between two abbots
    1. One abbot believes that the Gospel being a revelation of absolute truth should make it impossible for Pyrrhonists to continue to suspend judgment, the other, in contrast maintains that Christian doctrine would only give more ammunition for the Pyrrhonist's skeptical attack
    2. The second abbot undertakes to prove his point to the first abbot:
      1. First, he radicalizes Cartesian skepticism about secondary qualities, he argues that it is quite possible that extension as well as secondary qualities do not exist in objects.
        1. The only argument against this view is that it is contrary to God's goodness to allow us to be so mistaken, but if God allows us to be mistaken about secondary qualities why is it any worse for Him to allow us to be mistaken regarding extension.
        2. Furthermore, it is not God that allows us to be mistaken, we could always decide to suspend judgment, as the Pyrrhonist suggests we do.
      2. Second, he argues that in order to defeat the Skeptic one must show that they truth can be known by certain marks. But, he continues, he will show that many of our beliefs that we hold to be indubitably true are contradicted by some of our beliefs. Thus, he argues that there are no marks with which truth can be known.
        1. He then proceeds to show how a number of seemingly obviously true propositions, such as "If A=B and B=C, then A=C" and that "a human body cannot be in several places at once" are contradicted by certain aspects of Christian (Catholic) doctrine.
        2. Thus, he show how the Pyrrhonist could mobilize even more successful arguments to the Christian, and thus after the Gospel, then before the Gospel was revealed.
      3. Importantly, in the process of this discussion Bayle shows how many different Christian beliefs are contrary to reason. How one wants to take this, whether as evidence that Bayle is a religious skeptic or religious fideist, would obviously depend on how one interprets much more evidence than just this article.
      4. The second abbot finishes his argument by claiming that, God's ways being unknowable to us, if God wanted to he could change anything at all, even destroy us and then recreate us a anew, without us knowing the better.
      5. The frame dialogue is concluded by when a third monk, who is described as a learned divine, who intercedes and concludes that " it was needless to dispute with Pyrrhonists, and that their sophisms could not easily be eluded by the mere force of reason; that before all things they should be made sensible of the weakness of reason, that they may have recourse to a better guide, viz. faith."
  4. Bayle then quotes two other authors, one believes that Pyrrhonism is helpful for religion, the other that it is harmful.
    1. The first claims that Pyrrhonism is compatible with the negative theology of St. Dionysius.
      1. Additionally, the realization that reason only leads to contradictory chaos is a step in the direction of realizing that one must be open to revealed truths and faith.
    2. The second claims that Pyrrhonism is the total renunciation of reason and that it therefore precludes the possibility of instructing people in proper faith.
      1. Additionally, because the Pyrrhonists do not believe in anything they adapt themselves to whatever is the custom of where they live, they therefore have no faith or hope at all, even mistaken faith and hope, and are cut off from salvation.


    Article on "Skepticism"
  5. Bayle begins this article by arguing that the only debate that Christians can have with philosophers is whether Scripture is divinely inspired or not.
    1. If that is not granted, then there is no basis with which to conduct debate on other matters of religious doctrine.
    2. In particular, Pyrrhonists should not be admitted to any debate on religious matters before they acknowledge revelation. This is because they admit that no certain marks can distinguish between truth and false so that if truth appeared to them, they would not know it.
      1. They show how reason is entirely contradictory and are not dismayed when they lose themselves in their arguments as this reinforces their point.
    3. Divines should not be embarrassed that they do not enter into debate with these philosophers. Gospel truth was not given to enter into disputation with philosophers, but to be held on faith.
  6. Indeed, Jesus had not intention of entering into debates its with philosophers, his goal was to confound philosophy.
    1. The Gospel was meant to appear foolish to philosophers, and philosophy should appear foolish to Christians.
    2. Paul writes that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
    3. The systems of philosophers are obstacles to faith; Philosophical systems must offered as burnt offerings at the foot of the cross.
    4. Scholastic Philosophy does not serve to convert anyone to Christian faith, only the Holy Spirit can do that.
    5. One can only be alarmed by philosophical objections to religion if one's faith is already weak.
    6. One must choose between philosophy and the gospel, allegiance cannot be held to both.
  7. Bayle now explains why, given all that he has just said, he sometimes make use of skeptical philosophical arguments.
    1. First, as a historian of opinions, his job is to faithful describe the strengths and weakness of various positions, no matter that the opinion he explains might cause a disturbance.
    2. Second, and more importantly, by showing how contrary to reason certain elements of Christian doctrine are, he increases the faith of those that continue to believe them.
      1. Reason must humble itself before the incomprehensible doctrines believed on faith.
    3. Bayle then quotes to fellow Protestants, one a physician, the other a mathematician, on how reason must humble itself before faith.
      1. The physician explains that he considers himself fortunate that he was not contemporary with Christ, because now he has the merit of believing on account of faith, whereas he might have believed on the basis of seeing clear miracles had he been there.
      2. The mathematician does a probabilistic analysis of the principles of Christianity and shows them to be very improbable, but argues that the only ones who would take offence to this are those that do not truly understand religion.
        1. Faith can only exist where there is only probability, if there was certainty there would be science and not faith.
    4. Those who do not understand how improbable and contrary to reason the doctrines of Christianity have an imperfect sense of God's goodness, because they do not appreciate that He has revealed truths to them that they could not access on their own.
      1. Echoing Augustine and foreshadowing Kant, Bayle writes that 'insolent curiosity' must be sacrificed by showing the limits of reason in order to make room for faith.

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