Some Traces of the Presence of Scepticism in Medieval Thought

  • Mauricio Beuchot
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 145)


It has been frequently considered that medieval philosophy was naively realistic with no traces of criticism, having forgotten Greek scepticism which had questioned the basis and the scope of human knowledge. It should not be forgotten, however, that one of the most influential thinkers during the Middle Ages was Augustine of Hippo: when he adopted the philosophy of the Platonic Academy, which then had a modality called academic scepticism, he went through a period of scepticism. Augustine, with this Christian Platonism, was probably not intentionally, one of those who favored what is called scepticism — provoking it in medieval philosophers — thought to be so alien from lack of confidence and suspicion of human intellect.


Human Knowledge Divine Intervention Human Intellect Medieval Philosophy Actual Deceiver 
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    See C. Michalski, “Les sources du criticisme et du scepticisme dans la philosophie du XIVe siècle” (written in 1928), in La philosophie au XIVe siècle: Six études, ed. K. Flasch (Frankfurt: Minerva, 1969), pp. 38–39.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 74, 16–22, which in translation would read: But, to any sense something may appear that is only appearance, not only during sleep, but also during wake. Therefore, one should not believe to any sense that what seems thus is in fact so. But, neither should one believe any superior faculty, since all certainty comes from the senses. Conclusions, in fact, are believed because of the principles, and the principles through the senses are such that, if we do not have the certainty of the existence of something through the senses we, therefore, do not have it either through any other faculty.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 74, 34–41, which in translation reads: We are certain, in fact, of the existence of the things that appear to one of our senses, to which sense a worthier sense or the intellect accepted from another sense does not contradict. We are also certain, through the intellect, of the existence of some intelligible things, not contradicting the intellect, a worthier intellect, or one accepted from a worthier sense, nor also a worthier sense; in that way those who do not distinguish between a worthier sense and a less worthy one, in order to be believed, fall into different errors.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 76, 91–97; its translation reads: reason is because the sense to which something appears that is only appearance does not have, according to its nature, the judging that is only appearance. And therefore, it should not be believed in, but in another to which it is to judge, such as the intellect. When, however, something appears to the worthy sense in which deceit does not appear through another sense or through the intellect except from a worthier sense, one has to believe in it since it is thus in the reality lacking a superior faculty, because it belongs to it, to credit such a thing.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 76, 98–103; its translation reads: … reason searches in the known things by themselves, searching the reason of everybody; from this it follows that it will have the reason of no one; and in all that is believed it searches some other thing which makes it known that that which is true is what is believed. And if it is thus there would not be any cause of credulity or of opinion. Because of this, it would not have caused either credulity or opinion.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1996

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  • Mauricio Beuchot

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