There’s so much to say about the Inquisition & Giordano Bruno (some of which I began to say in Monday’s post), Montaigne, Shakespeare, the Libertines, and Matteo Ricci. But I’m only going to say a small bit of it, having declared before witnesses my promise to give our CoPhi discussion groups at least a full half hour to themselves every class.
I’m taking some risk there, btw, in view of the report of a professor being canned in Utah for using Socratic method. Another martyr for philosophy? No, he’s a business & marketing guy. Still, the principle’s the same: you have to stand for virtue, not expediency. Care more for the state of your soul than your reputation, do the right thing, etc. Unrighteousness runs faster than death. So, Overseers, I wouldn’t advise interfering with this Socratic collaboration. We’re not caving.
(Actually, it would be kinda nice to have the Overseers pay any attention at all to what goes on in a real classroom. But then again, let’s not borrow trouble.)
Nobody expects the Inquisition, which explains why people like Capuano, Menocchio, Vanini and Bruno were so forthright in saying what is simply sane, from a naturalistic point of view: “angels and demons do not exist… there are no true witches… it’s impossible that Mary gave birth to Jesus and remained a virgin…” etc.
Bruno’s story, as noted, is tragic and inspiring. But its real significance is that “many future doubters would find Democritus and Epicurus” through him.
Montaigne, again. The anti-Descartes. Renaissance skeptic, earthy explorer of all things human, original essayist, frank and happy skeptic. “If we lived someplace else, we would believe other things.” Most of us just instinctively follow the custom of the country, and our raisin’, until challenged. Or, until we discover philosophy.
But he also advised going along to get along. Why burn for something nobody knows for sure, anyway? As Epicurus and others had advised, just “follow the religion of tradition” and keep your own counsel about your doubts. I’ll heed that advice when the next Inquisition comes. “In God we trust?” Hope we don’t get fooled again. “Isn’t it better, Montaigne asks, to free oneself from certainty and thereby glide above the fray?”
Montaigne was a collector of solid ancient advice, like that of Ecclesiastes: accept and enjoy, and remember that you don’t really know. Que scais-je?
But that’s no argument for fideism. Blind belief, like scholastic dogmatism, is stuck in the dark. But it might be an argument for laying low, when Inquisitors are lurking about. On the other hand, how do you nip an Inquisitor in the bud if you don’t confront him?
Montaigne’s honorary adopted daughter Marie de Gournay, one of the first successful women writers, summarized his philosophy with her own: “act respectfully & doubt everything.”
Clear light… 1st blogger… humanists believe… modern times… What do I know? …Descartes & Montaigne… cool medium… wisdom & cheerfulness… Bakewell’s How to Live
“There is something dryly secular and loosely skeptical about Shakespeare’s whole project.” Ahhh. Now I get why my old Mizzou mentor introduced Heidegger‘s concept of authenticity with “This above all, to thine own self be true.” We are such stuff as dreams are made on, our little life is rounded with a sleep, and there is always another side to things. Shakespeare was a doubter.
Pierre Charron repeats, in On Wisdom, and we can’t remind ourselves too often: “things are done differently everywhere, and if you were born there, you’d do it that way too.” Can you picture the late Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Rick Warren, or George W. Bush in a robe and turban? I can.
Charron’s claim that “doubt can make you happy, can ease your pain, and can be a home” articulates the very core of humanist spiritualilty. It’s something you can actually believe.
Fidelity matters more than faith… There is no need to believe in God– one need believe only in one’s parents and mentors, one’s friends (provided they are well chosen) and one’s conscience… Believing or not believing in God changes nothing of great significance, except in the eyes of fundamentalists. Whether you have a religion or not, nothing can exempt you from having to respect the lives, freedom and dignity of other people. Andre Comte-Sponville
The libertines valued most their opportunity to speak “freely about everything, without scandalizing a soul.” Well, they probably didn’t resist being scandalous too vigorously. That’s the philosopher’s dream too. It was Mersenne‘s : “we are free simply to investigate the phenomena that our senses present to us, whether or not we trust our senses in some ultimate fashion.” The all-devouring Pyrrhonnian pirannha here ceases to cannibalize itself, as it escapes through a Skeptical wormhole.
Gassendi anticipated theistic evolutionists of the 19th and 20th centuries: “atomism explained how the world could have made itself” but “God made the atoms.” And, as Epicurus said, God (or the Gods) is no longer keeping a close watch on the atoms. We and they are free to swerve on our own, or condemned to it.
Matteo Ricci went to China long before Nixon, with far greater irony attaching to the journey. He and his Jesuit confreres brought the old European brand of rationalism to China and came home with news of a world of atheists. Plenty to keep all sides occupied.
NOTE TO STUDENTS: We’ve regrouped, made our lists, and I’ll be checking them daily. See you in class.