John Owen.

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Author of "Evenings with the Skeptics," "Verse Musings on Nature, Faith and
Freedom; " Editor of Olanvil's "Scepsis Scientifica."




' Die Erde ist der grosse Felsen, woran die Menschheit. der eiyentliche Prometheus,
gefesselt ist, und vom Geier des Zweifels zerjieischt wird; sie hat das Licht
gestohlen, und leidet nun Martern dafur." 1

Heine, Religion u. Philosophic (Werke: vol. xiii.), p. 307.

' 11 faut avoir ces trois qualitds ; Pyrrhonien, Gdometre, Chretien soumis ; et elles
tfaccordent et se temper ent, en doutant oft U faut, en assurant oil il faut en se soumet-
tant ou UfautS

Pascal, Pensdes, Ed. Faugere, vol. ii. p. 347.

Butler & Tanner, The Belwood Printing Works, Froine, and London.








January 6th, 1893.


DIFFERENT causes of various kinds and degrees of cogency may
exist for prefixing to a new work, that bugbear of the modern
reader an Introduction. Thus there may be reasons of un-
deniable expediency for dealing in a separate and initiatory
chapter with the general outline or purport of the book.
Among such reasons may be one or more whose special opera-
tion gives them a peculiar claim to consideration. The book
may e.g. treat of a subject long misapprehended and mal-
treated by writers who have generally dealt with it in time
past; or, like a stranger who can claim kinship among the
circle into which he craves admission, the book may be so
allied with an older work on the same or kindred subject that
it is capable of receiving from it no small amount of reflected
illustration in the way of references or extracts. Now both of
these reasons combine as justifying an introduction to the
present work. 1st. It is related to a work which the author
published so far back as 1881 under the title of 'EVENINGS
WITH THE SKEPTICS.' It may indeed claim to be in some sort
a continuation of that work carrying down the history of the
chief representative Skeptics to the period of the Renaissance
and a century or more beyond.

By this, however, is not intended that such a continuity in
the subjects of the two works need be emphasized or exagger-
ated, so that the essential independence, self-sufficingness, and
conclusiveness of these two volumes should be deemed for a
moment open to question. The Free-thought of the Renais-

viii Introduction.

sance is in reality a Free-thought of its own. Its Skepticism,
in Italy and France is largely an indigenous and native pro-
duct. Originated by strange unforeseen causes, fostered by
new and mysterious influences political as well as religious
and social conditioned by circumstances, stimulated by move-
ments and energies altogether peculiar to itself, the Skepticism
of the Renaissance can always claim historical consideration
in and for itself alone. It is unique in the history of human
speculation. There can therefore be no hesitation in regard-
ing the theme of these volumes as independent, as standing
aloof in its complete amplitude and entirety from, e.g., the
Free-thought of Scholasticism and Medisevalism as well as
from that of modern European History. Unlike most commo-
tions and upheavals in the history of human thought which
we might conceive not incapable of repetition at least in part
it stands absolutely alone, a kind of a-rra^ Xeyopevov in the
continuous utterance of progressive humanity ; and it is just
this isolated magnificence which renders the culture of the
Renaissance, as an epoch and product deserving attention,
autonomous and independent.

The visual range and power of the man who emerges from
prison, and surveys for the first time a broadly extended
landscape outside its walls, is necessarily a different faculty
exercised under different conditions, from the restricted, half-
blinded vision which his former confinement alone permitted.
This truth is not essentially lessened or impaired by the fact
that the original structure of the organ remains the same ;
since it is its ocular power, its correlation to its environment
and the light which that environment supplies, the extent and
kind of visual consciousness, or the sensibility it is capable of
inducing these are the qualities that constitute eyesight, and
these are wholly modified by the supposed change from im-
prisonment in a dark cell, to the liberty of outlook over a
vista unbounded on all sides. The thoughtful reader who
compares e.g. an average treatise of Jerome's or Augustine's

Introduction. ix

with a work of Dante's or Petrarca's soon becomes aware of
the essential and overwhelming difference in his literary and
speculative surroundings. In type, temperament, emotional
and spiritual susceptibilities, etc., the men, though parted by
centuries, are by no means dissimilar ; but in passing from the
culture of the Latin Fathers to that of the Renaissance leaders
he feels as if he had suddenly entered a new world, and this
feeling of novelty is not lessened by what is equally true, that
this new world, in harmony with its name, is in great part a
Resurrection the thought and lore of Greece and Rome, for
so many centuries held in thraldom by Ecclesiastical Chris-
tianity, reasserting suddenly and unexpectedly that vital
energy which animated the old world, proclaiming in unmis-
takable accents their inherent supremacy and their ancient
freedom, their liberty of Thought and their liberty of Doubt.

At the same time, and with the distinction just pointed out
remaining prominently before our minds, we must by no
means forget that Skepticism in the view of the Author, and
as an inspiring principle of the following work, implies the
function of a natural energy or intellectual organ. Hence it
has qualities and discharges offices which are necessarily akin
in all periods and in all conditions. Especially its relations
critical and antagonistic to dogma of every kind, must under
every variety of condition and circumstance be very largely
similar if not identical. It is therefore of primary importance
that the meaning and sphere of Skepticism should be marked
out with as great clearness as possible. For this purpose the
author is persuaded he cannot do better than lay before his
readers a few observations partly apologetic, partly expository,
extracted from the preface of his former work. Besides throw-
ing light on the subject and treatment of the present work, it
may help to set at rest a misconception against which the
author has been struggling for years which has long affected
and perverted current notions of Skepticism both in Philosophy
and Theology.

Firstly. The author deems it necessary to advise his
readers that he has adopted the orthography of Skeptic and
Skepticism partly for the sake of conforming to the increasing
and true taste of spelling foreign words in their own manner,
but chiefly for the purpose of bringing back, if possible, a
much abused philosophical term to its primitive use. In these
volumes Skepticism is assigned its original and classical mean-
ing; in other words, it denotes simply the exercise of the
questioning and suspensive faculty ; and the Skeptic is above
all things the Inquirer, the indomitable, never-tiring Searcher
after Truth the restless energetic thinker for whom search
may be a neccesity even more imperious than the definitive
attainment of the object sought. It follows that Skepticism
is confined to no period, race, or religious or secular belief.
The energy itself being altogether irrepressible and natural,
its manifestation is no more blameworthy than other instincts
and energies of human speculation, which also share a natural
basis and starting point. It may also be further allowed in
reference to its varied objects, that the forms assumed by
Skepticism may be indefinitely numerous ; arid unless the
members of the great body of thinkers and inquirers can be
classified, nothing but confusion and indistinctness of thought
can well be the result. Many writers have indeed remarked
the confused appearance presented by ordinary Histories of
Philosophy ; in which thinkers of all kinds are huddled to-
gether without any regard to intellectual affinities or similari-
ties. At least it seems worth considering whether some ele-
mentary basis of classification might not be adopted which
would subdivide philosophers according to their psychological
idiosyncrasies and tendencies. Thus e.g. they might be ar-
ranged, as DIOGENES LAERTIUS suggested, into two main
classes, Synthetic and Analytic ; or, using the more usual
terms, Dogmatists and Skeptics denoting respectively those
in which constructive or disintegrating instincts preponderate.
Such a division, although not rigidly logical, seems the best of

Introduction. xi

which the subject is capable. Hence the present work, taking
as its subject eminent examples of the analysing, inquiring
type of intellect, endeavours to show the similarity of its
methods and procedures under varying conditions of time,
race, country, diversity of dogmatic and social environment,
etc. For the purposes of such an inquiry it is necessary to
remember that Skepticism may be regarded from two stand-

1. In relation to dogma, it is the antithetical habit which
suggests investigation the instinct that spontaneously dis-
trusts both finality and infallibility as ordinary attributes of
Truth. It inculcates caution and wariness as against the con-
fidence, presumption, self-complacent assurance of Dogmatists.
In this respect a history of doubters is in fact the history of
human enlightenment. Every advance in thought or know-
ledge has owed its impulse and inception to inquiring doubt.
Hence it would be idle to deny or attempt to minimise the
historical importance of Skepticism, or to ignore the perennial
antagonism between doubt and dogma the dynamic and
static principles of all human knowledge.

2. Considered in itself, Skepticism implies (1) Continuous
inquiry ; (2) Suspense, or so much of it as is needful to impel
men to search, as well as to impart the freedom which pertains
to the exercise of all intellectual energy. This is, as already
remarked, the literal meaning of the word, as well as its
general signification in Greek philosophy. The Skeptic is
therefore not the denier or dogmatic Negationist he is com-
monly held to be. Positive denial is as much opposed to the
true Skeptical standpoint as determinate affirmation. One as
well as the other implies fixity and finality. Each, when ex-
treme and unconditional, makes a virtual claim to omni-

The true Skeptic may hence be defined as the seeker after
ultimate Truth, or, in other words, the Absolute. He is the
searcher who must needs find, if he succeed in his quest, no

xii Introduction.

only demonstrable and infallible, but unconditionally perfect
and all inclusive Truth. This definition of Skepticism may
serve to remove some of the objections made against it as an
antagonistic influence to religion, and especially to the Christian
Revelation. Taking, however, Christianity in its primary and
true sense, as we find it embodied in the words and life of Christ,
this supposed conflict of its dictates with reasonable inquiry
after truth is nothing else than an ecclesiastical fiction. Cer-
tainly the claims of a Religion which asserts itself as THE
TRUTH, which bases freedom upon truth-discovery, whose
Founder's profession was that He came to bear witness to the
truth, and which appealed to the Reason and Conscience of
mankind, i.e. to their instincts of spiritual and moral truth,
could never be fairly represented as opposed to truth-search.
To the further objection that the definition of Christianity as
Revelation renders further search needless, an answer is given
in the course of this work. Here it may be remarked that,
as a matter of fact, hardly one of the thinkers commonly
accounted Skeptics, notwithstanding their aptitudes for free
inquiry and their impatience of dogma, have ever thought of
impugning the essentials of Christianity, in other words, the
two great commandments of the law proclaimed by CHRIST as
the basis of His religion. What has been most affected by
Skeptical disintegration has not been Christianity so much as
its undue ecclesiastical development.

As regards the method and plan of the work the inter-
mingling of philosophical discussion with formal essays it
may be enough to say that it seems especially demanded by
the subject. A series of didactic essays, however useful for
dogmatic purposes, would ill accord with the freedom which
necessarily pertains to philosophical inquiry. Another ad-
vantage not less marked is the formal recognition of divergent
standpoints in the contemplation of Truth. "Without this,
indeed, Free-thought and free discussion are mere contradic-
tions in terms, while a third reason of a different kind seems

Introduction. xiii

to be the expediency of investing philosophical subjects, when-
ever possible, with a humane, homely, and familiar interest.
Writers on philosophy are too apt, as a rule, to affect the
position of hierophants : they pose as careful watchers over
sacred and incommunicable mysteries : they account them-
selves teachers of esoteric lore, and in harmony with their
high vocation, their language is oftentimes pedantic and unduly
technical. But whatever might have been urged in defence
of such exclusiveness some centuries ago, it is certainly in-
defensible in these days of general culture. There are few
problems that have emerged in the history of human specula-
tion which might not profitably be discussed by well-informed
and candid disputants, and few minds, not hopelessly stunted
by excessive dogma, that might not benefit by such earnest
and friendly colloquy. All such discussions must tend to
engender intellectual independence, to awaken and stimulate
thought, as well as to promote its truthful and ingenuous
expression. This indeed represents one chief object of this
work its didactic as distinct from its historical aim. Writing
the history of truthseekers, the Author incidentally advocates
untiring and disinterested search for Truth as the duty alike
of the Scientist, the Philosopher, and the Christian. Hence
he adopts as the text of his subject the remarkable saying of
LOCKE, that to love Truth for Truth's sake is the principal part
of human perfection in this world, and the seed-plot of all other

From the foregoing remarks every reader of intelligence will
have gathered that the Author of these volumes has a de-
liberate, long- excogitated, and very earnest purpose in view.
In other words he regards Skepticism, with all allied forms of
Philosophical Thought and Method, as e.g. Eclecticism, as
likely to claim a far greater sphere of energy in the Future
than it has in the Past, and this too in the domain not of
Theology only, but of Philosophy and Science as well. For
this reason he regards this work as possessing with whatever

xiv Introduction.

other qualities it may claim the extremely useful merit of
opportuneness. It responds, indirectly, but not the less com-
pletely, to various indications and signs and forecasts which
appear to announce a free and Skeptical awakening and re-
energizing of human speculation in the near future.

I. In Theology the Skeptical method falls in and harmonizes
with the true conception of Faith especially as laid down
by the earliest teachers of Christianity which subsequent
Ecclesiastical Dogmatism, for its own selfish purposes, has
sought to pervert or obscure. It not only allows but postulates
a defect of demonstrable knowledge as an inevitable condition
of man's limited faculties an inseparable condition of his
earthly lot. It supplements this partial attainment of man's
intellectual and ratiocinative powers by an appeal to instincts,
feelings, prepossessions and aspirations, which, though lacking
in assured conviction, can never as long as man, variously
endowed and cultured, retains the use of his nobler faculties,
be without a certain indirect, moral and spiritual coercion. It
comes to the aid of his inadequate reasoning by supplementing
it with various kinds and degrees of Probability approxima-
tions to or justifiable deviations from supposedly demonstrable
Truth. Not only does it accept in all needed cases the due
amount of philosophical and judicial equilibrium pertaining to
each ; but it demands that freedom of outlook and speculative
research which is the inalienable prerogative of Thought, and
which is both allied with and presupposes that entire absence
of bias or preconception implied by Suspense. This, in the
true analysis of religious and spiritual insight, is but another
way of saying that so far from destroying, Skeptical thought
gives new birth and energy to the religious faculty. It lays
stress on, seizes and brings to the forefront, gives due room
for the play and expansion of what is most valuable in our
religious life. It calls into being, emphasizes and intensifies
that fiducial relation of man to Grod which is the starting point
and animating principle of all religious life. On the other

Introduction. xv

hand it destroys the germs of that conceit, narrowness, sur-
charged individuality and Dogmatic exclusiveness, which of
all evils incident to Religion, is undoubtedly the greatest.

Happily, no symptom of our modern religious culture is
more marked in the present day than the growing decrease
among all thoughtful and spiritually minded men of Dog-
matism in speculative Theology. Nor are the effects of this
decrease in inducing caution, exactness in the estimate and
statement of Religious Truths, liberality in the criticism and
judgment of alien views, etc., less notable. Probably as the
years move on, each charged, as by annual increment, with the
wisdom and enlightenment of the Past, Skepticism and Free-
thought may once more be permitted what has been so long
wholly denied or grudgingly allowed them their legitimate
use not as foes and subverters, but as conditions and contribu-
tory causes of Religious Belief.

II. To Philosophy also the condition of Skeptical analysis
and suspense give the needed starting point, the sustaining
energy, the intellectual justification. At present, the two
chief directions of Philosophical movement and research are
(i.) on the metaphysical side the latest developments of Hege-
lianism (ii.) on the Physical side, the various ramifications of
Darwinism. Both of these developments seem to have passed
the Dogmatic stages, which are as inevitable to schools and
systems of Thought, as certain diseases of infancy are to grow-
ing children. Except in a few cases and directions, and those
steadily diminishing, the bounds of Dogmatic Truth are con-
tinually becoming more restricted. The Hegelian meta-
physician mindful of the history of that Dogmatic Faith
since it was first promulgated by the Master will not bind
himself to the tenet that no other correlation of Thought and
Being than that he formulated is possible or conceivable. The
Darwinian mindful of certain potent reactions and retracta-
tions will not dare to pronounce on the number of originating
Types from whence all the terrestrial varieties of Life are de-

xvi Introduction.

scended ; nor, if he be wise, will he venture to affirm that the
scientific knowledge at his command suffices to give an ade-
quate account of the commencement in time of a single one of
the countless types of existence with which creation teems.
The reasonings and theorizings both of one and the other are
now largely hypothetical. Both the Metaphysician and the
wise Physicist agree to disclaim the Omniscience which could
alone warrant the Dogmatic assumptions and unverified con-
clusions of their respective Sciences in days gone by. Here
again Skepticism attests its worth as the attendant on Philo-
sophic and Scientific Truth. It teaches the student both of
the phenomena that lie within his grasp, and of the unknown
and unfathomed ocean of Phenomena and Noumena that en-
circle his individual existence, and therefrom stretch forth in-
to Immensities in every direction, that caution, humility, self-
restraint, and suspense are primary qualifications for Truth
Search and Truth Discovery.

A final word as to the scope of the following work :
The Author cannot lay claim to the merit of so selecting
his representatives of Skepticism and Free- thought that most
forms and directions of those energies find in them their
impersonations and illustrations. He has merely taken the
thinkers as they came in a kind of rough chronological order,
but having thus conformed to what seemed the historical
exigencies of the case, it is to him a source of gratification
that the thinkers so selected do in reality represent so great
a variety of the processes of Free-thought and Skepticism as
could fairly be expected in the men chosen, and in the times
and circumstances which they illustrate. In short, they are
mostly typical thinkers, who will always find, as long as
humanity with its thought and knowledge-greed endures,
mental scions and successors among cultured and thoughtful

The Author, who did his share of proof corrections and
reference verifications during a memorable period of physical

Introduction. xvii

debility and prostration, has several friends to thank for much
sympathy and varied assistance. These, however, he is not
permitted to mention, or to express openly and frankly as he
fain would, his most grateful acknowledgments. To the pub-
lishers he feels himself indebted for unvarying kindness and
courtesy. Indeed he must ask for special permission to record
his thankful appreciation of the invaluable counsel and
practical help of Mr. "Wm. Swan Sonnenschein in compiling
the excellent and elaborate Index, which enriches the book
and immeasurably enhances its usefulness to the student. That
the Author of the masterly volume, THE BEST BOOKS, which
may claim to be at once the most useful and most excellent
Bibliography of its kind in the English language, should have
put aside important literary work, in order to compile a full
Index to these volumes, is an honour which their author cannot
sufficiently appreciate, and which beggars every emotion of
ordinary thankfulness.



January 6th, 1893.





Commerce and the Crusades 22

The Secularization of Literature 32

Mysteries and Moralities 51

Revival of Classical Studies 58

Arab Culture and Philosophy . 63

Reaction of Ecclesiastical Dogma .... 72

Reaction against Asceticism ....... 74

Reaction against Sacerdotalism ....... 78

Reaction against Dogma ........ 82



Dante 96

Petrarca 107

Boccaccio . 128

LuigiPulci 147

Machiavelli 16<?



Guicciardini 179

Pomponazzi 184




VANIN1 345




' Die Erde ist der grosse Felsen, woran dieMen$cliheit,der eigenflieJie PrometJteu.t,
gefesseU iat, und vom Geier des Zweifels zerfteisckt wird; sie fiat das Lic/it
gestohlen, und leidet nun Martern dafiir.' 1

Heine, Religion u. Philosophic (Werke: vol. xiii.), p. 307.

' H faut avoir ces trois qualites ; Pyrrhonien, Gdometre, Chretien soumis ; et elles
s'accordent et se temperent, en doutant ou il faut, en assurant oil il faut en se soumet-
fant ou ilfaut.' 1

Pascal, Pense'es, Ed. Faugere, vol. ii. p. 347.


TREVOR. The Skepticism of the Italian Renaissance our
present subject necessitates a treatment like that we bestowed
on its kindred manifestation in Ancient Greece. I purpose
therefore acquiring a general idea of it by passing in brief
review the foremost types of the intellectual freedom it pro-
duced before we consider its overt philosophical Skepticism in
the person of Pomponazzi. 1

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