The Apology of Raymond Sebond
The Apology of Raymond Sebond by Michel de Montaigne
That ignorance which knoweth, judgeth, and condemneth it selfe, is not an absolute ignorance: for to be so, she must altogether be ignorant of her selfe. So that the profession of the Pyrrhonians is ever to waver, to doubt, and to enquire; never to be assured of any thing, nor to take any warrant of himself. Of the three actions or faculties of the soule, that is to say, the imaginative, the concupiscible, and the consenting, they allow and conceive the two former: the last they hold and defend to be ambiguous, without inclination or approbation either of one or other side, be it never so light.
Zeno in jesture painted forth his imagination upon this division of the soules faculties: the open and outstretched hand was apparance; the hand halfe-shut, and fingers somewhat bending, consent; the fist closed, comprehension: if the fist of the left hand were closely clinched together, it signified Science.
Now this situation of their judgement, straight and inflexible, receiving all objects with application or consent, leads them unto their Ataraxie, which is the condition of a quiet and settled life, exempted from the agitations which we receive by the impression of the opinion and knowledge we imagine to have of things; whence proceed feare, avarice, envie, immoderate desires, ambition, pride, superstition, love of novelties, rebellion, disobedience, obstinacie, and the greatest number of corporall evils: yea, by that meane they are exempted from the jealousie of their owne discipline, for they contend but faintly: they feare nor revenge nor contradiction in the disputations. When they say that heavy things descend downward, they would be loth to be beleeved, but desire to be contradicted, thereby to engender doubt and suspence of judgement, which is their end and drift. They put forth their propositions but to contend with those they imagine wee hold in our conceipt.
If you take theirs, then will they undertake to maintaine the contrarie all is one to them, nor will they give a penny to chuse. If you propose that snow is blacke, they will argue on the other side that it is white. lf you say it is neither one nor other, they will maintaine it to be both. If by a certaine judgement you say that you cannot tell, they will maintaine that you can tell. Nay, if by an affirmative axiome you swear that you stand in some doubt, they will dupute that you doubt not of it, or that you cannot judge or maintaine that you are in doubt. And by this extremitie of doubt, which staggereth it selfe, they separate and divide themselves from many opinions, yea from those which divers ways have maintained both the doubt and the ignorance.
Why shall it not be granted then (say they) as to Dogmatists, or Doctrine-teachers, for one to say greene and another yellow, so for them to doubt? Is there any thing can be proposed unto you, either to allow or refuse which may not lawfully be considered as ambiguous and doubtfull? And whereas others be carried either by the custome of their countries or by the institution of their parents, or by chance, as by a tempest, without choyce or judgement, yea sometimes before the age of discretion, to such and such another opinion, to the Stoike or Epicurean Sect, to which they finde themselves more engaged, subjected, or fast tyed, as to a prize they cannot let goe: Ad quamcunque disciplinam, velut Te mpestate, delati, ad eam tanquam ad saxum adhærescunt: (CIC. Acad. Qu. x.) ‘Being carried as it were by a Tempest to any kinde of doctrine, they sticke close to it as it were to a rocke.’ Why shall not these likewise be permitted to maintaine their libertie and consider of things without dutie or compulsion? Hoc liberiores et solutiores, quod integra illis, est judicandi potestatas: (Ibid.) ‘They are so much the freer and at libertie, for that their power of judgement is kept entire.’
Is it not some advantage for one to finde himselfe disengaged from necessitie which brideleth others: Is it not better to remaine in suspence than to entangle himselfe in so many errours that humane fantasia hath brought forth? Is it not better for a man to suspend his owne perswasion than to meddle with these sedicious and quarrellous divisions?
What shall I chuse? Mary, what you list, so you chuse. A very foolish answer: to which it seemeth nevertheless that all Dogmatisme arriveth; by which it is not lawfull for you to bee ignorant of that we know not.
Take the best and strongest side, it shall never be so sure but you shall have occasion to defend the same, to close and combat a hundred and a hundred sides? Is it not better to keepe out of this confusion? You are suffered to embrace as your honour and life Aristotles opinion upon the eternitie of the Soule, and to belie and contradict whatsoever Plato saith concerning that; and shall they be interdicted to doubt of it?
If it be lawfull for Panæcius to maintaine his judgement about auspices, dreames, oracles, and prophecies, whereof the Stoikes make no doubt at all: wherfore shall not a wise man dare that in all things which this man dareth in such as he hath learned of his masters, confirmed and established by the general consent of the schoole whereof he is a sectary and a professor? If it be a childe that judgeth, he wots not what it is; if a learned man, he is forestalled.
They have reserved a great advantage for themselves in the combat, having discharged themselves of the care how to shroud themselves. They care not to be beaten, so they may strike againe: and all is fish that comes to net with them. If they overcome, your proposition halteth; if you, theirs is lame; if they faile, they verifie ignorance; if you, she is verified by you; if they prove that nothing is knowen, it is very well; if they cannot prove it, it is good alike: Vt quum in eadem re paria contrariis in partibus momenta inveniuntur, facilius ab utraque parte assertio sustineatur; (CIC. Ibid.) ‘So as when the same matter the like weight and moment is found on divers parts, we may the more easily hold with avouching on both parts.’
And they suppose to find out more easily why a thing is false than true, and that which is not than that which is: and what they beleeve not, than that what they beleeve.
Their manner of speech is, ‘I confirme nothing.’ It is no more so than thus, or neither: I conceive it not; apparances are every where alike. The law of speaking pro or contra is all one. ‘Nothing seemeth true that may not seeme false.’ Their sacramental word is επεχω; which is as much to say as I hold and stir not. Behold the burdens of their songs and other such like. Theyr effects is a pure, entire, and absolute surceasing and suspence of judgement. They use their reason to enquire and to debate, and not to stay and choose. Whosoever shall imagine a perpetuall confession of ignorance, and a judgement upright and without staggering, to what occasion soever may chance, that man conceives the true Pyrrhonisme. I expound this fantazy as plaine as I can, because many deeme it hard to be conceived: and the authors themselves represent it somewhat obscurely and diversly.
Touching the actions of life, in that they are after the common sort, they are lent and applied to naturall inclinations, to the impulsion and constraint of passions, to the constitutiones of lawes and customes, and to the tradition of arts: Non enim nos Deus ista scire, sed tantummodo uti voluit: (Cic. Divin. i.) ‘For God would not have us know these things, but only use them.’ By such meanes they suffer their common actions to be directed without any conceit or judgement, which is the reason that I cannot well sort unto this discourse what is said of Pyrrho. They faine him to be stupide and unmovable, leading a kinde of wild and unsociable life, not shunning to be hit with carts, presenting himselfe unto downefalls, refusing to conforme himselfe to the lawes. It is an endearing of his discipline. Hee would not make himselfe a stone or a blocke, but a living, discoursing, and reasoning man, enjoying all pleasures and naturall commodities, busying himselfe with and using all his corporall and spirituall parts in rule and right. The fantasticall and imaginary and false privileges which man hath usurped unto himselfe to sway, to appoint, and to establish, he hath absolutely renounced and quit them.
Yet is there no Sect but is enforced to allow her wise Sectary, in chiefe to follow diverse things nor comprehended, nor perceived, nor allowed, if he will live. And if he take shipping, he follows his purpose, not knowing whether it shall be profitable or no: and yeeldes to this, that the ship is good, the pilote is skilfull, and that the season is fit, circumstances only probable. After which he is bound to goe and suffer himselfe to be removed by apparances, alwaies provided they have no expresse contrariety in them. Hee hath a body, he hath a soule, his senses urge him forward, his minde moveth him. Although he finde not this proper and singular marke of judging in himselfe, and that he perceive he should not engage his consent seeing some falsehood may be like unto this truth: hee ceaseth not to conduct the offices of his life fully and commodiously.
How many arts are there which professe to consist more in conjecture than in the science; that distinguish not betweene truth and falsehood, but only follow seeming? There is both true and false (say they), and there are meanes in us to seeke it out, but not to stay it when we touch it. It is better for us to suffer the order of the world to manage us without further inquisition. A mind warranted from prejudice hath a marvellous preferment to tranquillity. Men that sensure and controule their judges doe never duly submit unto them. How much more docile and tractable are simple and uncurious mindes found both towards the lawes of religion and Politike decrees, than these over-vigilant and nice wits, teachers of divine and humane causes?
There is nothing in mans invention wherein is so much likelyhood, possibilities and profit. This representeth man bare and naked, acknowledging his naturall weaknesse, apt to receive from above some strange power, disfurnished of all humane knowledge, and so much the more fitte to harbour divine understanding, disannulling his judgement, that so he may give more place unto faith. Neither misbeleeving nor establishing any doctrine or opinion repugnant unto common lawes and observances, humble, obedient, disciplinable and studious; a sworne enemy to Heresie, and by consequence exempting himselfe from all vaine and irreligious opinions, invented and brought up by false Sects. It is a white sheet prepared to take from the finger of God what form so ever it shall please him to imprint therein. The more we addresse and commit our selves to God, and reject our selves, the better it is for us. Accept (saith Ecclesiastes) in good part things both in shew and taste, as from day to day they are presented unto thee, the rest is beyond thy knowledge. Dominus novit cogitationes hominum, quoniam vanæ sunt: (Psal. xciii. 11.) ‘The Lord knowes the thoughts of men, that they are vayne.’ See how of three generall Sects of Philosophie, two make expresse profession of doubt and ignorance and in the third, which is the Dogmatists, it is easie to be discerned that the greatest number have taken the face of assurance; onely because they could set a better countenance on the matter. They have not so much gone about to establish any certainty in us, as to shew how farre they had waded in seeking out the truth. Quam docti fingunt magis quam norunt: ‘Which the learned doe rather conceit than know.’