Montaigne on Skepticism

Why, they [the Pyrrhonists] say, since among the dogmatists one is allowed to say green, the other yellow, are they not also allowed to doubt? Is there anything that can be proposed for you to admit or deny, which it is not legitimate to consider ambiguous? And where others are swept – either by the custom of their country, or by their parental upbringing, or by chance – as by a tempest, without judgment or choice, indeed most often before the age of discretion, to such or such an opinion, to the Stoic or Epicurean sect, to which they find themselves pledged, enslaved, and fastened as to a prey they have bitten into and cannot shake loose – to whatever doctrine they have been driven, as by a storm, to it they cling as to a rock [Cicero] – why shall it not be granted similarly to these men to maintain their liberty, and to consider things without obligation and servitude? The more free and independent because their power to judge is intact [Cicero].

Is it not an advantage to be freed from the necessity that curbs others? Is it not better to remain in suspense than to entangle yourself in the many errors that the human fancy has produced? Is it not better to suspend your conviction than to get mixed up in these seditious and quarrelsome divisions?

What am I to choose? What you like, provided you choose! There is a stupid answer, to which nevertheless all dogmatism seems to come, by which we are not allowed not to know what we do not know.

[The Pyrrhonian] expressions are: “I establish nothing; it is no more thus than thus, or than neither way; I do not understand it; the appearances are equal on all sides; it is equally legitimate to speak for and against. Nothing seems true, which may not seem false.” Their sacramental word is ἐποχή, that is to say, “I hold back, I do not budge.” Those are their refrains, and others of similar substance. Their effect is a pure, complete, and very perfect postponement and suspension of judgment. They use their reason to inquire and debate, but not to conclude and choose. Whoever will imagine a perpetual confession of ignorance, a judgment without leaning or inclination, on any occasion whatever, he has a conception of Pyrrhonism.

Montaigne, “Apology for Raymond Sebond”

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