the works of Rabelais and in Agrippa’s Vanitate scientiarum itself.
As we saw, Bacon
positions, as in Socrates’ case, and in the same passage of Temporis partus masculus he
confesses that he himself is writing under the veil of invective (maledictus), which
allows him to expose his critique concisely and to pick and choose the expressions to
aim at each of the authors he criticizes.
Might not Bacon’s critique of Agrippa, to
quite in accordance with the hypothesis proposed by Deleule, for whom that opuscule,
as well as others made before the Novum organum, consists of a rhetorical experiment
aimed at convincing different readers towards the collective task of Instauratio.
skeptical literary strategy connected with the tradition of paradox. The initial impression
of this critique of skeptical philosophers (for the way their own investigation leads them
to an erratic research) could then give rise to another reading, apparently more faithful
to the text, and according to which skepticism amuses him by exhibiting the
shortcomings of those philosophies who claim to have arrived at the truth (perhaps by
pointing out how they move in demonstrative “circles”). Would not this reading be
more appropriate for the praises that Bacon heaps on skeptical philosophers in the texts
above? In one way or another, this passage appears to show that Bacon was sensitive to
different facets of contemporary skepticism.
However, Agrippa is probably not the most relevant reference in regard to the
skeptical affinities accepted by Bacon. Formigari and Granada have consistently pointed
On this ? theme see COLIE (1966) and TOURNON (1989).
See Sp. III, p. 536-537.
BACON (1987), p. 15.
certain features of the doctrine of the idols — with reference to the attacks on the
Aristotelian notion of science understood as perfect knowledge of the causes, as well as
to the critique of language or to the recognition of the obstacles derived from the social
organization of knowledge and brevity of life.
Besides, like Bacon in the idola tribus,
human senses, which are incapable of offering us access to how things are in
Although he introduces a method that would give us access to the very
the things offered to us by the conjunction or disjunction of natural bodies, and which
would certainly be unintelligible to us due to the limitations of our faculties.
admits that experience can offer us a limited form of knowledge of things, capable of
distinguishing them regarding their aim, clarity and degree, and also announces a work
aimed at elaborating a method designed for this.
Thus, however different both
philosophers consider experience to be a privileged source of knowledge, without
thereby claiming that our perceptions can give us any sort of immediate certainty. Even
though Sanchez develops his reflections mainly from Academic sources, and apparently
was not acquainted with the texts of Sextus, he is a strong candidate to represent the
version of skepticism most in accordance with Bacon’s own philosophical positions.
See GRANADA, p. 3-5; FORMIGARI, 1970 apud GRANADA; SANCHEZ (1988), p. 20-28, 68.
See SANCHEZ, p. 55-57, 59-62.
N.O. I, §4, Sp. I, p. 157.
SANCHEZ (1988), p. 55.
There are scholars who hold an opposite view. We agree on this point with POPKIN (2000, p. 84-85), who refers to
scholars who thought of Sanchez not as a skeptic, but as an empiricist opening new roads and preparing the ground
for Francis Bacon, and using skeptical arguments only to refute Aristotelianism. But even if we leave aside this
to explain the existence of the Pyrrhonist elements which, as we said, appear here and
there in Baconian doctrine, if the hypothesis that he did not have direct access to the
Hipotiposes is correct. That would be an additional reason to take equally into
consideration the Essays (1580-1588) of Montaigne — in which, as Popkin pointed out,
almost all the items of the Pyrrhonist armory of argument are present according to
In a remarkable though seldom mentioned study, Pierre Villey
English and published by John Florio in 1603 — at different points in his intellectual
In Villey’s opinion, Montaigne’s strongest influence on Bacon’s thought is not
small, although the Baconian title was surely inspired, according to that interpreter, by
the French work.
According to Villey, the philosophical affinities show up more
critiques of human knowledge, as featured in the doctrine of the idols, and the skeptical
pieces of reasoning of the Apology, as demonstrated by the multiple and detailed
approximations enumerated by the interpreter (including texts that suggest Bacon
characterized Montaigne as a skeptic, as was usual at that time).
Villey is cautious
interpretation, we still have good reasons to see a similarity between Sanchez and Bacon due to a re-evaluation of
the doctrine of idols.
VILLEY (1973), p. 10-14. Besides the fact that Bacon’s diplomat brother Anthony lived for twelve years in France
and kept up a correspondance with Montaigne, Villey lists as a sign of the contact of Francis Bacon with Les
Essais the very title of his own Essays; an explicit mention of Montaigne in the De Augmentis Scientiarum, and an
example of psychological explanation that surely comes from his book. However, Villey suggests that his
influence may be much greater than it appears, due to the codes of citation of this period and the rather
unsystematic way Montaigne expounds his ideas.
See note below.
Ibid. pp. 77, 110. The text by Bacon that Villey refers to is from De Aug. V, II, which he compares with
Montaigne’s discussion on the likenesses between men and animals, in the Apology. Villey himself, however, feels
it is going too far to see Montaigne as a skeptic. (p. 105) For a different interpretation I venture to refer the reader
to to my own EVA (2007).