evidence. However, the existing indications not only impelled him to conclude that
Bacon surely read Montaigne, but also that such reading would have awakened and
kindled his critical spirit, so as to appreciate the weakness of available philosophical
methods as well as of human reason left to its own powers. In consequence, an
approximation between these two authors is more justifiable than the one commonly
made between Montaigne, Descartes and Pascal.
the so-called mitigated skepticism,
as well as in the modern construction of the image
radicalism fatally opposed it to the modern ideals of natural investigation. Bacon has
been read with great interest by other philosophers who were fundamental in the way
this image was spread by posterity — such as Hume, for instance. On the other hand, as
we saw, this does not mean that he did not assimilate skeptical and even Pyrrhonist
elements into his own reflections, however transformed and adapted, in a much more
expressive philosophical dimension than that which can be observed in other modern
authors more often associated with skepticism. However different the philosophies of
Descartes and Bacon might be, it is plausible to say that in the First Cartesian
Meditation as well as in the Baconian doctrine of the idols we are dealing with methodic
reconstructions that were not only inspired by skeptical doubt, but which aim to express,
to some extent, the cogency and actuality of the skeptical diagnosis concerning the lack
of grounds for knowledge. Without being skeptical in themselves, those reconstructions
Ibid., p. 109. Even here the links between Bacon, Montaigne and Sanchez could be tightened, both regarding the
Montaigne, as stressed by OLIVEIRA (2002), p. 78. The latter author’s remarks concerning relations on the theme
of the “limits of knowledge” and the passage from the “phenomena to nature” do not seem to me so clear and
For similar remarks, see OLIVEIRA (2002), p. 75.
wished to overcome. Equally, the singularity of the strategies applied by each one of
them is already noticeable in the reformulation of those problems, i. e., in the
“destructive” and “dubitative” parts of their reflections, by virtue of which both prepare
the ground for the advent of a new philosophy.
But it is worth noticing here the gap that separates Descartes from Bacon. In the
first case, even though the methodic doubt lasts till the end of the Sixth Meditation, the
road to its suppression begins in the opening of the Second Meditation, where it is
already possible to admit the Archimedean certainty of the cogito, which will
acknowledge clear, distinct ideas as a criterion of truth. In fact, however important the
doubt might be in the construction of metaphysics, its ceaseless activity is limited to the
First Meditation, and in the Sixth, by the end of the journey, it might reappear,
according to the author, as “hyperbolic and ridiculous”.
Whereas Descartes presents
a skeptic could ever imagine, Bacon is not willing to advance any complete or universal
theory, nor can he take it as something possible due to the actual state of affairs and
He limits himself to the exposition of a viable alternative to overcome the
poverty of human knowledge, by offering relevant indications for a new induction able
to lead men progressively to a complete reinvention of principles and axioms.
to individual talents, whose power of persuasion cannot be mistaken for real research
We argued in EVA (2001) that Descartes did not himself take the arguments of his hyperbolic doubt as possessing
Meditations, where, looking for something “solid and stable in sciences”, he decides to identify the false and the
doubtful, deliberately distorting our usual cognitive standards. This would be why Descartes describes his own
doubt as only “pretended”, “hyperbolical and ridiculous”.
See N.O., I, §116.
See N.O., I §§101-105.
However, this collective enterprise remains useless if we do not manage to
— or, putting it another way, if it is not possible to find a way round the idols, whose
presence strengthens the skeptics whenever they suspend their judgment before any
Thus, even if the causes of our incapacity to know — identified by Bacon in his
at taking the philosophical relevance of skepticism into his own thinking in a more
generous way than Descartes did. The “temporary skepticism” that should be adopted
by this doctrine, although it corresponds to just one part of the method — according to
Bacon’s exact formulation — is not limited to a methodic resolution that could be
suppressed together with this same resolution, but is the reflection of the evaluation of
our actual cognitive limitations. Hence, in spite of the fact that posterity has usually
referred to Cartesian methodic doubt whenever it looked for a modern version of
skepticism, might it not be better echoed in the doctrine of the idols — which, according
to Bacon, carries an autonomous interest and a latent philosophical actuality in its
problems, without however being skeptical, beyond its own attempt to solve them? At
least, Bacon’s philosophy offers itself, in this respect, as an exclusive chapter — all-
Arguing for the need for a new Natural History, he says: “Those however who aspire not to guess and divine, but to
the nature of this very world itself; must go to facts themselves for everything. Nor can the place of this labor and
search and worldwide perambulation be supplied by any genius or meditation or argumentation; no, not if all
men’s could meet in one. This therefore we must have or the business must be for ever abandoned...” (Sp. I, 140;
Cf. I, §30, Sp. IV, 52: “Though all the wits of all the ages should meet together and combine and transmit their
first concoction of the mind are not to be cured by the excellence of functions and remedies subsequent.”
critical legacy of Ancient skepticism in modern times.
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Translated by Fernando Moraes Barros
Reviewed by Michael Watkins and Luiz Eva
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