Favorite Quotes

“I do not know even this one thing, namely that I know nothing”
Francisco Sanches

Francisco Sanches 1551-1623

Francisco Sanches 1551-1623

This is the first line of Sanches’ Quod Nihil Scitur “That Nothing Is Known,” a book published in Lyons, France, in 1581 that  rocked European intellectuals and helped lay the groundwork for the Enlightenment in the 18th century, the Age of Reason.

Sanches, “the Father of Modern Scepticism,” questioned Aristotelian theories of logic and science that had gone unexamined for centuries.

And he didn’t beat around the bush in trashing the “scientific” knowledge of his time: “Do you call this knowledge?” asked Sanches. “I call it ignorance.”

He attempted to answer that tantalizing question that still resonates today: “Can we ever have certain knowledge in science and religion?”

Sanches argued that it was impossible to have certain or perfect knowledge of the rational world–only God possesses that. The best we can do is use observation, experience and judgment to understand in a limited way the natural world. It’s the start of scientific thought.

Francisco Sanches was born in northern Portugal in 1551. His father was a physician and a converso—a Jew who had converted to Christianity. Converses were targets of both the Portuguese and Spanish inquisitions.

When Sanches was a boy his family fled to France as the attacks of the Inquisition on Portuguese converso families increased (shades of Nazi Germany in the 1930s).

Like his father, Sanches became a doctor. He was a professor of medicine and philosophy at the University of Toulouse. He lived as a devout, church-going Christian—his two sons became priests.

Sanches is  sometimes classified as a Jewish philosopher because his skepticism stretched to Christian theology. His writings never mention the Gospel but do quote the Jewish Tanach (the three Jewish divisions of the Old Testament). Some scholars claim he outwardly appeared a Christian but in secret practiced Judaism, as some converso families did.

A distant cousin of Sanches is the famous philosopher and essayist, Montaigne (1533–92), whose family had also escaped the Inquisition to live in the same area of France. Montaigne and Sanches were between them, as one leading scholar put it, “responsible for a re-examination of old claims to knowledge by thinkers in the 17th century.”

So the totalitarian Inquisition chased out the best and brightest, just as Einstein fled Hitler’s Germany to come to America.

What I would like to see is someone with Francisco Sanches’ intellectual cojones appear today to take on all those who insist, with all the pharisaical, bombastic self-righteousness of  a Grand Inquisitor, that man-made climate change (aka “global warming”) is a scientific certainty. Anyone who questions them or raises doubts is heretical, a “denialist.”

Yes, there certainly is climate change. But what I object to is people who approach this subject as if it were a religion. They use climate change–and the fear of the apocalyptic consequences of climate change–to push their agenda. They want power. They want to tell other people how to live.

Fanatical believers in man-made climate change attack anyone who dares question their orthodoxy. The Inquisitors in Spain and Portugal, who for three fearful centuries persecuted heretics, Jews, Muslims and anyone who wasn’t a “right-thinking” conformist, would approve.

Sanches wouldn’t waste his time on anyone with this mindset.  As he wrote, challengingly, in his introduction to That Nothing Is Known, “Let them be deceived who wish to be deceived; it is not for them I write, so they need not read my works…”

His intended audience is those who, “not bound by the oath of fidelity to any master’s words, assess the facts for themselves, under the guidance of sense, perception and reason.”

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One thought on “Favorite Quotes

  1. Steve says:

    Here’s an example of constructive skepticism applied to dominant ideas that Francisco Sanches encourages. This article also touches on the fanatical believers of man-made climate change I rant about.

    The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse

    This is the title of a new book by Pascal Bruckner, the not-so-young, new philosophe. (He is sixty-three.) In it he blasts extreme environmentalists and accuses them of engaging in the “despotic politics of environmental fear.” At the same time he stresses that he is not a climate-change-denier. “Catastrophism,” he writes, is transforming us all into children “put in a panic in order to be better controlled.”

    The book’s subtitle is Sauver la Terre, punir l’Homme (Save the Earth, Punish Human Beings).

    “Consider…the famous carbon footprint that we all leave behind us,” he writes in his introduction. “What is it, after all, if not the gaseous equivalent of original sin, of the stain that we inflict on our Mother Gaia by the simple fact of being present and breathing?”

    Dividing his argument into three sections, provocatively titled “The Seduction of Disaster,” “The Anti-progress Progressives” and “The Great Ascetic Regression,” Bruckner scorns the peddlers of the “propaganda of fear.”

    It is a muscular thesis delivered in typical elegant Bruckner style, citing philosophers, playwrights, novelists, political theorists and green activists from Martin Heidegger to Goethe, Molière, Gustave Flaubert, Hannah Arendt and France’s Yves Cocher.

    “I took a risk,” he explains. “The book was [written in] a fit of anger. I went against today’s dominant ideas. There is widespread ‘greenwashing’ in our thinking. The dominant passion of our time is fear.”

    “Why must we renounce all the joys of life under the pretext of global warming?”

    As Bruckner judges it, a panic is now gripping Western elites, as they rapidly lose power amid the rise of countries like China, India and Brazil.

    “Since we no longer dominate the world, we live in a permanent terror…in the post-technological Middle Ages. Our mentality is that of the medieval peasant serf who sees maleficent forces in nature.

    “Everything is dangerous. Simply to live has become an impossible task.

    “We are afraid of everything – of mobile phones, of food, of dummies, of nappies, of antennas. We are living in a society which has a horror of risk and therefore is afraid of its own shadow…. Yes, we need to make some savings. But wealth reproduces itself and life cannot simply be a subtraction. It is like saying ‘the best life is the life we don’t lead.’”

    Bruckner speaks warmly of his annual trips to teach in American and occasionally British universities, confessing he has always appreciated “this sort of confidence in man which we have lost in France.”

    “In France there is a skepticism with regards to progress in general that we do not find in either the U.S. or England,” he says. “So I am a mix of the two [French and Anglo-Saxon].”

    Source: Financial Review, July 20, “Scorning the Propaganda of Fear” by Kate Symons

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