Selections from Book I


Translated by M.S. Mahoney



There is nothing in the world that has such power over our minds as the truth, nor anything that is more contrary to them than falsehood. Indeed the truth has such ascendency over the soul that it forces the mind to give way to all that is veritable, for the understanding has no liberty to reject the truth when it is evident. This power is so pleasant and so precious that most of one's thinking has no other purpose than to find, to defend, and to preserve the truth. For it is for the sake of truth that disputes take place in the schools of theology and philosophy, that we write books, and that we set out our demonstrations, so that there be none on the earth who is deprived of the light of truth.

Yet, banded against the truth stands a troupe of libertines who, not daring to show their impiety for the fear they have of being punished, try to persuade the ignorant that there is nothing certain in the world because of the continual ebb and flow of everything here below. They try to slip this into the minds of certain young men whom they know to be attracted to libertinism and to all sorts of pleasures and curiosities so that, having discredited the truth in what concerns the sciences and natural things which serve us as ladders to climb toward God, they do the same in what concerns religion.

That is why I wanted to write this volume to remedy this evil, or at least to stimulate others to write at greater length on this subject, and to hinder the headlong course of the Pyrrhonism that many now employ to discredit the truth. This they do more to show that they have bright minds and to acquire honor among their friends than out of any affection they bear for the truth.

I had no other design than to refute their principles in general, along with the [particular] objections they raise against the sciences. Yet, seeing that many are happy to have an abridgment of all the sciences, in order to recall briefly to memory all that they know, I thought it would be apropos to discuss each not only in general but also in particular. I think I have done so in this work in such a way that I have been neither too lengthy nor too short, so that each can avail himself of it usefully and with pleasure.

I believe that there is no Sceptic who, if he takes the time to read this book, will not freely confess that there are many things in the sciences that are veritable and that one must abandon Pyrrhonism if one does not want to lose one's judgment and one's reason. But before reading this volume one should remember that the printer has not failed to uphold the arrangement he has with many others, for he has left a great number of errors, for which I can offer no other remedy than to set them out here in a special table to which one may have recourse when one finds some mistake in the printing; nonetheless, I have omitted the mistakes that consist of points and dashes that are either missing or superfluous, along with some others that do not disturb the meaning.

Those who take pleasure in speculative or practical music will find here matters on which to exercise their minds, for I have set forth and explained in the second and the third book many pretty problems that belong to this science;for example, what one must know to compose the most beautiful song of all those that can be composed on a given subject; or in how many parts the octave, the other consonances, and the tone can be divided, etc. Thus these two books suffice for understanding what is most outstanding in music.

Now, I do not doubt that those who take pleasure solely in pretty words and who seek nothing other than a well structured and well arranged discourse will not be pleased in reading many of the ways of speaking that will be very often encountered in this book. Nevertheless, it has been necessary to employ them in order to retain the terms of the art, such as proportions of equality and of greater, lesser, superpartient, and asymptotic inequality, and many other similar [technical terms], according as it has been necessary and pertinent.

Yet, on the other hand, I know that all those who make more of the truth than of language will not be halted by such a feeble consideration and that they would much rather find the proper terms that are dedicated to the sciences than meet paraphrases and choice words that have served no other purpose than to obscure discourse and understanding concerning what is treated in these four books. Also, one should not take it amiss that I have followed the form of a dialogue, since I have done so much for the reader's satisfaction and to facilitate understanding of what I have put forward than for any other reason. Moreover, the Sceptic's questions are so short and so few in number that it seems to me that the reader can gain only relief from them.

For full satisfaction I desire only that each person profit from the truth which, having come from God, should be directed to his honor. That is why I take it ill that there are some who have so little thought and judgment that they think that the truth of mathematics is useless and that it cannot serve piety and religion. I am convinced that this opinion stems only from ignorance and that such people will no sooner have understood what I have discussed in this work than they will freely avow that there is nothing in these [mathematical] sciences that is not highly useful for understanding Holy Scripture, the Holy Fathers, theology, philosophy, and jurisprudence and that cannot serve to raise us to the knowledge and love of God.

For after theology there is no science that sets before us and makes us see so many wonders as does mathematics, which raises the mind above itself and constrains it to recognize a godhead. For statics, hydraulics, and pneumatics produce such prodigious effects that it seems that men might imitate the most admirable works of God, since they can move all sorts of bodies, cause a foot of water to weigh as much as all the water in the sea, build a bridge in the air without its touching the land and without any pilings, and model the course of the stars and planets in a small sphere without neglecting any motion. I omit a thousand other things that are still more admirable than these part of which one will see in this volume and elsewhere and which I want each to use to the greater glory of God, so that after having directed to his honor all the sciences that we have here below he will give us the science of the most blessed and the joy of the beatitude to which we aspire.




Where the Opinions of the Sceptics Are Refuted


CHAPTER ONE, In which the Sceptic disputes against the Alchemist, who is trying to prove that Alchemy is a certain science.


CHAPTER TWO, In which the Pyrrhonian proves that one knows nothing for certain, with the replies of the Philosopher.

THE SCEPTIC [to the Alchemist]: Sir, your discourse has not so satisfied me that I think your Alchemy is veritable, and I believe that no one can know anything for certain in this world. For who knows anything such as it is in itself? We cannot know if there are any stars and systems other than those we see. Who can claim to know what is in the sea, what is the nature of its fishes and of its shellfish, what is its origin, and [what] all its properties? For no one up to now has been able to comprehend its motion, or the reason for its ebb and flow. Nor do we know what the earth is, because we see only a small part of it, in the way a louse sees only part of the head and the ant only part of a mountain or of an oak. We can no more know the whole earth, not having seen it all, than know what a man is, having seen only his nose. It is not enough to say that we know it [i.e. the earth] through histories [of nature], for that is not to know, any more than to eat through the mouth of another is to be nourished. In sum, all past things are beyond our knowledge, future [things] are not presented to us, and present [things] are entirely unknown to us. For what we see is but as a point with respect to the whole earth, on which we live as poor, small worms.

With regard to what reaches our senses [sentimens], we are deceived at every turn, for the sun appears to us no larger than a foot, and we do not know whether it moves or it always remains in one and the same place. If the sun, which is the most obvious thing in all the world, is unknown to us, what about the rest? Cast your glance anywhere you might wish: we see only the surface and the color of things, we taste only their flavor. With regard to what is inside, we see nothing. We are like those who are satisfied to touch the garment, to smell the smoke, and [to see] the shadow; we know nothing of the substance and of the body.

That is why that dreamer they call the Master of the Peripatetics is greatly in error to say that the understanding knows the essence of things, since nothing enters into the intellect that has not passed through the senses. Even if we were in the interior of things, we would not know them better, for we could perceive nothing but some external accidents.

Moreover, one does not know the effect perfectly when one is ignorant of the cause which, nevertheless, we see only by the effect. Thus, to arrive at knowledge of all the causes, it would be necessary to go on ad infinitum. Now infinity cannot be encompassed within the limits of our mind. Yet consider, I pray, the folly of Aristotle, who wanted to make us believe that, by I know not what connection [convenance] men and other things have with one another, we should come to know everything. But we do not know the essence of a single thing, [and] we are no more knowing of [that essence] when we know that Peter is a man or that Paris is a city. We would have to know what its walls are, [what] its Louvres, its houses, and its government. So too [we would have] to be able to state everything that is in Peter to know him. That is why I am of the opinion that the Peripatetics maintain their universals as refuges of their ignorance; [those universals] are very badly grounded, since they suppose a particular knowledge of individuals that we cannot know, in as much as they are innumerable and, furthermore, subject to corruption. That is why they cannot serve as foundation for any science.

It is madness for the Platonists to have recourse to their Ideas, since they are more unknown to us than anything else. And, if we were to know them, they would not be knowledge of what is here below, for they are spiritual, while things here below are corporeal. Thus, I ask you to consider whether a physician cures his patient in the Form.

I know that Aristotle would answer me that the knowledge of some number of individuals is sufficient to form a universal, veritable, and permanent concept [pensée]. But, besides several contrary arguments I could bring up, I deny that one knows any individual. For, even if the paper on which we are writing appears to be well known, nevertheless we do not have knowledge of it through all its causes. If someone asked us what is its matter, its form, its maker [artisan], the place, the pestle, the water, and all the instruments that served to make it, we could not answer. What then if we seek all its atoms, and how all its parts have been glued and joined together?

It is too little to know that it was made in Venice, and from linen cloth, for we would have to know how that linen grew and from what seed; under what stars; in what longitude and latitude, during what time; and why that earth was used to bear linen rather than other plants; how many forms the matter of that linen has had since the beginning of the world; whence that form of paper came; according to what idea it was made, passing all the way to the divine idea and to all the causes; what God, Nature, and art have contributed to it; why it was made at such a moment, and what times and motions of all the stars preceded that generation; what proportion, relation, and ratio all the parts of the heavens, of the earth, of the sea, and of each part of all these things have with the water in which the paper was made.

What is the artisan's name; what are all his homogeneous and heterogeneous parts; what is his soul; when was it infused [in him]; why, how, whence did he have his name; what are its anagrams, all that one can say about it by means of the cabala and by means of onomancy; who is his father and his other forebears; what led him to want to be a papermaker; why did God give him this desire; why was God determined to want this man to make paper rather than something else? Why did He not create the world earlier [auparavant]? If He created it to show us His glory, why do we not show ours to the ants? Why is there so much evil, since He is good? Why is He God rather than something else?

There you have all one would have to know in order properly to know an individual, for it is a small part of the world. Thus, if one does not know everything that belongs to the world, you have no knowledge of that paper, nor of anything else whatever; no more than anyone knows a tree who has never seen but one of its leaves. What if I asked you why the paper is white, what whiteness is, from what degree of light and of heat it comes, what is light, and in how many ways can it be reflected? It is a pleasure to see Aristotle retreat to his proximate causes and to his principles to establish and defend his science. For he knows his proximate elements no more than the remote [éloignez] ones, since he argues what they are with Pythagoras, Plato, Democritus, and the others. Whence I conclude that we know nothing, or as little as nothing.

THE CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHER: Sir, you have taken great pains to combat the truth, but it seems to me that your arguments are rather feeble; if you adduce no others, I fear your adversary will win the laurels. For one can reply briefly that all your arguments prove nothing except that we know very few things; it is from this that one has drawn the proverb, "The greatest part of what we know is the least part of what we do not know." But that does not mean that we do not know something. Everything you have adduced against Aristotle shows only that we do not know the ultimate differences among individuals and among species, and that the understanding does not penetrate substance except by way of accidents. That is veritable, for we use effects to elevate ourselves to God and to other invisible substances, as if the effects were crystals through which we perceived what is within. Now that little knowledge suffices to serve us as guide in our actions.

I leave aside what you have said about the sun, which one judges [to be] of the magnitude of a foot, for reason corrects the eye's mistake [deffaut] regarding both the magnitude of the sun and of all other things far away. That is, when we see that the earth's shadow is bounded by a pyramid [!], we conclude with certainty that the sun is greater than [the earth]. Regarding Ideas, whether Plato erred or not, it is certain that the artisan must have an idea in order to carry out his work; otherwise he would never reach an end. But to say that in order to know something, for example what paper is, one must know everything you have brought up: that is what I deny, even though it would be necessary in order to know it as God knows it. To have knowledge of something, then, it is enough to know its effects, its operations, and its uses, by means of which we distinguish it from every other individual or from among the other species. We do not wish to attribute to ourselves any greater or any more particular knowledge than that.

I expected a stronger argument based on all our senses, which know nothing for certain. For taste often errs, seeing that what we find agreeable and sweet [at one time] we call disagreeable at another time, while another person feels it sharp or bitter; and what seems to us bitter, sharp, and bad is found quite agreeable by many beasts. The same can be said of smell, since the odor that a child loves is disagreeable to the old person. As many different temperaments as there are, just as many odors seem diverse and dissimilar. Consequently, opposite kinds [espèces] will not be opposite with regard to different individuals. How else is it that what some think to be a tree, others take for a man, that the ignorant is recognized as learned, that the rich man is thought poor, and that the wise man among the savages is thought simple among us; and that what they think sacred we hold for profane, or conversely?

One must say the same for touch, since the sick person finds cold what is hot, and what seems to us hot, hard, heavy, thick, etc. seems to many others, both man and beast, cold, soft, light, and thin: so that everything that falls under our senses seems to be nothing other than imaginations, or respects and relations.

If we consult our ears, we shall find ourselves no less hindered, since we do not hear thousands of sorts of sounds made in the air and in ourselves, and since the sounds that are agreeable to the young person are disagreeable to the old person and to beasts, and each finds pleasant what conforms to his temperament and to his humor.

Certainly we do not know even if the octave and the fifth, which are very agreeable sounds when conjoined and the principal consonances of music, are agreeable to all sorts of nations. It can be that donkeys and serpents take no pleasure at all in it and perhaps that our consonances seem to them dissonances. For we see that different temperaments require different musics; that is what those musicians of this century are greatly ignorant of who do not know to vary their music and its rhythmic motion according to its different impacts [rencontres] on different temperaments and on different nations. They will never create something worthwhile if they do not practice that.

Vision, which is the most subtle, most universal, and most penetrating sense, is often deceived. We do not even know what light and color are: what is the color of saffron in the sun is green by candlelight, the sea appears [to be] of different colors at [great] depth, and outside [dehors] it is white. What seems to be a mountain to an ant is not even noticed by an elephant. What you see [as] large seems to me smaller, and we do not know at what distance to stand in order best to view the object which, being seen from different places, seems of different form, of different size, or of different color. One does not know from what place one views it best. Who among men sees best? [Which] among the beasts [sees best], those that have round organs of vision or [those with] oval ones? What temperament must one have to perceive the object with the greatest certainty?

In sum, if we think about all the senses, their modes of operation, and the great variety that is found in all their operations, we will see clearly that we know nothing, and we will have a basis for our thinking whether it would not be more certain to follow the sense of beasts in order to establish a philosophy new and different from our own. Things are more subtle than they seem [to us] in the view of the eagle, the spider, the cat that sees at night, and all the little animalcules that perceive thousands of things we cannot see. Their smell is also much more penetrating, as one sees in the dog, the wolf, and other beasts. How do we know whether the braying of an ass is not more agreeable according to nature than our music, since it pleases that animal more? As for taste, we see that a dead body needs neither salt nor sauce for dogs and wolves to devour it; perhaps they judge the taste better than we. As for touch, one cannot doubt that thousands and thousands of animals outdo us. Now, if these animals follow the nature of things, and what seems of one color and luminous, smooth to the smell, to the taste, to the ear, to the touch is to them of another color and dark, malodorous, and disagreeable, what can we think of our knowledge, since the understanding receives nothing except through the senses?

THE ALCHEMIST: Sir, I do not understand why you should assist the Sceptic, contrary to the proverb that says, "Even Hercules cannot fight two at once." I have only undertaken to respond to his arguments. That is why, to the extent you have obliged me by responding for me to his first objections, to the same extent or more you have discomfitted me by reinforcing his position so powerfully that I am ready to quit the game if you do not desist from helping him.

THE SCEPTIC: I am pleased that fear has seized you, and I take heart that I need but one or two more arguments to convince you entirely. I should have complained just as you if Monsieur had said [the sort of thing] on my behalf that he did on yours.

THE PHILOSOPHER: I would be sorry if one or the other of you were unhappy. That is why I shall respond to what I have set forth in order to bring you into accord, and then you may dispute as much as you wish. What I have said does not prevent one from having some knowledge, for at least one knows that the objects of the senses appear dlfferently according to the different dispositions of the organ. That is what leads us to investigate why a taste is agreeable to one and disagreeable to another, or why gorse is sweet to a goat and bitter to man. We know we cannot hear all sounds, nor see all kinds of lights and colors, nor smell all kinds of odors, nor taste all flavors, nor discern every sort of cold and hot. For the objects must surpass [in intensity] what is similar to them within the organ. We do not doubt that many degrees of all kinds of qualities and of operations are too subtle for our senses, and that the light that made a thing seem to us white, being a bit more opaque, renders it yellow, then purple, green, etc. One cannot doubt, either, that in passing from one color to another it engenders a thousand others that we do not perceive, either because of their feebleness or by reason of the speed and of the change undergone.

Now we know with certainty that all this variety is why the understanding does not follow the simple apprehension of a sensation but compares all things before it forms a conception and a judgement that it would want to retain as scientific and resolved. It does not matter that the eye errs, for man corrects himself by means of the other senses until he arrives at the certitude necessary for true knowledge. Now, even if the beasts perceive objects otherwise than we, we need not worry about it, for we do not understand their speech, no more than they know what we are saying. It is enough for us to know things according as they are proportioned to us. As for morals, that is, human civil and canon law, it is enough that it be accommodated to the manner of living we have and to what is the law and service of God, Who demands nothing more of us. If we are thought simple by the barbarians, it concerns us very little. For, besides being ready to defend our life customs, we have natural and divine law, which guides us to everything pertinent to our salvation, a consideration that goes beyond anything one might say. But it is time for me to let you talk and debate your opinions.

CHAPTER THREE, In which the Pyrrhonian undertakes to prove that, contrary to what the Alchemist has said, one can know nothing for certain.

THE SCEPTIC: Tell me now, Monsieur Alchemist, you who have the habit of boasting so about your experiments with your salts, your sulphurs, and your mercuries, do you see, do you perceive in all these principles anything other than the image and the species of color, or of the reflected light of bodies? Do you perceive anything other than the simulacre of simulacres? What knowledge can you have by smell, which perceives only the smoke or the vapor of bodies; or by touch, which feels only the cold and the hot (while that which seems cold being applied to another will seem to be hot)? Furthermore, we do not sense the species and images of things in their purity, for they change and are altered in passing tilrough the air, as is apparent in light, which appears now yellow, now green, or some other color depending on the different bodies through which it passes. Who knows if the tunics and the humors of our eyes do not give it new tints? The species of the other senses are no less changed, for sounds and smells passing through the air take on its conditions and its accidents; tastes and images of touch are altered by the skin and by its different temperaments. In sum, we perceive nothing that is not changed. As for God and the Angels, we see nothing of them except by effects that are as images and shadows of what lies within the Angelic World and in the Archetype. Thus, we are all like him who has been raised in a deep cavern and who has never seen anything but the shadow of all that passed by a small hole; we hardly know as much about what concerns divine things as the owl knows about the light of the sun.

We completely fool ourselves when we think we are speaking some truth, seeing that all that is in this world is in a perpetual ebb and flow, like running water. For we pass as a shadow: "Man never remains in the same state;" so that, when we say something about man, before we have finished saying it he is no longer what he was when we started. Nor do any other of the things with which we fill all our discourses have the same appearance a quarter of an hour later: their quantity changes, grows, or diminishes perpetually, and heat incessantly alters them. If you wish the stars to be inalterable, you cannot [have it so] if they are of fire or of the flower of the elements; and there is no way to observe them in one definite place, for they are in perpetual motion. [Indeed] we do not even know whether they move or the earth rolls.

Protagoras was right when he said, omnia vera cuilibet prout apparent, "all things are true according as they appear to each [of us]." The same thing will have a thousand colors, a thousand flavors, and a thousand odors if a thousand people see it differently. I do not know if those speak better who think that man is the measure and the judge of all things, and who rely on the judgment of experts and of artisans in what concerns their calling, since it oftens happens that what the physicians judge to be good for the patient brings him death or is harmful to him. I say the same for other artisans of whom neither their judgment nor their knowledge can be more stable than their own nature; it must be, then, that, as they are continually changed and altered, their knowledge changes also. For it is acquired only by means of the senses, which use animal spirits that are sometimes subtler, sometimes grosser, and that consequently cause opinions to be changed from time to time.

I do not know if I should go farther by maintaining that we become frenetic and quite upset when we think we know something. For, when we perceive some object by our senses, we suffer and are changed in the very act of sensing, and in some way we lose our own nature. That can be seen in those who have been bitten by a mad dog and who bark and impress the image of small dogs in their sperm, and in those who are bitten by the tarantula, or even those who are subject to ecstasies. Thus what the Sage has said is quite true: "He who increases knowledge increases sorrow also, so that his study is the worst occupation, an affliction of the spirit and vanity."

But I ask you, how could we think we know something when we do not even know who we are, what our soul is, if it is a Platonic number that moves itself, if it is the blood of Critias, the atoms of Democritus, the fire of Empedocles, the elementary harmony of Aristoxenes, the Galenic temperament, the respired air of Varro, the aerial and luminous particles of the Manichee and the Pythagoreans, the hot and corporeal spirit of Telesius. In sum, the poor soul lies within its body like a smith who has been at his forge in perpetual shadows and who has worked inside without knowing when, how, or by whom he had been locked in that shop, and who has asked passers-by their opinion on [the matter], not even knowing whether he had been working well or badly. We do not know how we sleep, how we sense, or how our other operations are carried out. What I think to be good, another judges [to be] bad; there are as many opinions and fantasies as there are men, so that this world can be called a cage of fools and of madmen, and the body the tomb of the soul, in which it cannot know anything until that body is resurrected. For it now has only a dying life, or a living death, that which led Saint Paul to say, "Who shall free me from the body of this death?", and Euripides [to say], "Who knows whether the living are dead and the dead living?" Who knows whether we should believe those who are awake rather than those who sleep, the sick rather than those in good health, the poor rather than the rich, the Chinese rather than the Italian? Nevertheless, they all have different opinions, just as do children and old people.

Surely, someone who wanted to maintain that the most ignorant are wiser and more learned than those thought to be the wisest and the most learned would not lack arguments, for an ignorant Columbus found the New World, while the learned theologian Lactantius and the wise philosopher Xenophanes denied it; Flavius the Nautonnier and some other base artisans invented the use of the magnetic compass, of the cannon, and of printing; and fools and the ignorant produce a number of marvels that the most learned cannot even comprehend.

Did not the great St. Augustine say of St. Anthony, "Fools rise up and take the Kingdom of God, but we with our sciences are cast down into the darkness?" And the Prophet threatened the learned when he said, "I shall lose the wisdom of the wise, and I shall reprove the prudence of the prudent," just as the Apostle [said], "God made the wisdom of this world foolish." When the greatest teachers think they know something, it is then that they understand nothing, as we have experienced in the opinion of St. Augustine, who thought he knew there were no antipodes. St. Thomas even denied there were people living below the equator. When they thought they knew nothing, they spoke well and, turning toward Heaven, caught up in ecstasy, looking like dead people, they spoke wonders, even though they were thought of as fools by many. That was what Aristotle and Galen thought of the Sibyls, what the Gentiles thought of the Apostles and Our Lord, for Lucian and those of his band held their whole doctrine to be a fable. One hardly knows if the living are wiser and more learned than the dead, for the Apostle said to those thought to be awake and rather wise, ". . . now it is high time to awake out of sleep," [Rom.13:11] and to those thought to be fools, "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God," [Coloss.3:3] and in another place, "You are dead to the world." Solomon cries on high, "We madmen think their life insane." If I wanted to report all the foolish opinions of those who have been held to be great philosophers, I would never be done. Do you not see that Aristotle denied that the sun was hot, and that he maintained that odors, flavors, and colors come from elements that do not, in his opinion, have color, or odor, or flavor, and that the form was drawn from the heart of matter? Heraclitus thought all things were in perpetual motion, with nothing fixed or immobile. Zeno said the complete opposite, that is, that there was no motion. Parmenides and Melissus [said] that everything we see was one and the same thing and that when water or a horse seemed to us to be something else the senses were deceived. Democritus [said] that there was nothing that was one, seeing that everything was composed of diverse atoms, and that there was no heat, color, odor, or flavor except as an appearance caused by the mixture of these atoms. Philolaus and Copernicus [said] that the earth was mobile in the fourth heaven and the sun immobile at the center of the world. Epicurus [said] that there was nothing but what we feel. Plato [said] that what we perceive does not have true being, but only that which is intelligible. Pythagoras thought he remembered he had been Euphorbus and Thais, having passed from one body into another, and Ennius [thought] he had been Homer. Anaxagoras [said] that the snow is black; Telesius, that it is hot. Muhammad [said] that there is one heaven that is of stone, another that is of water, and of fire, and that there are Angels with horns of snow and of fire who bear the seat of God; that a steer with his head to the east and his tail to the west bears seven earths; that the mountain Caf supports the heavens lest they fall; and a thousand other quite ridiculous things, which nevertheless many think to be true. The Apostles called the gibbet "sweet cross" and tortures "delights". In sum, the world is so diverse in its opinions that one does not know who speaks best.

You will answer me that each science has its certain and evident principles from which one draws certain conclusions, but I am of the contrary opinion, for I find nothing certain in any of the sciences. Now, in order that you not think that I speak without reason, listen to me, please.

What is there for certain in Metaphysics, which has for its principles being and non-being? Now we do not know if there is some being, since many say that sensible things have no being; as for intelligibles, there are those who deny them completely. In fact, we do not perceive them, and it seems that everything we do sense is only an empty appearance, seeing that what I find beautiful and good, hot and tasty, consonant and agreeable to the ear, another judges ugly and bad, cold and insipid, dissonant and quite disagreeable; thus two contraries would be true at the same time [ensemble] if what we sense were veritable and real, and two contradictories could subsist together, for the same thing would be and not be, seeing that what I think to be many others believe is not. There, then, is Metaphysics upset, and Logic [with it], for Anaxagoras and Democritus hold that two contradictories can be true at the same time, and the latter says that, "There is nothing true in nature, or it is not open to us." I refrain from saying that all things are composed of plenum and void, or good and evil, of power and impotence, which would aid me greatly in verifying the contradictories. Surely there is no agreement on the principles of this science, if it is the one and the many, as Pythagoras wanted; if it is the finite and the infinite, as the Platonists thought; or act and potency, as Aristotle said. And many have rejected all Metaphysics.

As for Mathematics, it is grounded only on unity or on the point, which are chimeras grounded on air. Its definitions, problems, and propositions suppose many things that are false, such as: that a sphere touches a plane surface in one point only; that every continuous [quantity] can be divided ad infinitum (which being supposed, there will be no more motion; otherwise it would be composed of infinitely many parts and thus it would be infinite, and we could never see the end, however small it were -- a grain of sand would be as large as the whole earth, since it would have an infinity of parts just like her, for one infinite is no greater than another infinite).

There is no need to show the emptiness of astronomy, seeing that the diverse opinions of past centuries, and of this one, concerning the number of the heavens and of the stars testify more than enough to its uncertainty. I want you only to consider the variety of the epicycles and eccentricities to make you quit this vanity. It is even worse in 'the case of astrology, for you will hardly find two men who agree with the direction of the forecasters to the horoscopers, the ones using the equinoctial for their subject, the others the zodiac. None among them has been able to give a reason why Jacob and Esau, born and conceived at the same time, had such diverse temperaments, nor why so many people who are engendered on different days, in different years, indeed in different centuries, die in war on the same days or succumb to some other accident. All the astrologers have imaginary principles, which they have either made up or taken from Ptolemy or from some other more ancient source.

Perspective [i.e. optics] has not yet been able to teach whether we see by the rays of the eyes going outward or by those of the objects entering [the eye]. Indeed, we do not know whether it is inside or outside ourselves that we see. Light, just like color, shows that all the philosophers and all the mathematicians know nothing for certain.

Music is nothing but appearance, since what I find agreeable another finds discordant according to his mind [esprit]. [Since] no one gives any reason why the octave, the fifth, and the fourth are consonances rather vthan a seventh or a second, perhaps the latter are the true consonallces and the others the dissonances. For, if this number here agrees with one [person], that one there pleases another, wherefore it comes about that the King of the Scythians took greater pleasure in the whinnying of a horse than in the music of Ismenias, and others prefer the cry of pigs to the harmony of organs. There is nothing so doubtful as the principles of nature, for Empedocles wishes to establish love and hate, Thales wants only water as a principle, Diogenes air, Anaximenes vapor, Heraclitus fire (which he calls "heaven" when it is boiling, "air" when it is tepid, and "earth" when it is extinguished, so that all generation takes place through extension and rarefaction, or restriction and condensation of that fire). Anaxagoras wants nothing but his Chaos and what he calls "mind" [mens, i.e. the Greek NOUS], which draws everything from that chaos.

Hesiod is of about the same opinion, joining love with Chaos. Parmenides said "All is One", but he posited fire and earth for physics, wherein Campanella seems to follow him with his cold and his heat (which he took from his master, Telesius) and with his sun and his earth, which he establishes as active principles, just as [he establishes] matter and space as passive [principles]. But, as for the principles of Metaphysics, he calls them potency, wisdom, and love. I would never be done if I wished to report all the imaginings of men; it will be enough if I add your Paracelsus, who posits three principles: salt, sulphur, and mercury. Now, I ask you, who among all these personages speaks truly, seeing as each so defends his principles that he thinks those who are of the contrary opinion are foolish and ignorant? For the Stoics with their Spirit and their elementary matter, Plato with his Ideas and his Matter, Pythagoras with his Members, Democritus with his Void and his Atoms, and Patricius with his Light are ready to rise up against the Paracelsians, and the latter against the former.

Ethics [Morale] is no less doubtful, for one builds an infinity of chimeras on the principle, "Embrace good, eschew evil," one saying that one thing is good and another that it is bad; a third will come along who will hold it to be indifferent. For each most often follows his preference when he judges moral issues. Should we not say instead, "What is pleasing is permitted," a law established, we are told, by Semiramis in Babylon? We see that the diverse goals that men set for themselves cause them to embrace different ways of living and of believing. What principles can those have who have placed the sovereign good in the body's pleasure and the sovereign evil in its pain? Others have placed it in money, in profit, in virtue, in honor, in speculative wisdom, in self-preservation, and in many other quite diverse things.

Some say it is good to have many wives, others [say it is] evil. Some attribute to Solon a law that approves of sodomy. Theft was approved by the Spartans. The Turks think that it is sin to drink wine. Many Americans hold it an honor to eat human flesh. To whom can we refer in order to know what is good or bad, since each person thinks of it and judges of it differently? Those of Brazil keep to their beds after their wives have been confined, as if they had given birth.

As for justice, if one renders it, one will be thought a fool. What would one say if the Romans and the Spanish rendered all they have acquired of others' goods and returned to inhabit the small abodes they had previously? Did not Solomon himself say that ". . . there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness," [Eccl.7:15] to which he added, "Be not righteous overmuch; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?" [Eccl.7:16]

Do you want me to say a word about Religion, in which there is so much variety and dogmatism [opinionastreté]? I do not wish to report to you the diversity of the gods and of the manners of serving them and of adoring them. It would be necessary to transcribe [here] the City of St. Augustine, Tertullian, and Arnobius. Our own times are enough to make us see how diverse men are in their beliefs. The Turks think that God is corporeal and that He is borne by two Angels, whose eyes are so far apart that a bird would take a thousand years to fly from one to the other.

The Christians say that He is incorporeal, three and one, that His Son was crucified, and that they eat Him at the Sacrament. Some sacrifice hecatombs to Him, and Diogenes in mockery sacrificed a leech on the altar of Diana. Finally, some mock others and engage in cruel wars to that end. Whom should one believe? Of those who have a divinity, there are some who deny its providence, such as the Machiavellians, who use religion as a fable. Of those who are Christians, there are some who argue over the Scripture they follow, there being almost as many diverse sects in Christianity as among the rest of the other nations. Now all these sects believe they will be saved and the others will be damned. It is a marvelous thing to see that men are so different in their opinions and in their beliefs. And why? Is there evidence that God worries about them, or that He permits all this? Who shall we say is the most foolish or the wisest, Democritus, who mocked all these opinions as folly, or the people, who impounded Hippocrates to cure him of his smile and of his mockery as [they would] of a madness?

Truly Solomon, after having considered everything, speaks well: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." [Eccl.1:2] Each conducts himself according to his temperament, according to which he judges differently, as Empedocles and Parmenides remarked:

Ut vario semper mutato corpore quisque,
Sic sapere est illi mutato, ac mente moveri:
Namque ut quisque suam retinet per membra reflexa
Temperiem, sic mente valet mortalis ubique.
Anaxagoras, instructed in this lesson, said that things were as they seem, and Parmenides said that God was the spirit of all things, who judged one way in himself, another way in plants, and another way in us. Let him who wishes seek the truth within the well of Democritus, in the shadows of Anaxagoras, or in the dialogues of Plato; he will always find some Socrates who, playing the role of all mortals, will say that he knows well that he knows nothing, or an Arcesilaus who will say that he does not even know whether he knows nothing or he knows something.

It seems that those of our sect have learned the lesson of the great Solomon, who confesses freely that we know nothing: "I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me," [Eccl. 7:23] and that the more one tries to become wise and learned, the more ignorant one becomes: "Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea farther; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it." [Eccl.8:17] All things are so difficult that there is no way of explaining them: "All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it . " [Eccl. 1: 8] Whence he calls the desire to know ". . . this sore travail [which God hath] given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith." [Eccl.1:13] Finally, he finds nothing but "time and chance in all things," [nothing] but chance and fortuitous meetings, so that the Apostle spoke well, "For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself." [Galat . 6 : 3 ]

But I fear I am boring you. That is why I want to add no more than three words about names and manners of speaking [dictions] which serve us for stating our conceptions, for there is nothing more ridiculous than [the notion] that they [names, etc.] should signify the essence of each thing. Names are given only by chance, with neither rhyme nor reason. I ask you to think whether the name "bread", which signifies to us what we ordinarily eat, has been well applied and what reason one has to call it by that name rather than by that of "stone" or by some other name, seeing that it is named differently in different countries. "Stone" signifies a stone no better than a piece of fire, which can injure the foot just as well as a stone. What resemblance is there between gladius and ensis [two Latin words for "sword"], which signify the same thing?

Certainly, if we look at the way in which we speak of God when we say that He is angry, that He hates sin, etc., we will see our great folly, which St. Paul perceived after having been caught up in ecstasy. For he assures us that our words are not capable of expressing what he saw. St. Catherine of Siena, stepping out of ecstasy, said the same thing and added that all discussions which we have about God were blasphemies. Homer seems to have guessed this when he said that the river Xanthus of Troy was called "Scamander" among the Gods, and St. Bridget said that the world was called at the beginning "wisdom of God."

If we cast a glance at the Poets, at the Orators, and at the Grammarians, we will find nothing but fabulous, contrived, and metaphorical names. The Astronomers have need of hellebore when they fill the heavens with their fabulous stories. And, not to forget you, Monsieur Alchemist, what madness leads you to call quicksilver "Mercury," silver "Moon," copper "Jupiter," tin "Venus," iron "Mars," lead "Saturn," and gold "Sun?" In sum, let one consult everything there is in the world; you will find that names are very badly applied. There, those are the arguments that I wanted to propose to you in order to prove to you my opinion, which is that one cannot know anything. If you have something to say in response, do the best you can, and, if you find yourself short, as I expect, with all your Athenors, so that you are forced to confess that you cannot respond, cease this arrogance that blinds you, for you cannot know anything at all.

THE PHILOSOPHER: Courage, Sir; if your alchemy does not provide for all the objections of this Pyrrhonian, who makes such a fuss, I shall assist you to deprive him of the good opinion that he has conceived of his arguments.

CHAPTER FOUR, In which the Alchemist responds as best he can to the preceding arguments of the Sceptic.


CHAPTER FIVE, In which the Christian Philosopher responds to the arguments of the Sceptic.

I applaud the division that some now make of all the sciences, among which there are those that treat their object according as it is sensed by us (e.g. Medicine, Rhetoric, Poetry, Music, Perspective, Astrology, Grammar, and others) [and] there are those that speak of their subject according to its true nature and its essence, without regard to our senses (e.g. Physics and Metaphysics). That is why one should not expect that every sort of person will answer you in the same way when interrogated about the same thing. For those who have no other knowledge than that by which they know that such and such an individual thing is useful and suited to us do not judge these things absolutely. For example, the Physician [Medecin] will say that lettuce is cold and that water has no odor, because we do not sense any odor. But the Physicist [Phisicien] will say that, speaking absolutely, lettuce is hot, since it is nourished and engendered by heat, and that water may have some odor even though we do not sense it, any more than we perceive the odor left by a deer, a wolf, a fox, or a rabbit on the path it has traveled, something a dog notices quite well. Who knows whether birds of prey do not sense the odor of the birds they pursue through the air?

The Astrologer says that the moon is cold and that Saturn is malevolent. Nevertheless, the Philosopher will say that these stars are, on the contrary, hot and benevolent, or at least that they are neither hot nor cold. The Musician will respond that the things we do not hear render no sound and that there are only three or four agreeable consonances. But he that shall know things as they truly are, without regard to our capacities, will assure [us] that the motion or rupture of the air and of water makes a sound even though one does not hear it, and that there are many other consonances, since many sounds are pleasing to beasts even though they displease us. Perspective discourses of colors, of magnitudes, and of shapes as they appear to us. In short, most people speak of what they see according to how it falls under their senses and according to their liking and inclination. That is why the Rhetoricians so highly praise the words of Cicero and of Vergil and fault those of the Philosophers and Theologians, although [the criticism] is out of place, since the latter study to find clearer and more significative words.

Now Physics and Metaphysics speak of everything absolutely, without regard to this one here or that one there, so that, when they touch the naked truth and teach us the thing as it is in itself, they can be called "wisdom," because we savor and enjoy things as they are. Now, in order that I do what I have promised, I shall begin with Metaphysics and then I shall talk of Logic, which is, so to speak, its second cousin. For, as the former has general principles about the being and essence of creatures, the latter has propositions and discourses that suit everything.

Metaphysics teaches that there are beings and natures and that everything that is, or that has an essence, is one, true, and good. As a principle it holds that it is impossible that one and the same thing be and not be, which is so true that one cannot doubt it, however little thought [esprit] or judgment one has. I do not believe that anyone has ever wanted to, or been able to, contradict this principle, unless it was in ignorance of what it meant. Whence it is that some malicious people, or idiots, have thought they were wrong [faus] when what appears to be green to the one seems gray or red to the other, or what I find sweet seems to you perhaps bitter; thus, they have concluded that one and the same thing was sweet and bitter, or that it was green and was not [green], which seems to entail a manifest contradiction. But, before speaking that way, they should have sought instruction about the sense one must give to the axiom of Metaphysics, to wit, that it is impossible that one and the same thing be and not be with respect to the same time, to the same sense, to the same judgment, and to the same thought [consideration], according to which we discourse about the proposed thing. Otherwise it will not be strange if one should find some one thing that at the same time appears round and square, or large and small, when it is viewed by two people differently situated, or by one and the same person looking at it from two different places, or when some new circumstance is added. For then the truth of the axiom will not extend to that thing, because it does not permit one to change, to diminish, or to add any circumstance.

Logic similarly has its very certain principles, for it is certain that the discourse one makes by the disposition of the figures that it teaches primarily (which one calls "syllogisms of the first figure") is good and certain. But its major principle is similar to that of Metaphysics, to wit, that what one says of a thing about which one is speaking is true or false, but it cannot be true and false at the same time and according to the same thought [consideration]. For, while a thing is, it cannot happen that it not be, or that it be a nothing while it is something. I am certain that there is no Sceptic so doubting that he will not agree with me that there is something in the world and that what we touch, what we taste, or what we see, is something, even though we judge it differently according to the diverse disposition of the senses.

Physics, which seems to be the most doubtful, has its known object, for who can deny that there is body and motion? Is there not light, [are there not] quantities, causes, a thousand other things that fall under the senses, which [physics] treats? It does not matter that there are so many different opinions touching the principles of nature, for everyone has known something veritable, even though they have mixed in some errors because they have not considered all the causes, the circumstances, and the effects.

So now it is up to us to see what they have said right, and where they have erred, so that we might accept what there is that is veritable in order to perfect it, and to reject the error. Now I want to make you see this in the opinion[s] of the ancients and first of all in that of Thales, who set water as the principle of all things because he thought that the earth floated on an infinite [body of] water (for one had not yet heard tell of the antipodes); what's more,the spermatic virtue seems to reside in the humors, and the air is made of rarefied water, whence the earth is also formed when it is thickened. But he erred in that water (besides not being infinite) is not active and does not engender other water. It is, rather, made of earth softened by the sun; also, it is necessary that the seed be engendered by heat.

Anaximander and Diogenes also erred in thinking that all the world was a mist [vapeur], or an air, because they believed that the earth was only as a point with respect to their extension. But they were wrong, for, if the earth were converted into mist, it would be as large as all the air; moreover, since it is not air that has the greatest force in nature, it cannot be the principle. Heraclitus approached more closely to the truth when he chose fire, to which he should have added earth, in order to have hot and cold, light and darkness, motion and rest, rarity and density. I think that by these two principles one can explain everything that is in nature, for, since water is made from earth and air from rarefied water, there is no need to set them as first principles of natural things.

I refrain from speaking now about the Platonic members, which serve only to explain the effects and the systems of nature, [as I leave aside also] the ideas and divine art of the Stoics, for I am not speaking here of the first cause that is all-powerful, all-wise, and all-good; that belongs either to Metaphysics or to Theology.

As for the principles of the Alchemists, I hold that salt, sulphur, and mercury are not the first principles, for they can again be resolved into two bodies, to wit, earth and water, by the force of the fire that causes all that we see in the alembic, either by new generation or by a simple alteration or separation. And I believe that these three bodies are only the second or third sensible principles, and not the first.

Ethics is no less certain than Physics, for, if it is true that corpus naturale mobile est, that a natural body can be moved, it is no less true that malum fugiendum, et bonum amplectendum, that one should flee and hate evil and embrace and love good.

There is no people, or law, that does not accept this principle. Now, to know if what one proposes is good, one must examine if it conserves our nature insofar as it is reasonable [i.e. rational]. For, if it destroys it, it is bad. Or, if you want to take a more sublime and more certain rule, everything that is pleasing to God and all that He commands us to do is good, and all that is displeasing to Him is bad.

One must note, however, that laws and ways of behaving are very different in diverse parts of the world because of different opinions and diverse temperaments. But all that does not disprove [repugne] the truth of Ethics or of Politics, for it is always true that one must love good and hate evil. Now, to know that good and that evil, one must examine the end [i.e. purpose], for nothing more or less than the rule and the object of the understanding is the truth that we follow as our guide in intellectual matters, and the object of the operation is that which is feasible, just as the end is the level on which Ethics should be conducted, so that everything that goes against the end and the sovereign good of the reasoning creature is contrary to reason and consequently is bad.

It is by lack of having that end and that sovereign good before one's eyes that a large part of the world is lost, each according to his brutish appetite, and that all the libertines head at a gallop toward Hell with all the Devils to be burned forever. Please to God you retreat from your Pyrrhonism in order not to fall into that misery. The spirit never has so much pain, affliction, and disquiet as when it has nothing to which to attach itself, being always a vagabond and wandering to and fro without any rest. Why don't you take God as your ultimate end and as your sovereign good? Could you have a more noble idea in your mind or a clearer model for forming your actions? All the rest is but brutishness. I assure you that, if you embrace this foundation of Ethics, you will have more contentment in an hour than you have ever had in your whole life since you amused yourself with the opinion of the Sceptics.

It is by consideration of this end that all the virtues were established; it is in that way that good laws are the virtues of Republics, and particular virtues are the laws of private persons. It is for that reason that justice is preserved, Anarchy is ruined, Monarchy is established, Aristocracies and Democracies flourish. In sum, it is the way that the whole world is preserved.

I shall now respond to the objection you raised against Ethics and against Politics and say that to embrace the bad as good comes only from one's not knowing the sovereign good or from one's not wanting to follow what it inspires in us, as you yourself perceived when you recognized the diverse ends that those have followed who have approved or commanded what was bad, such as are the vices and sins you have touched on. s for indifferent things, such as drinking wine or beer, and a thousand other similar things, there is no need for us to go to any trouble, for it matters little or nothing to virtue and to good morals, provided that temperance reigns; that is the main thing.

As to the passage of Solomon taken from Ecclesiastes, Chapter 7, he confesses that one of the things that seem to him full of vanity is to see an evildoer prosper and live long in his malice. But he does not mean that one should not return the goods of others. Now, to know if what the kings and emperors took and won by an upper hand over other kings should be returned, and what laws [titres] can guarantee they will render it, these are questions and disputes of law, on which we shall not now tarry. Now, in order to get to what pertains to Ecclesiastes, I say that the providence of God is greatly reflected in the fact that the good are afflicted and live short lives, for that shows that there is after this life a recompense that will be given to them. It is there that the crown of immortality is saved for them, in the place where eternal torment is readied for the evildoers. But, as there is no one so bad that he does not do some good, or who does not say one good word, or at least have one good thought or one good intention, God, who is all-just, wishes to leave nothing without recompense. That is why He often gives beautiful children, great wealth, happy encounters, good health, long life, or some other sort of temporal wealth to the evildoers, so that the little good they do here is here recompensed, knowing very certainly that they shall have no reward after death.

Clearly, He gives them all these comforts in order that, aware [prevenus] of such benedictions, favors, and grace, they will abandon their malice, turn back to the Author of all good, and render Him thanks. By contrast the good are afflicted and live short lives in order that the sins into which they sometimes fall be effaced and that they suffer no more torment after this life. The afflictions also serve to make them disdain all the vanities of this life and to make them aspire to heaven, where our last abode is.

The other verse teaches us only that we must not think ourselves to be so just that there is nothing to fault in us, and that we must not become arrogant and overbearing even though we faithfully exercise justice or some other virtue. For all that we have comes from God; it would be insupportable temerity to think that we could carry out any act of virtue without the grace of God, which is more necessary to us for behaving well than light is for seeing colors or fire and heat for warming us.

Some explain this verse by [reference to] those who are so scrupulous that they go as far as superstition; in the ranks of these one can place certain persons who think they have never said their prayers well unless they repeat the same thing two or three times, or unless they cry and sigh loudly in reciting them. It seems that the ancients forged their saying, "Measure is best" or their "Nothing to excess," as well as "Moderation is best" and "Seek the mean," on this verse of Solomon. Plutarch did not do badly to add piety to this opinion in his Life of Camillus, "Piety and moderation in all things is the best," and Alpheus concluded quite well when he said, "Nothing to excess pleases me to excess."

I believe one will not err if one explains [the verse] in this sense, to wit: that, when it is a question of condemning someone or of punishing him or of excusing oneself, one must not examine the life of another too closely nor excuse oneself with too many inventions; rather, one must confess one's fault. One can also understand [the verse] in the following sense, to wit: that one must not be too curious to know, or to want to penetrate into, the divine realm [cabinet divin], for it is true that "He knows who does not know more than is right."

But let us leave this Ethics here, for I believe I have satisfied you on the point, and it seems to me that we can pass on to the objection you raised concerning the uncertainty of religions. On that [matter] I reply to you that, even though each pretends to be right in his sect, nevertheless those who do not follow the light of the Gospels are quite far from their account [conte] and from the true way. You should not be astonished if there be some kind of martyr among the heretical sects, since the Devil has his own. Now, in order to remove that difficulty for you, I ask only that you grant me what will be reasonable in the matter of religion, for that [religion] which will set out for us the most reasonable means and motives for knowing, serving, and honoring the sovereign Author of all things; that [religion] which will reserve the highest place for virtue and which will detest vice most; that [religion] which will have the most virtuous people and which will have the greatest witnesses of God, the Angels, and the Saints, will doubtlessly be the true Religion and the sole manner of serving God. I believe that there is no man of good judgment on the earth who will not agree with this, so that there remains nothing but to show that the Christian, Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Religion is such as I have said. Thereafter you should be satisfied on this point and abandon your doubts, which are grounded in the moving sand of libertine caprice.

First, we should believe what has been passed down from all time and which has borne the most ancient belief rather than what is newer. Now, we have nothing more ancient than the true Religion, for it is founded from the beginning of the world in Adam, Abel, Seth, Enos, and their successors, as is taught by the Pentateuch, which is the most authentic and most ancient book in the world and which has always been believed by those who have adored the true God.

That book furnishes us such a large quantity of miracles and of favors that those who have followed the doctrine written in the book have received from God that it is impossible that a good mind not admire, not grant, and not adore divine providence when it considers so many graces and gifts [prodiges] that the eternal has bestowed in consideration of the Hebrews and the Israelites. But, please, see what Prophecies, what oracles, what predictions have been made throughout Holy Scripture. Who has ever been able to foretell future things so long before they happened and with so many circumstances as have the Prophets? Who could have guessed that Our Savior Jesus Christ should come to endure death in order to ransom us from Hell and from death, if he had not been sent and illumined by the true God? "Search the scriptures (says Our Lord); for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." [John 5:39] And then, "For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me." [John 5:46]

I would never finish if I wanted to report all the miracles that God and the Saints have done for the sake of the Christian Religion, which we can say has been approved and confirmed so powerfully by the miracles, by the blood of the martyrs, by the good life of Christians, by the victory carried off over all the Philosophers, by the manner in which the Gospels have been planted and have spread in the hearts, the wills, and the minds of Emperors, Kings, Princes, Philosophers, rich men, poor men, wise men, and idiots, that it is henceforth impossible that a well formed and reflected judgment considering all these miracles should doubt the truth of our faith, which alone has the seal and the infallible mark of heaven for its patents.

Never has any heretic or pagan, not to say any Jew, Schismatic, or Turk, been able to do miracles to prove that the sect and the opinion that they follow in the matter of Religion were veritable. It is to Apostolic Roman Catholics alone that this has been reserved, as also to the true children of Jesus Christ who so illuminate His Church that it can never be dulled by the tenebrous opinions of the Atheists and Deists, or by your Pyrrhonisms, or by heresies, or by all of Hell. Surely if you do not want to remain on the path of perdition, you must enter heart and soul into this Church, which cannot be deceived unless God first deceives us, which is entirely impossible; [He cannot deceive us] any more than He can be deceived, because of his infinite knowledge.

Now I believe that this suffices for you not to have any more doubt concerning the True Religion. If I had leisure, and if I believed that it were necessary to show you that all the other sects have erred as much in what concerns faith and in what concerns good morals, I would do it with singular pleasure. But I believe that you have enough judgment to recognize these errors if you would take the time and trouble to consider them closely.

THE SCEPTIC: Sir, you have greatly satisfied me up to now. Be assured that I would not have sat so long without replying to you or without interrupting you if your discourse and your arguments had not charmed and carried away my mind. Nevertheless, I want you to know that I have never espoused any religion other than the Catholic, for, as you have quite correctly noted, of all the sects in the world there is none that so prizes virtue and abhors vice and that could show true miracles as its foundation as does the Catholic Church. But you have not responded to what I said about the other natural sciences, particularly Mathematics, which seems to me pure dreaming. That is why it is not without basis that one calls those who engage in it [Mathematics] "Master Fools" [Maistres Mates], for they are just about all fools, and it is about the same to say that someone is a mathematician as to say that he is a fool. In addition you have said nothing in opposition to what I have said concerning names, to wit, that they are badly given to each thing. When you have satisfied me on this, I shall abandon Pyrrhonism to embrace what I shall be able to recognize as veritable in each science.

CHAPTER SIX, In which the Sceptic is satisfied about the giving of names and on what concerns the true Religion.


CHAPTER SEVEN, In which the Sceptic overturns Alchemy.


CHAPTER EIGHT, In which the Alchemist reviews the doctrine and the life of Aristotle and explains all the symbols that the Chemists are wont to use.


CHAPTER NINE, In which the Christian Philosopher says what he thinks of the discourses that the Sceptic and the Alchemist have held and shows when, how, and in what things one can abandon the doctrine and the opinions of Aristotle.


CHAPTER TEN, In which the Philosopher approves something of Alchemy, shows that the philosophy of Aristotle is subtler than that of the furnace, and sets out some errors of Aristotle.


CHAPTER ELEVEN, Where the foundations of Scepticism are explicated and overturned, particularly [in] what pertains to the ten modes of retention they use to suspend their judgment.


CHAPTER TWELVE, In which the Pyrrhonian sets out other foundations by which he suspends his judgment.


CHAPTER THIRTEEN, In which the Alchemist argues against the Sceptic, overturns what he has said, and reveals the impiety of the Libertines of our day; and where it is decided whether Aristotle and St. Thomas wrote books on Alchemy.


CHAPTER FOURTEEN, In which the Sceptic defends himself against the Alchemist and the Philosopher, sets forth his criterium, and tries to overturn [the concept of] demonstration, the syllogism, and all that is most certain in Logic and in the other sciences.


CHAPTER FIFTEEN, In which the Christian Philosopher replies to the Sceptic and refutes all the objections made in the preceding chapter.

THE PHILOSOPHER: If the greatest sickness of the mind can be the medicine of the soul, I agree with you that your suspension will bring it relief. For, since reason is blinded by Pyrrhonism, it can no longer discern anything, in as much as it draws a curtain to hide the truth and obscures the eyes of the mind more strongly than the thickest cataracts obscure the eyes of the body.

All your arguments and the whole discourse you have made in favor of your sect aim at proving that we have no judge to whom we might refer; for everything you have said against demonstration and the syllogism does not even merit being spoken about.

Now I maintain not only that man is judge of the truth of things, but also that each sense is judge of its proper objects, the eye of light and colors, the ear of sounds, and so on for the others. It does not matter that Campanella and some others say that there is only one sense, to wit, touch, which is subtler and quicker in the eye than in the rest of the body. For that does not prevent the eye from judging light, the ear sounds, smell aromas, and taste flavors. I say, then, that, when the eye perceives the light of the sun at full midday, it makes us very sure that it is day, even if there be animals who might not perceive that light, or if some malady of the eye or of the mind should hinder us from seeing it.

The common sense is above all the external senses; their operations lead to it as lines from the circumference terminate at the center, in order that it judge the sensible difference among colors, sounds, smells, and other objects of the external senses. But the understanding is above the internal and the external senses; that is why it receives and gathers lthe operations of the one and the other, unites them in an intelligible point, and judges them as a last resort. Thus, it recognizes, reviews, and corrects the faults and misuses that may have occurred by indisposition or incapacity of the senses, as we see when it concludes that the diameter of the sun is greater than a royal foot, even though it does not appear that large, and that a tower that seems round when viewed from afar is [in fact] square.

I could even accept all the conditions that you demand in order that the judgment of what is proposed be veritable, for, if you were to consult all men on the earth in order to know of them whether they think and whether they believe that fire is hot, they would all respond by common consent that it is hot, and they would have those who doubted it burned in order that its heat draw witness of the truth from their senses and from their minds.

Now what I have said of heat is true of all the other things that we set forth as maxims and antecedents of our demonstrations, for there is no man in all the world who does not admit that the whole is greater than one of its parts and that everything is composed of parts. I leave aside a thousand other maxims that we use and that are as evident as those and as the others I have adduced above, on which I am sure you have not dared touch, since you know full well that you would hardly have come out with honor. That is why you have thrown yourself on your criterium, which is of no use to you in maintaining your suspension, since you clearly see that the senses are not deceived when they carry out their operations on their proper objects and all the required conditions are observed.

You believe perhaps that it cannot happen that the understanding not be deceived in its operation and in its conceptions and ideas, when the senses have been fooled at the discovery of an external object. But it goes about its task quite differently from what you think, for it supplements what the external and even the internal senses lack, and it does this by means of a spiritual and universal light that it has had by its very nature since the beginning of creation. That is what the kingly Prophet perhaps wished to signify when he said, "The light of Your face shines upon us, O Lord."

That natural light of the mind is actuated and set in action by means of meditation, of study, of experience, and of the sciences. Nevertheless, it will never be fully actualized until we enjoy eternal glory and the supernatural light carries the small ray of our natural light to the knowledge of the divine essence. It is to that that the same prophet invites us when he says, "We see the light in your light."

The circle and the alternative argument to which you object is not the vicious circle of which Aristotle speaks and which he forbids, for we do not prove the operations of the understanding by the operations of the senses in the manner that we prove the truth of the latter by the truth of the former. Rather, we use the senses as the cabinetmakers use their large chisels and their other grosser instruments to rough out what they need. For, as soon as the senses have given some indication of the object to the understanding, and it has some faint impression of what is going on outside, it examines all the circumstances and conditions of the object and makes no absolute judgment until it has taken account of everything that could be the cause of some deception or of some surprise. For example, when the eye perceives a tower which seems round, the understanding does not judge according to that report; rather, it commands the eye to approach the tower more closely, and the hand to take compasses and straightedge, or some other instruments, to see and test [expérimenter] what shape the tower has. After having made all sorts of experiments [expériences] necessary for obtaining certainty and evidence concerning that proposed question, it judges as last resort, so that it cannot be deceived, since the knowledge it has conforms to the truth of the object.

Now you would want the understanding not to be the sovereign judge but to be judged in turn by another judge, so as to involve us in an infinite regression and cause us to surrender maxims that are clear and evident. To this I respond that reason or understanding is similar to the straightedge that serves to judge a straight line and itself, or to the light of the sun which has no need of other light to be discovered. The senses serve only to apply objects to the understanding, for they cannot judge of the conformity it has with [those objects] nor of the intellectual truth that surpasses every sort of body. Nevertheless, we can say that the truth itself is a judge of the understanding. For, as soon as we apprehend something and think it veritable, if the truth later shows the contrary, as often happens in many encounters, the understanding abandons the opinion it had and embraces the truth of what was in question. That is nothing other than the conformity of that which is proposed with the understanding.

There is no need for me to respond to the arguments you have adduced against demonstration, for you do not consider that the arrangement of its propositions serves only to lead us more clearly to the truth and to knowledge of the things we do not know. Otherwise, the proposition one calls the major would alone suffice to make us grasp the conclusion, if, [that is], we had minds as clear-seeing as the Angels. For we would see in the maxim, "Every man is a rational animal," that Peter, Paul, and all other men taken individually are rational animals, in as much as the major is like the seed that contains and comprises the whole demonstration and is the pivot on which the whole syllogism carries out its motion.

Now we do not fall into the circle you imagine, for we do not prove in the last analysis that Peter is rational because all men are rational, but by the operations of the reason that men exercise. Thus we first use induction before establishing a universal proposition, so that this general maxim has no force except by virtue of the preceding induction, which it depends. That is why we take the universal proposition as a truth that is established by the aforementioned induction, which one no longer doubts, in order to apply it to a particular subject one doubts.

For the rest, I want to make you see that not every kind of circle is forbidden and that one can sometimes use it to good effect, following the example of Aristotle who uses, for example, the vapors which issue from the earth when it is watered and moist; these vapors produce clouds, which make rain, which waters the earth, so that the operations of nature are circular. That is why the number 5 is attributed to nature, in as much as it is circular; for, multiply 5 by itself and you will have 25, and 25 multiplied by itself will give a number that ends in 5, and so on consecutively ad infinitum, for 5 always returns. One might say the same for 6, which is similarly circular.

Now you should observe that the circle can be made in two ways: first, when one proves the cause by the effect and then the effect by the cause, as when we say that there is a lunar eclipse because the earth is between us and her, and then that the earth is between us and the moon because there is a lunar eclipse; second, when two things are so related that they mutually serve as cause [to one another] according to a different genus and a different consideration. Nevertheless, we prove the one by the other, as when one proves that a house must have a foundation, walls, and a roof because it has been built to protect us and to ward off the discomforts of weather, and then that it protects us from these discomforts because it has a foundation, walls, and a roof. The circle can be made in two ways in the examples I have set forth: first, when we do not know the conclusion except through the propositions, or premises, and nevertheless we prove these premises by the very conclusion that serves us as antecedent. Some call that circle formal because one comes back to the same thing by the same path, just as one returns to the same point on a circle. The second manner of circle, or of return, which they call material, occurs when we prove the premises by the conclusion known by means other than by the aforesaid premises. That is why we take a different path to arrive at the same truth. I admit that the formal circle should not be allowed when it is a question of proving some truth, in as much as the antecedent must be clearer and more evident than is the consequence, since discourse and reasoning, or demonstration, is a progression by which we come from a better known and clearer thing to something else less known and more obscure. Now the conclusion is more obscure than the premises when we know it only by the premises; hence, it cannot serve to prove its said premises, else the antecedent would be less known than the consequent and something would be proved by means of itself.

But one can use a material circle, by means of which the Philosopher [i.e. Aristotle] teaches in the first book of the Posterior [Analytics], Chapter 10, that one can show that the moon is round because its illumination is circular, and tat this illumination is circular because of the roundness of the moon. Whence I conclude that one can use the conclusion, or the consequence, to prove the premises or antecedents each and every time we have new knowledge of the conclusion, or of the consequence, by other means than by the aforesaid premises.


CHAPTER SIXTEEN, To know if Verulam, onetime Chancellor of England, is right in rejecting the syllogism; and what one can retain of his opinions.