Skeptical and Natural Philosophy

Michel De Montaigne

Who were the early seventeenth century “free thinkers” after Montaigne?

The “free thinkers” after Montaigne (1533–1592) combined Pyrrhonic skepticism with anti-Aristotelianism against both religious orthodoxy and traditional authority.

The most famous free thinkers, or libertines érudits, were Gabriel Naude (1600–1653), Guy Patin (1601–1672), François de la Mothe le Vayer (1588–1672), Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655), and Isaac la Peyrère (1588–1672). Naude and Patin were humanists with little interest in scientific claims. But La Mothe Le Vayer took up skepticism to undermine scientific knowledge. Out of this group, only Gassendi had a lasting influence on the course of both “natural philosophy” (what we would today call science) and philosophy proper.


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