Rational Ignorance and Sceptical Thinking


in Scepticism and Literature

Published in print October 2003 | ISBN: 9780199253180
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191719189 | DOI:
Rational Ignorance and Sceptical Thinking

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By ‘sceptical thinking’ in the 18th-century is meant a radical scepticism, such as appears to undermine the rational grounds of belief and action, but which nevertheless generates a surprising confidence of assertion, often described in terms of ‘following nature’. Newly alert to questions of epistemology, language use, and the pressures on religious belief, its intellectual sources include Locke, Bayle, and especially Montaigne, who is an influential model as well as a source. It finds the essay form particularly congenial, and depends upon a certain play of irony that flourishes in a space at once imaginative and social. The boundaries of that space can be thought of as marked by separate salient tendencies in the writing of Burke, Rousseau, and Swift.

Keywords: scepticism; nature; essay; Locke; Bayle; Montaigne; irony

Chapter.  22380 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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