As the seventeenth century dawned in Western Europe, intellectuals were being engulfed by a sceptical crisis challenging all their basic principles, assumptions, and beliefs in philosophy, science, and theology. This resulted not only from the wealth of new ideas, new discoveries, and changing life situations occurring in the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Counter-Reformation but also from the effect of the scepticism presented by Michel de Montaigne; by the ancient Greek thinker, Sextus Empiricus; and in Cicero's Academica, interest in which had recently been revived.
Sextus Empiricus (ca. 200 A.D.), was mostly unknown in Europe during the Middle Ages, though there are a couple of manuscripts of a Latin translation in medieval collections. Sextus was rediscovered in the mid-fifteenth century from manuscripts brought from Byzantium. He was read by leading Italian humanists including Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino. The first indication that his sceptical arguments were being used by Renaissance thinkers comes from disciples of Girolamo Savonarola, the leader of the Florentine religious reform movement. Shortly before his fall from power, Savonarola, himself a philosophy professor, asked two of his monks to prepare a Latin translation of Sextus for use in combating pagan philosophies. Although there is no evidence this translation was ever completed, a work by one of Savonarola's disciples, Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola (a nephew of the great humanist), titled Examination of the Vanity of Gentile Philosophy or Weighing (Examen) of Empty Pagan Learning Against True Christian Teachings, makes great use of Sextus to
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Publication information: Book title: The Columbia History of Western Philosophy. Contributors: Richard H. Popkin - Editor. Publisher: Columbia University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 329.
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