Pensées

Reading through Pascal’s Pensées today, and I was struck by the similarities between Reid’s critiques (and by extension, Plantinga) of evidentialism (and internalism/foundationalism) and Pascal’s critiques. Pascal here:

The chief arguments of the sceptics- I pass over the lesser ones- are that we have no certainty of the truth of these principles apart from faith and revelation, except in so far as we naturally perceive them in ourselves. Now this natural intuition is not a convincing proof of their truth; since, having no certainty, apart from faith, whether man was created by a good God, or by a wicked demon, or by chance, it is doubtful whether these principles given to us are true, or false, or uncertain, according to our origin. Again, no person is certain, apart from faith, whether he is awake or sleeps, seeing that during sleep we believe that we are awake as firmly as we do when we are awake; we believe that we see space, figure, and motion; we are aware of the passage of time, we measure it; and in fact we act as if we were awake. So that half of our life being passed in sleep, we have on our own admission no idea of truth, whatever we may imagine. As all our intuitions are, then, illusions, who knows whether the other half of our life, in which we think we are awake, is not another sleep a little different from the former, from which we awake when we suppose ourselves asleep?
And who doubts that, if we dreamt in company, and the dreams chanced to agree, which is common enough, and if we were always alone when awake, we should believe that matters were reversed? In short, as we often dream that we dream, heaping dream upon dream, may it not be that this half of our life, wherein we think ourselves awake, is itself only a dream on which the others are grafted, from which we wake at death, during which we have as few principles of truth and good as during natural sleep, these different thoughts which disturb us being perhaps only illusions like the flight of time and the vain fancies of our dreams?

(source)

Reid here:

The sceptic asks me:
Why do you believe in the existence of the external object that you perceive?
Reply: This belief, sir, is not made by me; it came from the mint of nature; it bears her image
and official stamp, and, if it isn’t right that’s not my fault; I took it on trust, without
suspicion.

(accessed here)

There is much more to Reid’s argument than just this, but I think I’ve supplied enough to show they were on to the same scent. Both are committed to being reasonable (neither is an epistemological nihilist), but neither thinks we have evidence for the basics of our epistemological foundations.

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