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The ‘Principle’ of Natural Order: or What the Enlightened Sceptics did not doubt

  • Stuart Brown

Extract

My title advertizes a paradox. The characteristic complaint of the sceptic is that others make assumptions they are not entitled to make. A philosophical sceptic is committed to a systematic refusal to accept such assumptions in the absence of the kind of justification they think is required. A sceptic who, none the less, helps himself to such an assumption, seems to be caught in a paradoxical position. This is the kind of situation in which, it seems, certain eighteenth-century sceptical philosophers were placed in relation to the ‘principle’ of natural order. They did not doubt that there is such a principle, that there is a source or ultimate cause of the order to be found in the universe. And yet, on their own terms, is not the existence of such a principle something we should expect them to have doubted? What I shall try to do in this lecture is to bring out why they did not doubt the existence of such a principle and how serious their failure to do so is for their sceptical position.

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NOTES

1 Enquiries concerning Human Understanding and concerning the Principles of Morals, ed. Selby-Bigge, L. A., rev. Nidditch, P. H., (Oxford (Clarendon Press), 3rd edition, 1975), p. 30. Other references to this work will also be to this edition.

2 Oeuvres Philosophiques de Condillac, ed. LeRoy, G. (Paris, 19471951), 3, 9. 511 f.

3 Selected Works of Voltaire, trans, by McCabe, Joseph (London (Watts & Co.), 1935), p. 9.

4 In his article ‘(Qualités) Cosmiques’ in the Encyclopédie.

5 Library of Liberal Arts edition, ed. Smith, N. Kemp, Indianapolis (Bobbs-Merrill), p. 174 f.

6 In his article in the Encyclopédie on ‘Corps’, quoted by Grimsley, Ronald in his Jean d'Alembert (Clarendon Press, 1963), p. 278.

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