Self-Knowledge, Scepticism and the Quest for A New Method: Juan Luis Vives on Cognition and the Impossibility of Perfect Knowledge

  • Lorenzo Casini
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 199)

The Spanish-born humanist Juan Luis Vives (1493–1540) is remembered as an educational and social theorist who strongly opposed scholasticism and made his mark as one of the most influential advocates of humanistic learning in the early sixteenth century. Vives aspired at replacing the scholastic tradition in all fields of learning with a humanist curriculum inspired by classical education, and his endeavour to develop ways of presenting the goal and scope of knowledge in a methodical fashion for the purpose of instruction had considerable influence on later educational theory and practice. He was not a systematic writer, which makes it difficult to classify him as a philosopher, and his thought is often described as eclectic, pragmatic, as well as historical in its orientation.

The aim of the present study is to investigate a further aspect of Vives' thought: namely, his scepticism about the possibility of acquiring certain rational knowledge. In his writings, Vives frequently stresses the limitations of human knowledge. In De vita et moribus eruditi (1531), for example, he maintains that “philosophy rests entirely upon opinions and verisimilar conjectures.” In what follows, I discuss Vives' place among different currents of scepticism, along with an examination of links to other Renaissance figures. Special attention is paid to the connection of Vives' psychology with his peculiar brand of scepticism. On account of his insights into human nature and conduct, he has occasionally been called “the father of modern psychology.” He avoided the systematic rigidity of scholastic philosophy, preferring a looser descriptive approach, which, according to modern scholars, marks the transition from metaphysical to empirical psychology. It is argued that an important aspect concerning the background of Vives' descriptive approach to the study of the soul is his emphasis on the limitations of human knowledge.


Sceptical Argument Sceptical Hypothesis Empirical Psychology Modern Psychology Prometheus Book 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Andreini, Lucia. 1997. Gregor Reisch e la sua Margarita Philosophica. Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität Saltzburg.Google Scholar
  2. Aristotle. 1984.The complete works. Jonathan Barnes, ed., 2 vols. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Augustine. 1953.Of true religion inAugustine: earlier writings (trans: John H.S. Burleight). London: The Library of Christian Classics, XXX.Google Scholar
  4. Augustine. 1991.The trinity (trans: Edmund Hill). New York: New City Press.Google Scholar
  5. Augustine. 1993.Confessions (trans: F. J. Sheed). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.Google Scholar
  6. Bakker, Paul J. J. M. Knowing Substances Through Accidents: The Vicissitudes of Aristotle'sDe anima 402b17–22 in the Medieval and Renaissance Commentary Tradition (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  7. Bett, Richard. 1989. Carneades'Pythanon: a reappraisal of its role and status.Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 7: 59–94.Google Scholar
  8. Beuchot, Mauricio. 1996. Some traces of the presence of scepticism in medieval thought. InScepticism in the history of philosophy, ed. Richard H. Popkin, 37–43. Kluwer: Dordrecht.Google Scholar
  9. Boler, John F. 1982. Intuitive and abstractive cognition. InThe Cambridge history of later medieval philosophy, eds. Norman Kretzmann, Anthony Kenny, and Jan Pinborg, 460–478. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Bosco, Domenico. 1988.La decifrazione dell'ordine: Morale e antropologia in Francia nella prima età moderna, 2 vols. Milano: Vita e Pensiero.Google Scholar
  11. Buckley, Michael. 1970. Philosophic method in Cicero.Journal of the History of Philosophy 8: 143–154.Google Scholar
  12. Carpintero, Helio. 1993. Luis Vives, psicólogo funcionalista. InRevista de Filosofía 6 311–327.Google Scholar
  13. Casini, Lorenzo. 2006.Cognitive and moral psychology in Renaissance philosophy: a study of Juan Luis Vives' De anima et vita. Uppsala: Universitetstryckeriet.Google Scholar
  14. Colish, Marcia L. 1962. The mime of god: Vives on the nature of man.Journal of the History of Ideas 23: 3–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Comparot, Andrée. 1983.Amour et vérité: Sebon, Vivès et Michel de Montaigne. Paris: Klincksieck.Google Scholar
  16. Davies, J.C. 1971. The originality of Cicero's philosophical works.Latomus 30: 105–119.Google Scholar
  17. De Lacy, Phillip. 1972. Galen's Platonism.American Journal of Philology 93: 27–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Del Nero, Valerio. 1992. Pedagogia e psicologia nel pensiero di Vives. In Juan Luis VivesOpera Omnia I: Volumen Introductorio, ed. Antonio Mestre, 179–216. Valencia: Generalitat Valenciana.Google Scholar
  19. Dilthey, Wilhelm. 1914.Gesammelte Schriften II. Leipzig: Teubner.Google Scholar
  20. Durling, Richard J. 1961. A chronological census of Renaissance editions and translations of Galen.Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes XXIV 230–305.Google Scholar
  21. FernáSantamaría, and José A. 1990.Juan Luis Vives: Esceptismo y prudencia en el Renacimiento. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca.Google Scholar
  22. Fernández, Santamaría, and José A. 1998.The theater of man: J. L. Vives on society. Philadelphia, PA: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society.Google Scholar
  23. Floridi, Luciano. 1995. The diffusion of Sextus's works in the Renaissance.Journal of the History of Ideas 56: 63–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Floridi, Luciano. 2002.Sextus Empiricus: the transmission and recovery of Pyrrhonism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Frede, Michael. 1987. On Galen's epistemology. In idemEssays in ancient philosophy, 279–298. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  26. Frede, Michael. 1988. A medieval source of modern scepticism. InGedankenzeichen: Festschrift für Klaus Oehler zum 60. Geburtstag, eds. Regina Claussen, and Roland Daube-Schackat, 65–70. Tübingen: Stauffenburg.Google Scholar
  27. Galen. 1978–1984.De placitis Hippocratis et Platonis. Corpus Medicorum Graeco-rum V 4,1,2, ed. Phillip De Lacy, 3 vols. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.Google Scholar
  28. Gianni, Paganini, ed. 2003.The return of scepticism: from Hobbes and Descartes to Bayle. Kluwer: Dordrecht.Google Scholar
  29. Glucker, John. 1988. Cicero's philosophical affiliations. InThe question of “ Eclecticism”: studies in later Greek philosophy, eds. John M. Dillon and Long, A. A, 34–69. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  30. Glucker, John. 1995.Probabile, Veri Simile, and related terms. InCicero the philosopher: twelve papers, ed. Powell, J.G.F, 115–143. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  31. González, Asimismo, and González, Enrique. 1987.Juan Lluís Vives: De la escolastica al humanismo. Valencia: Generalitat Valenciana.Google Scholar
  32. Görler, Woldemar. 1995. Silencing the troublemaker:De Legibus I.39 and the continuity of Cicero's scepticism. InCicero the philosopher: twelve papers, ed. Powell, J.G.F., 85–113. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  33. Görler, Woldemar. 1997. Cicero's philosophical stance in theLucullus. InAssent and argument: studies in Cicero's academic books, eds. Jaap Mansfeld, and Brad Inwood, 36–57. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  34. IJsewijn, Jozef. 1981. Zu einer kritischen Edition der Werke des J. L. Vives. InJuan Luis Vives: Arbeitsgespräch in der Herzog August Bibliothek Wölfenbüttel vom 6. bis 8. November 1980, ed. August Buck, 23–34. Hamburg: Hauswedell.Google Scholar
  35. Iriarte, Joaquim. 1940. Francisco Sánchez el Escéptico disfrazado de Carneades en discusión epistolar con Cristóbal Clavio.Gregorianum 21: 413–451.Google Scholar
  36. Jardine, Lisa. 1977. Lorenzo Valla and the intellectual origins of humanist dialectic.Journal of the History of Philosophy 15: 143–164.Google Scholar
  37. Jardine, Lisa. 1982. Humanism and the teaching of logic. InThe Cambridge history of later Medieval philosophy, eds. Norman Kretzmann, Anthony Kenny, and Jan Pinborg, 797–807. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Jardine, Lisa 1983. Lorenzo Valla: academic scepticism and the new humanist dialectic. In The sceptical tradition, ed. Myles Burnyeat, 253–286. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  39. Jardine, Lisa. 1988. Humanistic logic. In The Cambridge history of Renaissance philosophy, eds. Charles B. Schmitt, Quentin Skinner, and Eckhard Kessler, 173–198. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  40. José, R. Maia Neto and Richard H. Popkineds eds. 2004. Scepticism in Renaissance and post-Renaissance thought: new interpretations. Amherst, MA: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
  41. Karger, Elizabeth. 1999. Ockham's misunderstood theory of intuitive and abstractive cognition. In The Cambridge companion to Ockham, ed. Paul V. Spade, 204–226. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Karger, Elizabeth. 2004. Ockham and Wodeham on divine deception as a sceptical hypothesis. Vivarium 42: 225–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kenny, Anthony. 1999. Body, soul, and intellect in Aquinas. In From soul to self, ed. M. James C. Crabbe, 33–48. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  44. Kraye, Jill. 1988. Moral philosophy. In The Cambridge history of Renaissance philosophy, eds. Charles B. Schmitt, Quentin Skinner, and Eckhard Kessler, 303–386. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Lange, Friedrich Albert. 1859–1878. Vives. In Encyklopädie des gesammten Erziehungs- und Unterrichtswesens, ed. K. A. Schmid, II vols. Gotha: Besser, IX, 776–851.Google Scholar
  46. Liebeschütz, Hans. 1950. Mediaeval humanism in the life and writings of John of Salisbury. London: The Warburg Institute.Google Scholar
  47. Limbrick, Elaine. 1988. Introduction. In Francisco Sanches, That nothing is known known (Quod nihil scitur), ed. Elaine Limbrick, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1–88.Google Scholar
  48. Lohr, Charles H. 1980. Renaissance Latin Aristotle commentaries: authors Pi-Sm. Renaissance Quarterly 33: 623–734.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mack, Peter. 1993. Renaissance argument: Valla and Agricola in the traditions of rhetoric and dialectic. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  50. Maclean, Ian. 2006. The ‘Sceptical Crisis’ reconsidered: Galen, rational medicine and the Libertas Philosophandi'. Early Science and Medicine 11: 247–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Maia Neto, José R. 2004. Epoche as perfection: Montaigne's view of ancient scepticism. In scepticism in Renaissance and post-Renaissance thought: new interpretations, eds. José R. Maia Neto, and Richard H. Popkin, 13–42. Amherst, MA: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
  52. Matthews, Gareth B. 1992. Thought's ego in Augustine and Descartes. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  53. McCord Adams. Marilyn, 1987. William Ockham, 2 vols. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  54. Menn, Stephen. 1998. Descartes and Augustine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Miccolis, Salvatore. 1965. Francesco Sanchez. Bari: Pubblicazioni dell'Istituto di filosofia.Google Scholar
  56. Monfasani, John. 1990. Lorenzo Valla and Rudolph Agricola. Journal of the History of Philosophy 28: 181–200.Google Scholar
  57. Moody, Ernest A. 1975. Ockham, Buridan, and Nicholas of Autrecourt. In idem, Studies in Medieval philosophy, science, and logic. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press127–160.Google Scholar
  58. Napolitano, Linda M. 1981. Arcesilao, Carneade e la cultura matematica. In Lo scetticismo antico, 2 vols, ed. Gabriele Giannantoni, 179–193. Napoli: Bibliopolis.Google Scholar
  59. Nauert, Charles G., Jr. 1965. Agrippa and the crisis of Renaissance thought. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  60. Nauta, Lodi. 2006. Lorenzo Valla and Quattrocento scepticism. Vivarium 44: 375–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Noreña, Carlos G. 1970. Juan Luis Vives. The Hague: Nijhoff.Google Scholar
  62. Noreña, Carlos G. 1975. Studies in Spanish Renaissance thought. The Hague: Nijhoff.Google Scholar
  63. Noreña, Carlos G. 1989. Juan Luis Vives and the emotions. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Nutton, Vivian. 1990. The anatomy of the soul in early Renaissance medicine. In The human embryo: Aristotle and the Arabic and European traditions, ed. Gordon R. Dunstan, 136–157. Exeter: University of Exeter Press.Google Scholar
  65. Paganini, Gianni. 2004. Montaigne, Sanches et la connaissance par phénomènes: Les usages odernes d'un paradigme ancien. In Montaigne: Scepticisme, métaphysique, théologie, eds. Vincent Carraud, and Jean-Luc Marion, 107–135. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.Google Scholar
  66. Park, Katherine. 1980. Albert's influence on late Medieval psychology. In Albertus Magnus and the sciences, ed. James A. Weisheipl, 510–522. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.Google Scholar
  67. Park, Katherine. 1988. The organic soul. In The Cambridge history of Renaissance philosophy, eds. Charles B. Schmitt, Quentin Skinner, and Eckhard essler, 464–484. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  68. Pasnau, Robert. 1997. Theories of cognition in the later Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  69. Pérez-Ramos, Antonio, 1988. Francis Bacon's idea of science and the maker's knowledge tradition. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  70. Perler, Dominik. 2006. Zweifel und Gewissheit: Skeptische Debatten im Mittelalter. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann.Google Scholar
  71. Perreiah, Alan. 1996. Modes of scepticism in Medieval philosophy. In Studies on the history of logic: proceedings of the III. Symposium on the history of logic, ed. Ignacio Angelelli, and María Cerezo, 65–77. Berlin: De Gruyter.Google Scholar
  72. Petrarca, Francesco. 1933–1942. Le Familiari. Vittorio Rossi, and Umberto Bosco, eds., 4 vols. Firenze: dizione nazionale delle opere.Google Scholar
  73. Petrarca, Francesco. 1948. On his own ignorance and that of many others. In The Renaissance philosophy of man, eds. Ernst Cassirer, Paul Oskar Kristeller, and John Herman Randall, Jr., 47–133. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  74. Pluta, Olaf. 1987.Die philosophische Psychologie des Peter von Ailly: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Philosophie des späten Mittelalters. Amsterdam: Grüner.Google Scholar
  75. Popkin, Richard H. 1988. Theories of knowledge. InThe Cambridge history of Renaissance philosophy, eds. Charles B. Schmitt, Quentin Skinner, and Eckhard Kessler, 668–684. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  76. Popkin, Richard H. 2003.The history of scepticism from Savonarola to Bayle. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  77. Porro, Pasquale. 1994. IlSextus Latinuse l'immagine dello scetticismo antico nel Medioevo.Elenchos15: 229–253.Google Scholar
  78. Sanches, Francisco. 1988.That nothing is known known (Quod nihil scitur). Elaine Limbrick ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  79. Schmitt, Charles B. 1963. Henry of Ghent, Duns Scotus and Gianfrancesco Pico on Illumination.Mediaeval Studies25: 231–258.Google Scholar
  80. Schmitt, Charles B. 1967.Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola (1469–1533) and His critique of Aristotle The Hague: Nijhoff.Google Scholar
  81. Schmitt, Charles B. 1972.Cicero Scepticus: a study of the influence of the Academica in the Renaissance.. The Hague: Nijhoff.Google Scholar
  82. Schmitt, Charles B. 1983. The rediscovery of ancient scepticism in modern times. InThe sceptical tradition, ed. Myles Burnyeat, 225–251. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  83. Scott, Dominic. 1995.Recollection and experience: Plato's theory of learning and its successors. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  84. Seneca. 1925.Ad Lucilium epistulae morales III, Loeb Classical Library (trans: Richard M. Gummere). London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  85. Siraisi, Nancy G. 1990. Medicine, physiology and anatomy in early sixteenth-century critiques of the arts and sciences. InNew perspectives on Renaissance thought: essays in the history of science, education and philosophy, eds. John Henry, and Sarah Hutton, 214–229. London: Duckworth.Google Scholar
  86. Steinmetz, Peter. 1989. Beobachtungen zu Ciceros philosophischem Standpunkt. InCicero's knowledge of the Peripatos, eds. William W. Fortenbaugh, and Peter Steinmetz, 1–22. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar
  87. Tachau, Katherine H. 1988.Vision and certitude in the age of Ockham: optics, epistemology and the foundations of Semantics 1250–1345. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  88. Temkin, Owsei. 1973.Galenism: rise and decline of a medical philosophy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  89. Thijssen, J. M. M. H. 2000. The quest for certain knowledge in the fourteenth century: Nicholas of Autrecourt against the Academics. InAncient scepticism and the sceptical tradition, ed. Juha Sivhola, 199–223. Helsinki: Acta Philosophica Fennica.Google Scholar
  90. Vives, Juan Luis. 1964.Opera omnia. Gregorio Mayans y Siscár, ed. Valencia: Monfort, 1782–1790. Reprinted London: Gregg Press.Google Scholar
  91. Vives, Juan Luis. 1974.De anima et vita. Mario Sancipriano, ed. Padova: Gregoriana.Google Scholar
  92. Vives, Juan Luis. 1987.Early writings. C. Matheeussen, C. Fantazzi, and E. George, eds. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  93. Vives, Juan Luis. 1991.Early writings 2. Jozef IJsewijn, Angela Fritsen, and Charles Fantazzi, eds. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  94. Thomas, Aquinas. 1999.A commentary on Aristotle'sDe anima (trans: Robert Pasnau). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  95. Watson, Foster. 1915. The father of modern psychology.Psychological Review22: 333–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Wear, Andrew. 1981. Galen in the Renaissance. InGalen: problems and prospects, ed. Vivian Nutton, 229–262. London: The Wellcome Institute.Google Scholar
  97. Wittwer, Roland.Sextus Latinus: Die erste latinische Übersetzung von Sextus Empiricus' Pyrrôneioi Hypotypôseis. Leiden: Brill (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  98. Zambelli, Paola. 1968. Cornelio Agrippa nelle fonti e negli studi recenti.Rinascimento8: 169–199.Google Scholar
  99. Zilboorg, Gregory. 1941.A history of medical psychology. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  100. Zupko, Jack. 1993. Buridan and scepticism.Journal of the History of Philosophy31: 191–221.Google Scholar
  101. Zupko, Jack. 1997. What is the science of the soul?: A case study in the evolution of late Medieval natural philosophy.Synthese110: 297–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Zupko, Jack. 1998. Substance and soul: the late Medieval origins of early modern psychology. InMeeting of the minds: the relations between medieval and classical modern European philosophy, ed. Stephen F.Brown, 121–139. Turnhout: Brepols.Google Scholar
  103. Yrjönsuuri, Mikko. 2000. Self-knowledge and Renaissance sceptics. InAncient scepticism and the sceptical tradition, ed. Juha Sihvola, 225–253. Helsinki: Acta Philosophica Fennica.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lorenzo Casini
    • 1
  1. 1.University of UppsalaSweden

Personalised recommendations