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 


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Authors and Affiliations

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

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