Sceptic thanks

May 6, 2005

Anthony Pagden's discussion of "Big Questions in History" (Features, April 29) opens with a quotation from Richard Rorty. An omission in his account is any mention of his late emeritus colleague Richard Popkin. For it was Popkin's The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Descartes that first demonstrated the impact of scepticism in the early modern period, thereby revolutionising our understanding of the intellectual history of the time. Moreover, by showing the impact of scepticism in religious disputes, Popkin showed that its role in demolishing old certainties went far beyond philosophy. Whether Popkin would have accepted Pagden's straightforwardly secularising account of the Enlightenment is doubtful. Sadly, his death on April 14 means that is a debate for others to pursue.

Sarah Hutton
Professor of early modern studies, Middlesex University

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