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Scepticism Notes

History Notes > Optional 8: Witch-craft and Witch-hunting in early modern Europe Notes

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1. What intellectual resources were available to sceptics?
-Legal.Lalement (said to Rouen Parle, 1671):
- Stressed need for "evident proofs which must not be equivocal".
- Cannot be punished if you did not give full consent - lunatics, hypochondriacs, children, those who were unaware, those who were extremely frightened or ignorant.
- Warns against 'post hoc, ergo propter hoc' fallacy.
- Cross-over between legal ideas and others - says cannot convict of something that is impossible.George Gifford:
- Daniel concludes that convicting on basis of sufficient suspicion = v bad form of judicial misconduct.
- Testimony by Devil/cunning folk = misleading.
- Hobbes:
- In 'Leviathan' (1651), he argued that the Church could not act as a separate legal structure to that of the state.
- Adam Tanner (1627):
- "Essentially a study of the injustices committed during witch trials. But it takes for granted the reality and heinousness of witchcraft" (Clark).
- Weyer:
- "Perhaps the most famous early sceptic of diabolic WC" (G K Waite).
- Wrote 'On the Effects of Devils, Enchantments and Poisoners' in 1563.
- Used humanist learning and med training to argue that WC
= a psychosis.
- WC is age- and gender-specific, so can be explained on basis of female senility and devil's tricks.
- Still believed in the Devil.
- Believed that men can get power from the Devil, but women generally accused = old, feeble, insane.
- Attributed maleficium to devils directly, natural causes, or fraud.
- More natural. Neoplatonist - universe functions in orderly fashion (platonic solids idea etc).


Thomas Brown (1605-82):
- Wrote 'The Physician's Religion'.
- Was "convinced that nature was rationally and providentially governed" (Cameron).
- Believed that spirits and ghosts = demons, and thus has received some criticism for being conservative: HIGHLIGHTS COMPLEXITY.
- Most influential work = 'widely-believed falsehoods' (pub'd 1646). Based on idea that commonly received ideas can be disproven.
- Used ideas about Devil: last deception = to convince that he did not exist.
-Rationalism (like above).Balthasar Bekker.
- 1634-98.
- Cartesian - follower of Descartes: world = under control of God's initial thoughts (then left) - comes from idea about mind moving body. Without body, Devil could not manipulate.
- Gifford:
- Essex minister, Puritan activist, 1548-1600 (arrived town 1581).
- "Made the common person the central figure in the discussion, since it was the hearts and minds of the laity that he was most interested in winning" (Scot McGinnis).
- Was a parish preacher.
- Was Calvinist. McGinnis talks of his "practical divinity".
- Believe X cunning folk - undermined God, was Devil's work ("the Devil's chief tool... is misdirection").
- Bekker has one approach - bible = metaphorical.
- Gets around things e.g. Moses' instruction to kill witches = just applied to magicians that no longer exist.
- Words used can be interpreted in different ways.
- Scot attempted to disprove common WC belief by using scripture and reason.
- E.g. X witches' ability to control weather - is God's domain.
- Lalement uses religious texts:
- E.g. Scriptures: Hailstorms, tempests etc =
punishments for our sins sent by God, e.g. Illnesses of Job.
- E.g. Canon Episcopi 9 tells us that harm witches believe they inflict = imaginary.

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