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Commentary on The Apology for Raymond Sebond

More on reading to understand

You will find the section of the Apology for Raymond Sebond which you are going to analyze in your Class Packet. It follows the last of the Las Casas readings -- that by Juan Comas. The section we are looking at contains 8 pages of text which have page numbers 74 through 81. We are reading Montainge for three reasons. First, there is an intrinsic philosophical interest in skepticism. It is a doctrine well worth understanding all by itself. Second, Renaissance skepticism, of which Montaigne is the best example, has interesting features of its own. Third, understanding skepticism, and Renaissance skepticism in particular, will help you to understand the philosophical efforts of Descartes, which we study next, much better than you would otherwise.

Once again, I will try to show you what a detailed analysis of the parts of this text looks like. As you read through the text, take a pencil and mark what you take to be the boundaries of the parts. Pencil is better than pen because this is a process where you are very likely to have to make changes as you come to see the structure of the writing more clearly. Thus it is good to be able to erase.

Figuring out what the parts are is not always easy. Here we also have to consider what the editor had in mind since our eight pages is not a continuous chunk of the Apology. One mark of a division of parts are breaks in the text. Another is finding elipsis marks "..." at the end of a paragraph. More important, however, is Montaigne telling us that he is introducing a new topic -- "That subject has brought me to a consideration of the senses..." tells us that there was another topic being treated previously and now that has brought us to a new topic -- the senses. This is the boundary between one part and another. As it turns out, the part which is the discussion of the senses itself has parts. So, first one wants to find the larger parts . And then one wants to see what the parts of these larger parts are. This is often done by trying to determine what Montaigne thinks the subject of a particular paragraph is, and then looking at the connections between paragraphs. Thus, in the section on the senses (on Pg. 80) we find in the second paragraph, Montaigne argues that the condition in which we find ourselves in sickness and madness, leads the senses to present things to us in a particular way (our senses "accommodate" things to us, depending on our condition. Given this, the same thing is true about how we view things when we are healthy and normal. In the next paragraph, we find Montaigne arguing that because our senses accommodate things to us, depending on our condition, nothing comes to us unaltered and falsified, so that we no longer know what things are in truth. Clearly there is a connection between these two paragraphs. To see what that connection is may not be obvious. It is something you must look for. When you find it you come to understand that passage. As you come to see how all the parts are connected, you come to understand the whole text. This process is often not easy. It regularly required rereading, asking yourself questions about the connections between the parts, and often enough, consulting secondary sources -- like this commentary.

Sometimes it just is not clear where one part ends and another begins. Here the best thing to do is to pick a point which looks like a plausible ending point and mark it. Even in such cases, however, frustrating as they sometimes are, the process of trying to determine what the parts are moves one towards understanding in a way which is bound to be valuable.


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