Cervantes, Premeditated Philosopher: Skepticism and the Novelas ejemplares

Sherman, Kátia, Spanish - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Weber, Alison, Department for Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the prologue and several of Cervantes’ Novelas ejemplares – “La gitanilla,” “La ilustre fregona,” “La fuerza de la sangre,” and the pair “El casamiento engañoso” and “El coloquio de los perros” – in the light of one of the most prominent and influential philosophical currents of early modern Spain: skepticism. I argue that Cervantes’ involvement with skepticism went beyond the commonly observed interest in ambiguous and antithetical treatment of plots and characters. A close reading of these novelas reveals a motion toward fictionalizing the most fundamental and controversial arguments of skepticism to advocate for the suspension of the type of judgment that contributes to social intolerance and arrogance. In incorporating the problem of the criterion, the rule of faith, and the makers’ knowledge argument in his fiction, Cervantes invites readers to detach themselves from dogmatic stereotypes that result in unjust social norms and exhorts them to embrace an ideology of openness and impartiality. The expression “premeditated philosopher” found in the title of this dissertation alludes to Michel de Montaigne’s self-denomination as an “accidental philosopher.” By examining the close parallels between Cervantes’ philosophical arguments in the Novelas ejemplares and the Pyrrhonian skepticism articulated in Montaigne’s “Apologie de Raimond Sebond,” this study suggests a direct influence on Cervantes by Montaigne. Finally, this analysis finds that Cervantes’ questioning of the concepts of exemplarity and eutrapelia serves both as an introduction to the skeptical mode of the collection and as an affirmation of the author’s reformist social and intellectual message.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Cervantes, skepticism, novelas ejemplares
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