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Scepticisme, Clandestinite et Libre Pensee (review)
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Journal of the History of Philosophy 41.4 (2003) 561-562

Gianni Paganini, Miguel Benítez, and James Dybikowski, editors. Scepticisme, Clandestinité et Libre Pensée. Paris: Honoré Champion, 2002. Pp. 382. Cloth, €60.00.

This book consists of papers from two Tables rondes held in Dublin in 1999 on the occasion of the Tenth International Congress on the Enlightenment. The contributors are: Paganini, Benítez, Dybikowski, Alan Charles Kors, Winfried Schröder, José R. Maia Neto, Adam Sutcliffe, Justin Champion, Antony McKenna, Lorenzo Bianchi, Christine Berkvens-Stevelinck, Pierre Lurbe, Stephen David Snobelen, Nigel Aston, and Stuart Brown. There is remarkably little overlap among the papers and Paganini has clearly insisted on very high standards. Because of space limitations, I shall focus on several of the general themes which run through the book rather than on individual contributions.

Despite the phenomenal success Richard Popkin and collaborators like the late Charles B. Schmitt, Giorgio Tonelli, and Ezequiel de Olaso have had in documenting the amazing impact of skepticism in the Renaissance and in the years up to the Enlightenment, this volume demonstrates that skepticism, that many-faceted force, continued throughout the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. After Bayle, and the application of his special forms of skepticism to theological topics—forms which were often employed, contrary to Bayle's probable intentions, in defense of atheism—skepticism went "underground." A large variety of literature was circulated in manuscript form, the clandestine literature of the period. The lesson which this conference celebrates is that skepticism did not cease being a major cultural force. Thus there is, thanks to the philosophical dimension of the clandestine literature in the eighteenth century, a transition from Christian rationalism to an anti-Christian rationalism.

Major figures of the Enlightenment were, of course, well-acquainted with skepticism, e.g., Berkeley, Voltaire, Hume, Crousaz, Condillac, Reid, and Kant. Not surprisingly, the major topics discussed in these papers center around skepticism, fideism and atheism, proofs for the existence of God, and the status of the "preambles" to the faith. These all receive careful attention. The tension between the arguments for Christian Pyrrhonism versus anti-Christian rationalism runs through many of these papers. And of course Bayle's points of view on both sides of the Christian debate appear in much of the clandestine literature. The matter of the immortality of the soul is carefully discussed. What is the status of this doctrine? Is it a question of Church dogma or is it another belief to be discarded in the light of reason?

The connection perceived to hold between atheism and political legitimacy are explored in several papers. In the seventeenth century, Locke would exclude atheists from the body politic, in part because they were unable to truthfully swear an oath. Atheists were perceived as a danger for many eighteenth-century figures and the political need to suppress atheism was widely understood and accepted by those in the various religious establishments. Bayle's two-century-old attempt to break the putative logical tie between morality and religion failed in his own day, and despite the efforts of the authors of clandestine philosophical literature, the intimate link Bayle tried to break seems to be stronger than ever in much of the world today. It is interesting that the United States is virtually the only industrial and democratic society in which atheists are virtually precluded from being political candidates in federal, and probably most local, elections. Among other things, the papers in this volume help one to understand just how difficult breaking free from theological constraints in the interest of political freedom has proved to be.


Harry McFarland Bracken
Arizona State University, Tempe

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