- Pierre Bayle dans la République des Lettres: Philosophie, Religion, Critique
Pierre Bayle is an early modern philosopher who has received relatively little attention given the philosophical relevance and historical influence of his work. Fortunately this situation has been rapidly changing in recent years. This volume, edited by Antony McKenna and Gianni Paganini, is a good sample of the volume, quality, scope, and polemical nature of current Bayle scholarship. The book contains twenty-five articles by the main Bayle scholars from France, Italy, England, the Netherlands, Canada, and the United States. It also contains an introduction by the editors, who give an overview of current scholarship, summarizing its main trends and achievements, and a useful name index. The articles are organized in five sections, each dealing with some aspect of Bayle's life and thought.
The first set of articles, gathered under the heading, "Interlocutors, Friends and Enemies," deals with Bayle's personal relations as a Huguenot exiled in the Netherlands. Luisa Simonutti deals with Bayle's relations to one of the radical Reformed groups in Holland, the Quakers. Although Bayle disagreed with their religious views, he respected and maintained [End Page 476] healthy intellectual exchanges with them. Hans Bots examines Bayle's view of the "republic of letters," of which he was a major architect—a republic whose right to citizenship required the suspension of religious, political, and national partisanship and engagement in free intellectual debate. H. H. M. van Lieshout contests the entrenched view that Bayle lived as a recluse scholar in Rotterdam. Both she and Bots show how Bayle's main work, the Dictionary, exhibits his life committed to the "republic of letters." Finally, Hubert Bost focuses on Bayle's activity as a journalist, crucial in this republic but also revealing the difficulty of the pursued ideal of neutrality.
The next three sections of the book deal with Bayle's thoughts on religion and philosophy. Anna Belgrado denies the late Bayle scholar Elizabeth Labrousse's thesis that Bayle's thought is wrought with Protestantism. Bayle's views on the Jews, the Middle Ages, and women are examined, respectively, by Myrian Yardeni, Gregorio Piaia, and Maria-Cristina Pitassi, who concur in concluding that, although not free from the prejudices of his time, Bayle's views are more complex and balanced than those of his contemporaries.
Bayle's political views and in particular his view on tolerance receive a good deal of attention in the volume. Stefano Brogi explains Bayle's attack on the "rational theologians" (Le Clerc), at first sight puzzling given their defense of religious tolerance, pointing out Bayle's radical opposition between faith and reason. According to Jean-Michel Gros, it is this radical separation of philosophy from theology that renders Bayle's view of tolerance so modern, unlike Locke's, for instance, which still has a theological ground. Jonathan Israel explains another apparent puzzle: Bayle's defense of absolute monarchism despite his philosophical and religious ideas, which were no less radical than Spinoza's. Bayle, unlike Spinoza, does not support republicanism because of his pessimistic view of human nature. John Christian Laursen shows that the political menace posed by the Millenarians explains Bayle's unusual lack of tolerance towards them.
One of the most influential contemporary Bayle scholars, Gianluca Mori, summarizes his view of Bayle as a philosophical atheist, and he is contested in this by Jean-Luc Solère, who argues that for Bayle, materialism does not provide a coherent metaphysical system alternative to the Christian one, so that Bayle's position amounts to a radical skepticism with regard to reason. In his contribution to the volume, Mori argues that Bayle's skepticism is restricted, and is not relevant to the issue of theism versus atheism. He replies to Solère's objections to his interpretation in an appendix to his article. Mori's interpretation relies on the method of reading Bayle's text as containing irreligious views hidden beneath apparently orthodox claims. Thomas Lennon relies on the opposite approach to argue...