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Hume's Reading of Bayle: An Inquiry into the Source and Role of the Memoranda J. P. PITTION MY PURPOSE IN THIS PAPER is to discuss an aspect of Hume's reading of Pierre Bayle, the French "Philosopher of Rotterdam. ''1 I am not concerned here with the identification of Hume's direct borrowings from Bayle in the Treatise, nor with the much wider problem of a probable influence of Bayle on Hume. It is indeed possible to identify in the Treatise a number of specific points taken from Bayle. Kemp Smith listed four at least: the account of skepticism, the discussion of Spinoza, the discussion of animal intelligence, and the criticism of the argument from design. 2 All of these come from Bayle's Dictionnaire. External evidence confirms that in 1732 Hume had a work of Bayle, presumably a copy of the Dictionnaire. Other borrowings from Bayle have been identified in the Treatise and in Hume's other works. This is no surprise, for in the eighteenth century Bayle's Dictionnaire was used as it was intended in the first instance, that is, as a reference work. In detailing the borrowings from Bayle, Kemp Smith also touched upon the broader question of influence when he stated that Hume's Pyrrhonism , particularly in relation to his treatment of religion, may also come from Bayle. Many recent scholars have followed suit. A problem of influence however is always a difficult one, and particularly so in this case. There was, as R. H. Popkin has pointed out, a broad awareness of continental skepticism among British philosophers of the eighteenth century. 3 However, apropos Berkeley, A. A. Luce has remarked that the trouble with eighteenth-century continental skepticism was that it had various objectives and took various forms. 4 This is true of Bayle himself. Within skepticism Bayle's position was known for its extremism, and it was this extremism that brought him notoriety. During the eighteenth century Bayle was the philosopher who promoted a systematic use of the Pyrrhonic mode of argument. He was acknowledged above all for having set up a double paradox: that any attempt at a rational theodicy must lead to Manicheism and that to argue for a rationalist Christian ethics is to argue the case of an atheistic one as well. In other words, in the early eighteenth century Bayle played the part of a contemporary Pyrrho and Zeno of Elea: he was known for this double stance, and it is for ' This is a slightly revised version of a paper read at the McGill Bicentennial Hume Conference, held at McGiUUniversity, Montreal, in September, 1976. I wishto offer my thanks to Professors H. M. Bracken and D. F. Norton for their assistanceon this version, and I am particularly grateful to Professor James Moore of Concordia University for his comments on the interpretation put forward here in relation to section III of the Memoranda (seen. 8). 2N. KempSmith, The Philosophy of David Hume (NewYork, 1964),pt. III, chap. XIV, app. C. 3 "David Hume and the Pyrrhonian Controversy," Review of Metaphysics VI (September, 1952):65-81. 4 The Dialectic of Immaterialisrn (London, 1963),p. 67. [373] 374 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY this stance that he was mentioned. It is doubtful whether many of those who do refer to Bayle during this period understood him beyond these terms, whether they sought to understand, or whether they even bothered to read Bayle's lengthy arguments. It is clear that few really grasped his complex, often ambiguous objectives. Mention of a Baylian position by an eighteenth-century writer is therefore no guarantee that the writer has actually read Bayle's works: Bayle is a sort of figurehead for Pyrrhonism, Manicheism, or often even atheism, but one can doubt that there is behind the mention of these basic positions any serious reflection on his thought. There are exceptions of course. Luce and H. M. Bracken have shown that Bayle played a seminal role in the formation of Berkeley's thought? But as a rule, knowledge of Bayle among writers of the Enlightenment was vague; references to him, nonspecific. In most cases it is scarcely possible to speak of an influence. My aim in this...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 373-386
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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