- Scepticism in the Eighteenth Century: Enlightenment, Lumières, Aufklärung ed. by Sébastien Charles and Plínio J. Smith
This volume is another instance of the enduring influence of Richard Popkin’s pioneering work on the history of modern skepticism. Moreover, although he initially maintained that skepticism had a negligible impact on eighteenth-century philosophy, he eventually came to adopt the opposite view. The aim of the collection is to show that skepticism played a more important role in the eighteenth century than is usually thought, either because a number of thinkers adopted a skeptical stance or because the main rationalist systems must be regarded as responses to skeptical challenges. For this reason, the editors (i) criticize Popkin’s early judgment and those who still accept it, and (ii) remark repeatedly that the real impact of skepticism on the eighteenth century has begun to be appreciated only recently. Nevertheless, in chapter 1, in which he discusses Popkin’s successive views on the influence of skepticism in the Enlightenment, Charles claims that Popkin was mistaken in changing his mind and coming to view the Enlightenment as a skeptical era highly preoccupied with a mitigated form of skepticism. And (ii) is a bit of an exaggeration: suffice it to consider the several works by, for example, Keith Baker, Daniel Breazale, Ezequiel de Olaso, Robert Fogelin, Michael Forster, Giorgio Tonelli, and even Popkin published in the 1970s-90s and cited by the editors themselves. This is not to deny that this volume will broaden our knowledge and deepen our understanding of its topic.
The book consists of five parts in twenty-three chapters, eighteen in English, five in French. Although each has a bibliography, the volume includes a global one. It also contains an index nominum, but no index rerum. Two positive features are the international provenance of its contributors and that both major and minor figures are discussed. There are a number of typos and infelicities of style. As often happens, the contributions are not of equal value or equally stimulating, but the volume as a whole is a welcome addition to the literature on modern skepticism. Since a reviewer must be selective, I will limit myself to providing an overview of the volume and describing some of the chapters.
Part 1 explores the presence of skepticism in the early eighteenth century. Smith examines Pierre Bayle’s skeptical method of antinomy as displayed in his Dictionary, contrasting it with that of Sextus Empiricus. Smith makes no mention of secondary literature except for a paper of his, which is unfortunate given the considerable number of valuable recent works dealing with Sextus’s Pyrrhonism and with Bayle’s not always clear stance on skepticism. Anton Matytsin’s chapter analyzes the responses to Bayle’s Pyrrhonism by Jean-Pierre de Crousaz and David-Renaud Boullier.
Parts 2-4 address the influence of skepticism on, respectively, British, French, and German philosophy. Part 2 opens with Peter Kail’s succinct analysis of the connection between moral skepticism and the moral sense theories of Shaftesbury and Hutcheson. [End Page 551] Gianni Paganini identifies another source of Bayle’s influence on Hume, arguing that in the first part of the section “Of the Immateriality of the Soul” of the Treatise Hume not only drew heavily on Bayle’s Réponse aux questions d’un provincial, but replied to the latter’s aporias. Claire Etchegaray, taking an approach more systematic than historical, focuses on Hume’s and Reid’s views on skepticism about the existence of external objects.
In part 3, Nicolas Correard analyzes the nature and similarities of the forms of mitigated skepticism adopted by Jean-Baptiste Boyer d’Argens, Louis de Beausobre, and Voltaire. Voltaire’s relationship to skepticism is also the object of the chapter by Stéphane Pujol, whose line of argument and conceptual distinctions are not always clear. In his clearly written essay, Marc-André Nadeau argues that the theoretical involuntary skepticism adopted...