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  • Fénelon, penseur de la volonté: lecture spirituelle d'un philosophe par Miklos Vetö
  • Nicholas N. Hunter
Fénelon, penseur de la volonté: lecture spirituelle d'un philosophe. Par Miklos Vetö. (Ouverture philosophique.) Paris: L'Harmattan, 2018. 328 pp.

In this book, Miklos Vetö sets out to demonstrate the centrality of the concept of volonté—understood as embracing both the divine will and fallen human will—to Fénelon's spiritual writings and to the copious guidance offered in his correspondence. The direct focus on will is deferred until Chapter 10, however. The first nine chapters prepare the ground carefully, with particular prominence being afforded to the concepts of passiveté (to be distinguished from passivité and understood as embracing the possibility of active co-operation) and liberty. The dilemmas raised by the 'impossible supposition' (that believers might consent to their own damnation if they were convinced that it was God's will) are thoroughly investigated and plausible resolutions are offered. Finally, a direct focus on will draws upon and unites these threads. In recent years, increasing critical attention has been paid to the contribution Fénelon made to the development of Enlightenment thought. Vetö, while not denying the significance of the Archbishop of Cambrai's intellectual legacy, tends to focus more on the implications of his spiritual, intellectual, and philosophical antecedents. Thus the reader is helped to understand how Fénelon adopts and expands upon key aspects of Cartesian thought, his considerable debt to Augustinian theology, and the richness of the material he draws from classical models. At the same time, there is a wealth of information on Fénelon's role in various contemporary controversies, such as his early engagement against Malebranche and his refutation of Bossuet's strident accusations. The text is particularly effective in outlining the systematic way in which Fénelon refutes the Jansenist position and exposes the denial of human liberty on which it reposes. Fénelon is, notwithstanding the controversy engendered by the Explication des maximes des saints, neither an unorthodox figure nor one prone to offering radically new insights into faith. Nor, as the conclusion candidly admits, can he be considered as a particularly significant philosopher. The book does, however, do an admirable job in demonstrating the centrality of volonté to Fénelon's spiritual writings. The chosen structure works well: Télémaque and the religio-political ramifications of the Explication are evoked as appropriate but never permitted to dominate. The patient assembly and explication of material from across Fénelon's career serve to illuminate and underscore the overall coherence and consistency of his spiritual thought. The study also represents a valuable and persuasive contribution to scholarship on the phenomenon of [End Page 289] pur amour, with which Fénelon's name remains intimately associated today and which runs as a guiding thread through each chapter.

Nicholas N. Hunter
University of Birmingham


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