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Bayle, Pierre (1647–1706)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DA004-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved December 09, 2021, from

Article Summary

Bayle was one of the most profound sceptical thinkers of all time. He was also a champion of religious toleration, and an important moral philosopher. The fundamental aim of his scepticism was to curb the pretensions of reason in order to make room for faith. Human reason, he believed, suffers from two fundamental weaknesses: it has a limited capacity to motivate our actions, and it is more a negative than a positive faculty, better at uncovering the defects of various philosophical positions than at justifying any one of them. This conception of reason led Bayle to see, with an uncommon clarity, that the nature of the sceptic’s arguments must be to proceed by internal demolition, showing how claims to knowledge undermine themselves in their own terms.

Bayle’s moral thought is to be found essentially in his critique of attempts (such as that of Malebranche) to show how God, all-powerful and good, could have created a world in which there is evil. Such theodicies, he argued, rely on unacceptable models of moral rationality. Bayle’s arguments reveal a view of moral reasoning that is of considerable interest in its own right. Like Malebranche (and contrary to Leibniz, who attacked Bayle’s critique of theodicy), he believed that there are duties superior to that of bringing about the most good overall. But unlike Malebranche, Bayle saw these duties as lying not in what the rational agent owes himself but in what he owes to the inviolable individuality of others. This outlook had its psychological roots, no doubt, in Bayle’s own experience as a Huguenot victim of religious persecution.

Citing this article:
Larmore, Charles. Bayle, Pierre (1647–1706), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DA004-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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