The Anatomy of superstition

a study of the historical theory and practice of Pierre Bayle

Author: Ruth Whelan

Volume: 259

Series: SVEC

Publication Date: 1989

Pages: 281

ISBN: 978-0-7294-0372-6

Price: £55


This book investigates what actually happens when Pierre Bayle writes about the past and challenges the still prevalent view that he is dispassionate in the way he treats the subjects of the more than two thousand articles in his biographical Dictionnaire historique
et critique. It opens with two case studies of the way he uses the sources available to him, which reveal a committed writer at work. Subsequent chapters explore the theory that shapes his erudition; the method that he devised to discern falsehood from truth; his critical approach to Scripture; his conceptual reconstruction of the past. Bayle emerges from this as a writer whose interest in the past is more than antiquarian. The ideal of impartiality, which he drew from Renaissance conceptions of history, is not neutral but always situated. For all their apparent objectivity, the articles in the Dictionnaire are actually shaped by the debates, conflicts, and politics
of Bayle’s own time and place. In 1989, when this book was first published, its intertextual and contextualised reading of Bayle was innovative. Although many similar studies followed, this book led the way by developing an approach that allows us to gain access to the deeper strata of Bayle’s thought.
I. Prologue: the objectivity of the historian
1. Agreda
2. Nestorius
II. The historian as moralist
3. ‘La racine du mal’: the psychology of total depravity and the pyschology of the historian
4. Godliness and good learning: the ethics of the Republic of Letters
III. History, criticism and faith
5. ‘Les têtes de l’Hydre’: theological method and historical method
6. The Ariadne’s thread: Bayle and Scripture
IV. Theology and history
7. ‘Le doigt de Dieu’ and ‘ le théâtre du monde’: the philosophy of history
8. ‘Le rire des honnêtes gens’: historical iconoclasm: conclusion
Appendix I. Nestorius: the background
Appendix II. Biblical articles in the Dictionnaire
Appendix III. The lives of the popes

Voltaire Foundation

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