Pierre Bayle (French: [bɛl]; 18 November 1647 – 28 December
1706) was a French philosopher and writer best known for his
seminal work the Historical and Critical Dictionary, published
beginning in 1697.
Bayle was a Protestant. As a forerunner of the
Encyclopedists and an
advocate of the principle of the toleration of divergent beliefs, his
works subsequently influenced the development of the Enlightenment.
2.1 Views on toleration
5 Legacy and honors
9 External links
Bayle was born at Carla-le-Comte (later renamed
Carla-Bayle in his
honour), near Pamiers, Ariège, France. He was educated by his father,
a Calvinist minister, and at an academy at Puylaurens. He afterwards
Jesuit college at Toulouse, and became a Roman Catholic a
month later (1669). After seventeen months, he returned to Calvinism
and fled to Geneva.
There he became acquainted with the teachings of René Descartes. He
returned to France and went to Paris, where for some years he worked
under the name of Bèle as a tutor for various families. In 1675 he
was appointed to the chair of philosophy at the Protestant Academy of
Sedan. In 1681 the university at Sedan was suppressed by the
government in action against Protestants.
Just before that event, Bayle had fled to the Dutch Republic, where he
almost immediately was appointed professor of philosophy and history
at the École Illustre in Rotterdam. He taught for many years, but
became embroiled in a long internal quarrel in the college. It
resulted in Bayle being deprived of his chair in 1693.
Bayle remained in
Rotterdam until his death on 28 December 1706. He
was buried there in the Waalse Kerk, where
Jurieu would also be
buried, seven years later.
At Rotterdam, Bayle published his famous Pensées diverses écrites à
un docteur de Sorbonne à l'occasion de la Comète qui parut au mois
de décembre 1680 (fr) in 1682, as well as his critique of Louis
Maimbourg's work on the history of Calvinism. The reputation achieved
by this critique stirred the envy of Pierre Jurieu, Bayle's Calvinist
colleague of both Sedan and Rotterdam, who had written a book on the
Between 1684 and 1687, Bayle published his Nouvelles de la république
des lettres, a journal of literary criticism. In 1686, Bayle published
the first two volumes of Philosophical Commentary, an early plea for
toleration in religious matters. This was followed by volumes three
and four in 1687 and 1688.
In 1690 there appeared a work entitled Avis important aux refugies,
Jurieu attributed to Bayle, whom he attacked with great
animosity. After losing his chair, Bayle engaged in the preparation of
Dictionnaire Historique et Critique (Historical and
Critical Dictionary), which effectively constituted one of the first
encyclopaedias (before the term had come into wide circulation) of
ideas and their originators. In the Dictionary, Bayle expressed his
view that much that was considered to be "truth" was actually just
opinion, and that gullibility and stubbornness were prevalent. The
Dictionary would remain an important scholarly work for several
generations after its publication.
The remaining years of Bayle's life were devoted to miscellaneous
writings. In many cases, he was responding to criticisms made of his
Voltaire, in the prelude to his Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne
calls Bayle "le plus grand dialecticien qui ait jamais écrit", or the
greatest dialectician to have ever written.
The Nouvelles de la république des lettres was the first
thorough-going attempt to popularise literature, and it was eminently
successful. His multi-volume Historical and Critical Dictionary
constitutes Bayle's masterpiece. The English translation of The
Dictionary, by Bayle's fellow Huguenot exile Pierre des Maizeaux, was
identified by U.S. President
Thomas Jefferson to be among the one
hundred foundational texts to form the first collection of the Library
Views on toleration
In his Dictionnaire historique and critique and Commentaire
Philosophique, he advanced arguments for religious toleration.
Bayle rejected the use of scripture to justify coercion and violence:
"One must transcribe almost the whole New Testament to collect all the
Proofs it affords us of that Gentleness and Long-suffering, which
constitute the distinguishing and essential Character of the Gospel."
He did not regard toleration as a danger to the state, but to the
"If the Multiplicity of Religions prejudices the State, it proceeds
from their not bearing with one another but on the contrary
endeavouring each to crush and destroy the other by methods of
Persecution. In a word, all the Mischief arises not from Toleration,
but from the want of it."
Bayle also rejected the use of coercion and violence in the
It will be an everlasting subject of wonder to persons who know what
philosophy is, to find that Aristotle's authority had been so much
respected in the schools for several ages, that when a disputant
quoted a passage from that philosopher, he who maintained the thesis,
durst not say “Transeat," but must either deny the passage, or
explain it in his own way—just as we treat the Holy Scriptures in
the divinity schools. The parliaments, which have proscribed all other
philosophy but that of Aristotle, are more excusable than the doctors;
for whether the members of the parliament were really persuaded that
that philosophy was the best of any, or whether they were not, the
public good might have induced them to prohibit the new opinions, for
fear the academical divisions should spread their malignant influences
on the tranquility of the state.
Richard Popkin has advanced the view that
Pierre Bayle was a
superskeptic who used the Historical and Critical Dictionary as a way
of critiquing all prior known theories and philosophies. In Bayle's
view, humans are inherently incapable of achieving true knowledge.
Because of the limitations of human reason, we must adhere instead to
our conscience alone. Bayle was critical of such rationalists as
Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Malebranche and Leibniz. Perhaps one of
the most famous quotes of Bayle sums up his view of human intellect
fairly well in Popkin's opinion:
"It [reason] is a guide that leads one astray; and philosophy can be
compared to some powders that are so corrosive that, after they have
eaten away the infected flesh of a wound, they then devour the living
flesh, rot the bones, and penetrate to the very marrow. Philosophy at
first refutes errors. But if it is not stopped at this point, it goes
on to attack truths. And when it is left on its own, it goes so far
that it no longer knows where it is and can find no stopping place."
Pensées Diverses sur l'Occasion de la Comète, (1682) translated as
Various Thoughts on the Occasion of the Comet (2000) by Robert C.
Bartlett, SUNY Press.
Historical and Critical Dictionary (1695–1697; 1702, enlarged; best
that of P. des Maizeaux, 4 vols., 1740)
Œuvres diverses, 5 vols., The Hague, 1727–31; anastatic reprint:
Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1964-68.
Selections in English:
Pierre Bayle (Richard H. Popkin transl.),
Historical and Critical Dictionary – Selections, Indianapolis:
Hackett, 1991. ISBN 0-87220-103-1.
Legacy and honors
In 1906 a statue in his honor was erected at Pamiers, la reparation
d'un long oubli ("the reparation of a long neglect").
In 1959 a street was named after him in Rotterdam.
^ Dale Jacquette, David Hume's Critique of Infinity, Brill, pp.
^ a b c d e f Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bayle, Pierre".
Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
^ Palmer, R.R.; Joel Colton (1995). A History of the Modern World. New
York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 301–302. ISBN 0-07-040826-2.
^ LoConte, Joseph (May 2009). "The Golden Rule of Toleration".
Christianity Today. Retrieved 2017-01-21.
^ Aristotle p. 155-158 from Bayle's dictionary volume 1
^ a b Popkin, Richard (2003). The History of Skepticism. New York:
Oxford University Press. p. 288. ISBN 0-19-510767-5.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bayle, Pierre".
Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Elisabeth Labrousse, Pierre Bayle, La Haye: Martinus Nijhoff, 1963–4
(2 volumes). (in French)
Elisabeth Labrousse, Bayle, translated by Denys Potts, Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1983.
Thomas M. Lennon, Reading Bayle, Toronto: University of Toronto Press,
Todd Ryan, Pierre Bayle's Cartesian Metaphysics: Rediscovering Early
Modern Philosophy, New York: Routledge, 2009..
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pierre Bayle.
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Works by or about
Pierre Bayle at Internet Archive
Pierre Bayle at
LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
An Historical and Critical Dictionary Vol 1-4 Hathi Trust Pierre Bayle
An Historical and Critical Dictionary, Volume 1 Pierre Bayle
An Historical and Critical Dictionary, Volume 2 Pierre Bayle
An Historical and Critical Dictionary, Volume 3 Pierre Bayle
Lennon, Thomas M. "Pierre Bayle". In Zalta, Edward N. Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
(in French) Historical and Critical Dictionary in French, starting
with the entry for Aaron. 11th edition, 1820, Desoer, Paris.
The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge
Contains the exchanges between Bayle and Leibniz, slightly modified
for easier reading
The Correspondence of
Pierre Bayle in EMLO
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