The Anatomy of Superstition

BookThe Anatomy of Superstition

The Anatomy of Superstition

Study of the Historical Theory and Practice of Pierre Bayle

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 259


January 1st, 1989



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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.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half Title2
Title Page4
Copyright Page5
I. Prologue: the objectivity of the historian20
1. Agreda22
2. Nestorius44
II. The historian as moralist70
3. ‘La racine du mal’ : the psychology of total depravity and the psychology of the historian72
4. Godliness and good learning: the ethics of the Republic of Letters100
III. History, criticism and faith130
5. ‘Les têtes de l’Hydre’: theological method and historical method132
6. The Ariadne’s thread: Bayle and Scripture159
IV. Theology and history194
7. ‘Le doigt de Dieu’ and ‘le théâtre du monde’: the philosophy of history196
8. ‘Le rire des honnêtes gens’: historical iconoclasm: conclusion246
Appendix I. Nestorius: the background256
Appendix II. Biblical articles in the Dictionnaire261
Appendix III. The lives o f the popes262