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.