Selections from Bayle's Dictionary

Selections from Bayle's Dictionary

Selections from Bayle's Dictionary

Selections from Bayle's Dictionary

Excerpt

By far the most expensive item on a list of 148 books compiled for a friend's library by Thomas Jefferson on August 3, 1771, was "Bayle's Dictionary, 5v. fol." The wide disparity of price between the Bayle volumes, marked at £7. 10s., and the 147 other selections suggests that Jefferson must have attached considerable importance to a work famous in its day but now all but forgotten. The choice, however, is significant for reasons beyond mere cost; it reflects the thenprevailing impact of Bayle's ideas on religion and superstition, on a new approach to the writing of history and biography, on the implications of the new scientific method, and on the new vistas revealed by the Enlightenment. This choice, above all, gives testimony to the influence of Bayle's monumental work in behalf of tolerance.

Pierre Bayle's achievements were the product of a mind deeply involved in the intellectual ferment of the late seventeenth century. The religious wars were over, but most people were still concerned with the all-important question: "What must I do to be saved?" The answers varied according to creed and sect, and there were many of them. However, a new issue was introduced by the great scientific revolution begun early in the century. The empirical method of ascertaining the truth challenged orthodox religious views, and could not be ignored by thinking men. Some, and this group included most of the early scientists from Galileo to Newton, accepted both revealed religion and the new science. Others, the Deists, maintained that God's will was indicated by natural law, to be discovered by experience and observation, and that revelation was unnecessary. Spinoza, called an atheist even by Bayle, reached a pantheistic position.

These differences of approach and attempted solutions led also to increasing skepticism; and it was in this climate of . . .

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