Bayle, Pierre

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Bayle, Pierre

Pierre Bayle (pyĕr bāl), 1647–1706, French philosopher. Born a Huguenot, he converted to Roman Catholicism and then returned to Protestantism. To avoid French intolerance of Protestants, he moved in 1681 to Rotterdam, where he lived for most of the rest of his life. Trained as a philosopher and with a strong background in theology, Bayle supported Calvinism but was also an advocate of religious toleration, contending that morality was independent of religion. Bayle was renowned for his trenchant skeptical attacks against leading religious, metaphysical, and scientific theories of his day. He held that attempts to construct rational explanations of the world were bound to lead to absurd conclusions. His chief work was Dictionnaire historique et critique (1697), a compendium of biographies with comprehensive and detailed criticisms by Bayle. His views had a profound influence on the French and German Enlightenment, especially on the authors of the Encyclopédie and on the English deists.

See C. Brush, Montaigne and Bayle (1966) and E. Labrousse, Bayle (1983).

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