Mary Astell’s critique of Pierre Bayle: atheism and intellectual integrity in the Pensées

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 27 (4):806-823 (2019)
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Abstract

This paper focuses on the English philosopher Mary Astell’s marginalia in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s personal copy of the 1704 edition of Pierre Bayle’s Pensées diverses sur le comète (first published in 1682). I argue that Astell’s annotations provide good reasons for thinking that Bayle is biased toward atheism in this work. Recent scholars maintain that Bayle can be interpreted as an Academic Sceptic: as someone who honestly and impartially follows a dialectical method of argument in order to obtain the goal of intellectual integrity. In her commentary, however, Astell suggests that: (i) if Bayle were honest and impartial in his inquiries, then he would not have pretended to attack popular superstition, only to undermine generally-held religious beliefs; and (ii) if Bayle valued intellectual integrity, then his argument for a society of virtuous atheists would not have relied upon a deceptive equivocation in terms. I conclude that the rediscovery of this marginalia is valuable for enhancing our appreciation of Astell as an astute reader of one of her most enigmatic contemporaries.

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Jacqueline Broad
Monash University

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References found in this work

Academic skepticism in early modern philosophy.Maia Neto & José Raimundo - 1997 - Journal of the History of Ideas 58 (2):199-220.
What kind of a skeptic was Bayle?Thomas M. Lennon - 2002 - Midwest Studies in Philosophy 26 (1):258–279.
Academic Skepticism in Early Modern Philosophy.Jose R. Maia Neto - 1997 - Journal of the History of Ideas 58 (2):199.
Academic Skepticism in Early Modern Philosophy.Jose Raimundo Maia Neto - 1997 - Journal of the History of Ideas 58 (2):199-220.

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