Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) has been described by Richard Popkin as
the key intellectual figure at the outset of the eighteenth
century. Examinations of libraries from the period show him to have
been by far the most successful author of the century, and his
Historical and Critical Dictionary is in fact the philosophy
best-seller of all time. The concepts, distinctions, and arguments
found in his work were so widely adopted by later authors that
Bayle came to be known as the 'Arsenal of the Enlightenment'.
Despite his universally acknowledged importance, however, there has
been from his own time to the present much disagreement about how
Bayle is to be interpreted.
The title of this work is deliberately ambiguous, reflecting the
multiple levels on which its argument is conducted. One aim is to
indicate how a reading of Bayle might be made possible-how the
initial impenetrability of his writings and their world might be
overcome. On another level, the book offers an interpretation of
Bayle's writings. Finally, it is a record of the author's own
thoughts upon reading Bayle-what he finds himself thinking about as
he looks at Bayle and his world.
This work is a critical but sympathetic treatment of this
neglected thinker. It will engage anyone interested in the history
of modern philosophy, the history of ideas, literary criticism, and
the history of seventeenth-century French culture.
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