The Cosmological System of Pierre Bayle Author(s): Juliette Carnus Reviewed work(s): Source: Philosophy of Science, Vol. 8, No.

4 (Oct., 1941), pp. 585-597 Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Philosophy of Science Association Stable URL: . Accessed: 20/09/2012 11:41
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beyond any doubt. who started the dialectic movement of philosophic thought which was very characteristic of that era. Bayle did not formulate a connected and coherent system of ideas. he merely disseminated throughout his books. a positive phase of his writings which has not been adequately expounded (or which has. in his extensive writings. ideas which have to be gathered from a mass of details. he accumulated material from which his successors could draw freely and copiously. Pierre Bayle (I647-I706). It is the controversial and critical works of Bayle in particular which his commentators have made known to posterity. There is. But his positive views. especially in his Dictionnaire Historique et Critique (I720). escaped the attention of philosophers). Furthermore. Not so well known as many of the others. when put together connectedly. his work of criticism is vast. present an interesting cosmological system for they exhibit a mind operating at its apogee. nevertheless. observations. however. the motives which animated it during its struggle 585 . it was he. which are apparently self-contradictory.The Cosmological System Pierre BY of Bayle JULIETTE CARNUS HE philosopher whose work best represents the type of thought and expresses the aspirations of the French writers of the eighteenth century is. and systems of thought. and I have taken the positive philosophy of Pierre Bayle as the topic of this paper. to some extent.

1671 (p. vol. dominates inexorably the realm of speculative thought and disregards the data of experience. he fled to Holland. brought up in his father's religion. During his exile here. I. that both arguments are justified by Holy Writ. "Lettre a son pere. By comparing the arguments advanced by the different religious sects. he ascertained that these controversies and disagreements were not the result of unchallengeable reasons but that. he was desirous of setting thought right. Bayle stated that it seemed to him "that it made no material difference which side you chose to take. most frequently. naturally. . he became converted to Catholicism. I737 (4 vol. Persecuted and forced to resign his position as professor of philosophy at the University of Sedan. with that of intolerance. he participated in the fights occurring between Protestants and Catholics. no matter which particular creed it might be. but later reverted to the faith of his childhood. Bayle had had the opportunity to analyze the pros and cons of the various religious sects which were struggling against each other at this period of history. at Rotterdam." 21 Septembre. Of a dispute between two parties. lob). It was not mere curiosity which prompted him to this investigation." 1 Thus he came to associate the idea of religion. he himself had been subjected to many annoyances which had shown him how absurd intolerance was. He believed that he perceived in reason the very cause of the countless contradictions which he had observed in the various religious sects because reason lays down a priori postulates. He lost his faith but he did not withdraw from the fray.). Bayle against the despotism of tradition and the use of a scientific method that was more and more comprehensive of the aspects of reality. Now it was from the standpoint of experience that Bayle proceeded 1 (Euvresdiverses.586 Cosmological System of P. He looked upon religion as an aberration of human thought and thence he proceeded to the study of religions as well as the philosophies which supported these religions so as to discover the cause of this intellectual vice. they could be traced to motives which were human and capricious. He was the son of a Protestant minister and was.

If you take away two equal parts from two equal quantities. Bayle will give its due to both reason and experience. but for him reason is not absolute but relative. what remains will be equal. are the propositions that the whole is greater than the part. Therefore the criterion of truth. I. Our daily experiences confirm them. 420b. the triumph so obtained has no significance apart from the satisfaction thus derived and experi- enced by the mind. Man's actions are not motivated by his philosophic or theological ideas. 1734 (5 vol. the bases of theological and metaphysical dogmas. which is evidence. The same is not true of those propositions which lie beyond the range of our 2 Dictionnaire historique et critique." reject the rational verities and limit themselves to empirical knowledge. "The real motive of our actions has so little foundation in the speculative judgments which we form about the nature of things that nothing is more commonplace than to see orthodox Christians who live bad lives and free thinkers who lead good ones. consequently. Ideas derived from reason in order to be true must be capable of being verified by our ex"Such. Arc6silas. If the mind is here triumphant. the theatre of human behavior is the world we live in. can be found in reason or in experience. the world of facts and it is altogether different from the world of speculative thought and from the domain of the absolute where reason reigns. p. Dictionnaire.J. Now the will lies outside their jurisdiction. it would be unnecessary to try to prove them. But the dogmas founded on speculation assume the right of directing the mind and of influencing the will. Thus he came to consider religious controversies merely as intellectual pastimes of unparalleled futility. Two and two make four. "the sceptics. . and this is what Bayle undertakes to prove. perience. Carnus 587 to criticize the postulates of reason. Bayle notices that some of them (which he designates as the "dogmatic") accept only the rational verities and reject the data of experience while the others.). These axioms have the advantage not only of being very clear in our minds but they also come within the range of our senses. for example." 2 In comparing the various philosophic systems. t.

if we desire to discover truth. refuted by so many overwhelming and inextricable objections that it is very difficult to decide whether we find the arguments advanced in favor of the true more convincing than those advanced in favor of the false. 79n. asserts Bayle.-which was.. Dictionnaire." Dictionnaire.588 Cosmological System of P. A clearly evident proposition can be refuted by another just as evident. t.. and which was recognized and appreciated before the advancement of scientific knowledge made it possible to establish its importance. v. regarded as all-important." 5 S." 4 One encounters contradiction as soon as one states propositions such as: "Bodies have a distinct space. 4 "Dissertation a du Rondel. I9. Each of these propositions. on which are based theology and dogmatic philosophy. whereas facts offer irrefutable proof of their existence. that we weigh these two kinds of verities according to the degree of certitude peculiar to each of them. v. of course. He compares historic certitude with mathematical certitude. not particularly in the eighteenth century which was too absorbed in logical and mathematicalclarity but subsequently. 0. At this conjuncture we perceive the idea of a scientific method developed in the mind of Bayle which was to be reinforced.. 6 Commentairephilosophique. 711. at that time. Consequently there is either in the first or in the second proposition a necessary truth or an impossible falsehood. Maldonat. however. is supported by such strong proofs. History is the science which reveals the facts of life better than any other branch of learning and we must go to history." One of these maxims cannot be true unless it is absolutely and immutably true and uncontradictable. such propositions need to be discussed and proved. Bayle senses or which can be refuted by other propositions. bodies do not have a distinct space. He says: "I maintain that the truths of history can attain to a degree of certitude more incontestable than that which can be attained by the geometric truths. and he concludes that the former is superior to the latter. or rather. xi. . p. V. be it understood." 3 Among these latter are to be found all the propositions of speculative reason.

Carnus 589 Evidence is not a perfectly clear notion. If the Cartesian notion of clear and distinct evidence is not the one that Bayle adopts. represents an eclectism of philosophic thought at the beginning of the eighteenth century. p. It is Cartesian physics that he prefers. but this joy soon becomes purely intellectual curiosity. 396. Whatever cannot be corroborated by experience is discarded as unreal and untrue. just as religious doctrines. "that I hardly ever read history for the sake of learning about past events but only to find out what was said in the different countries and by different persons about what was going on. likewise the philosophic systems which substantiate the dogmas. but he holds that extension is not a notion which has more importance than any other of the qualities that we discover by experience and this 6Ibid. "Everyone knows. Io6. that of Descartes.. Bayle offers it not as a system of absolute and immutable truths but rather as an hypothesis which seems to him to be the best and the one most capable of explaining reality in its total compass. first of all. for instance. His system. At the same time Bayle retains from these philosophies whatever has the mark of truth and which will help him to construct his cosmological system. 7"Critique gen6rale de l'histoire du Calvinisme. the people and the epoch. divseses. he nevertheless realizes that Descartes knew how to fix clearly the limits of the domain of the mind and the body. He experiences. I . consequently." 6 History shows that metaphysical systems. a neophyte's joy. or ought to know. "I admit to you. we have proof of his feeling for a genuine scientific method which reveals to him that the truths we believe we have discovered are simply points of view taken from reality and which are destined to be superseded by the progress of knowledge and philosophy." 7 Bayle strives to disassociate from the notions the a priori part which they contain and to expose the contradictions therein discovered.J. vary according to the country. and especially that of Spinoza. Again. such as Descartes believed it to be. he analyzes very thoroughly the notions on which dogmas are based." CEuvres ." he says. In particular. that evidence is a relative quality.

. we notice things external to ourselves. but. But causes must not be multiplied unnecessarily. moreover "how can one imagine that an independent nature. On the other hand. the atomistic theory is the best fitted to account for phenomena that we observe in our daily life. Rem N. although Bayle takes care to see only facts. such as feeling. The void. Also. our observation shows us that "extension is composed of parts actually separate and distinct one from the other. especially since Descartes has definitely asserted it to be so.. which exists per se and which possesses infinite perfections to be subjected to all the misfortunes of the human species. we have a variety of experiences. such as bodies which are the objects of our experience of the world about us. 226a. Dictionnaire. vol. therefore. for example. and that a single principle must be sufficient to explain all phenomena. p. V. as are to be seen in the destruction and decomposition of matter. However neither the Cartesian mechanism nor the atomism of Democritus could account adequately for phenomena. he also is dominated by an idea. Spinoza."8 Extension. Now thought seems to be a real substance and extension as well. of which the works of Gassendi had made him see the advantages."9 Such. is an incomprehensible and therefore inadmissible idea. that everything in the universe is connected. And Bayle prefers Descartes' point of view because the latter considers extension as an essential element of substance. 9 Article. Neither can Extension be a mode because we should have no way of knowing what substance is. thought. indeed. 3x3b. vol. for example. is a composite entity. there are phenomena of another nature. apart from that. p. Rem EE. these constitute another form of 8 Article. however. Dictionnaire.590 Cosmological System of P. Spinoza. Bayle made him hesitate to consider extension as a substance and he accepts the atomistic theory. It is an exigency of the analytical method which influences at the same time his conception of the world. Bayle repudiates the substance One of Spinoza for it is contrary to our experience and what we understand by the notion of perfection or God. and. conscience. which is that knowledge is one. There must be one single substance if we are to have unity of knowledge. V.

as one does in living beings. further. consequently it cannot be united to. 628a. The difference is only one of degree. but if one observes."10 Bayle wishes to include movement in the atom. but he hesitates because this notion seems to lead him to the occult forces of the schoolmen. Consequently. which Descartes had rejected in his Physique. striking it. Carnus 591 experience which is not less real than the external one. I say." . nor affect extension. or this power is something other than impenetrable extension for all that you can do to this extension by pulling it. II. which is life.J. Furthermore the notion of thought has nothing in common with the notion of extension. impenetrability. phenomena whereof we perceive extension. "Dic6arque. pushing it in every imaginable direction. The Cartesian mechanism can explain only bodies. this points to an adaptation of means to a single end. He states that Leibnitz did not offer a more satisfactory solution by explaining the internal development of the soul by its spontaneity and liberty. like in a clock. v. and movement. before being set in a certain way. we must consider finality. that is. that the arrangement of the organs of the body would not be able to produce thought if each organ before being put in its place did not actually have the power of thinking. that is contrary to fact because "if this were the case. did not have impenetrable extension which is necessary to produce movement when it is set in motion. is a change of situation of which you fully perceive the entire nature and essence without needing to assume the existence of any feeling. s. If thought also exists with laws different from those which governthe body. and this presupposes choice. it must also be a part of the substance. a special activity. But since the arrangement of the various wheels which make up a clock would not be able to produce the effects of this machine if each wheel. how are we to explain the concatenation of opposite feelings which succeed each other fortuitously according to the impressions coming from without in 10Dictionnaire. to one local movement that is diversely modified. "because in the living body the only thing that the arrangement of the organs can do is reduced. in our choice of what we shall make of the substance.

183. movement and thought because. who said that perhaps matter was capable of thinking. they are the "active principles which carry out God's plan almost in the same way that certain men carry out the plan of an engineer."" Bayle thinks that the hypothesis of the English philosopher Cudworth (with whom he was personally acquainted) is not clear. ch. IV. IV.592 Cosmological System of P. as much in respect to sensations and knowledge as well as movement. Leucippe. He thinks that in addition to extension.v."12 It is God. the "plastic natures" are not enough either. . who acts and one comes back to "accepting the Cartesian dogma which one had wished to reject. 94ib. 647a. movement and thought other qualities may exist but they are not manifested to our ex11 "Rponses aux questionsd'un provincial. The diversity of passions that one notices in rational and irrational animals could be generally explained by the various combinations of the atoms." p. 3e partie. but Bayle does not believe that this is impossible and therefore he includes in substance. we could understand that a collection of atoms could form a composite capable of undergoing certain special modifications. in addition to extension. XV.. 13 Oeuvres diverses. in the last analysis. He criticizes Locke."14 But each of these factors is only a quality of a single unknowable substance and which moreover Bayle does not consider it worth while knowing.III. p. Bayle such a way that a feeling of pain may follow a feeling of pleasure. and to separate the rational from the empirical. 183. are incomprehensible and useless. s. I4. these three factors can explain all the phenomena of experience. If he also indulges in reasoning. it is always so as to throw into relief that part of truth in each system which is in conformity with the facts of experience. in his opinion. "If every atom had sensibility. 2 Oeuvresdiverses. because if matter and mind are not enough to explain the organization of living beings. these beings which are neither extended nor immaterial."l3 It is interesting to note the criticisms that Bayle makes of each system. 14 Dictionnaire.

found in man. In making sensation or thought a quality of substance. Carnus 593 perience. now we perceive that thought functions only intermittently and. By endowing the atom (which is uncreated and eternal) with movement.t. . Thought also explains the phenomena. it develops. Thought is only a quality. 3e partie. and takes a good deal of time to do so. it differs only in degree. p. III. Bayle has shown the relativity of our knowledge and our means of acquiring knowledge. in illness and even in a healthy man when asleep. The sensibility of animals seems to be of the same nature as man's. from whom he got the idea. besides. Reason represents only our past experience which has been favorable to the individual and to the species. we must also concede it to animals. 94Ib. it is not something ready-made and perfect at the moment when it begins to function.J." XV. a spiritual substance to man. the interdependence of mind and body will account also for a fundamental phenomenon which is man's instinct and man's passion. is apparently influenced by the body. Bayle will easily be able to solve the question of the immortality of the soul."15 Other proofs abound which reveal the influence of the body over the soul and which were the topics of numerous discussions at that time. in old age. thought will be able to account for organic finality. in this way he drew attention to the study of history wherein human experience can be observed in the process of changing into intelligence. rational thinking. he explains all physical and corporeal phenomena without the instrumentality of a prime mover. and thought effects the selection of the means for a single end-that is to say. But like Fontenelle (I657-I757).chap. If we concede an immortal soul. "R6ponsesaux questionsd'un provincial. For it is passion that motivates man's actions more than reason. the most important dogma of the majority of religious and metaphysical beliefs. Bayle holds that experience furnishes reason with more elements than it can assimilate so as to transform them into 15 Oeuvresdiverses. it cannot be a substance because the soul would think continuously. "The experience everyone has of the control which his body exercises over his soul shows how feeble reason is in infancy.

17 "Pensees diverses. in particular the role that passion plays in human conduct. we realize that owing to this union our knowledge is limited and defective."'7 "Human life is nothing but a continual struggle between the 16 "Supplement du Commentaire philosophique. for besides this union compels the soul to think in conformity with the impressions which objects make on the brain. a natural inclination for pleasure. likewise in human reasoning. 494b. Although Bayle does not seem to have been influenced by the i'reatiseon the Passions of Descartes. . These observations supplied Auguste Comte. in the following century. who drew attention to what should constitute genuine medical science in his work: Rapports du Physique et du Moral de l'homme. which do not amplify its true knowledge and which persuade the soul to judge objects by deceptive appearances without its knowing what they really are like." 0."'6 This idea of the influence of the body on the soul was analyzed in detail and in a systematic manner by Cabanis (I757-I808). sect. Bayle shows that morality has nothing to do with religion and it is a mistake to believe that men behave according to their religious beliefs. a scholar and a doctor. a habit formed in association with friends. "It is temperament. It is by passion that Bayle explains error which results from the feebleness of the mind and not from our corrupt nature "because however little thought we may give to the way in which our soul is united to our body. p. most of the time affected by modifications which do not clarify it. he attaches great importance to the interdependence of mind and body not only so as to explain human nature without the help of religious dogma but especially to explain many facts. CXXXVII. or passions and not the distinct image of any object such as it is in itself. with the idea which enabled him to formulate the Law of the Three Stages of the development of the mind." Oeuvres diverses. which are only confused feelings. or some other disposition which rises from the depth of our nature. it is also necessary for the mind to have an infinity of thoughts which have to do with the preservation of the body. the desire for contact with objects. 88. III.594 Cosmological System of P. being. XI. t.. Bayle intelligence.

"If the mind. 354b. it shows the influence either on the mind of external things to which we are exposed or of our own temperament."Chap. He was the first to show what Montesquieu (I689-1755) afterwards expressed in his work L'Esprit des lois. others are bad. If. p. has no significance apart from human society-a standpoint that d'Holbach (I723-I789) supported in his work Le Syst?me de la Nature.'18 Passion is confused thought. 263b.J. contrives deceptive stratagems. but he would not admit the vitalist hypothesis of Boherhave. yet there were people to be found to overthrow these plans. but both have their part to play and their usefulness. in which the latter is nearly always defeated. t. III. Here Bayle has indicated that something can be done to better human conduct by improving human environment. I may add that in countries where the people are astir.. some are good. that is. CXIX. and thus Bayle solves the problem of evil-the object of so many controversies. therefore. . Moral virtues result from social life. man has passions which he strives to satisfy. 0. He could view human nature only from the true positive angle. by its subtlety. Helvetius (I715-I77I) profited from this idea in his work De l'esprit. 91"Continuation des Penses diverses. Bayle was interested in it. it can also inspire great confidence and provide several ways of circumspection."19 Biological science was beginning to engross the attention of scholars. He repudiated all that was 18"H l1ne. Bayle looks upon social groups as natural products arising from the needs of human nature. morality. in a republic such as those of Athens and Rome. What is most strange and singular in this conflict is that very often the side is victorious which clashes with our ideas of integrity and also with our temporal interest. restless and clever. thought which is unelaborated in consciousness. where one made no boast of intellect or of liberty. But Bayle does not glorify man as Rousseau did." Dictionnaire. III. one faction will restrain another by its constant viligance. Carnus 595 passions and conscience. plots and conspiracies against the government were inevitable.

These problemsembarrassednot only Bayle but also all the other philosophersof the eighteenth century. Bayle ascribedto the interventionof an immaterialcause which could change the courseof natural laws. Therefore they can be reciprocallypenetratedso as to give a unity of consciousness. In his philosophicalexplanation Bayle was confronted with several difficultieswhich he attempted to solve: i. furthermore.morethan anythingelse. Bayle's cosmological system marks a stage of progress of philosophicthought and also shows the applicationof scientific methods to the study of man and his behavior. be unitedto how can thoughtwhichis indivisible 3.he rejected whatever was innate whereby certain English deists of his time explained prevailinggeneral notions such as the existence of God.596 Cosmological System of P.but does not attach great importanceto them becausehe is more concernedwith the explanationof phenomenathan with the solving of metaphysical questions. Bayle showed that there were races who had no conceptionof a divine being. he can unite thought to it without taking away the latter's identity.he believes it to be each other like the elements of extension. Undoubtedly many discoverieshave been made and much astonishingprogress. conceivable because the elements of thought are not exterior to . a collection of atomscannotmakea unity of substance. which show the amount of ground covered since Bayle's philosophic contribution. As to the unity of consciousness. whichis divisible? extension 2. Bayle offers a solution of these problems. the assembled of thoughtcannotmakea unityof conelements sciousness. But to him belongs the credit of pointing out the way and he had courageenoughto attack fallaciousthinking which. they were due to the concept of substance which Descartes and the schoolmen entertained and which they could not elucidate so as to explain phenomena. Since he accepts the atom which is an indivisible entity. Moreover. hinderedintellectualprogress.

. more true.J. If he were better known and better understood. he would acquaint us with a philosophy that would be more human. and more constructive. Carnus 597 His idea of the animated atom suggested to Diderot (1713-1784) the possibility of a single living matter which was subsequently known as the organic cell. Bayle believed less than the other philosophers in mathematical reasoning or in philosophic dialectic. BrooklynCollege.

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