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The Modern Schoolman

Volume 88, Issue 3/4, July/October 2011

Theological Themes in Modern Philosophy

Michael W. Hickson
Pages 201-221

Reductio ad Malum
Bayle’s Early Skepticism about Theodicy

Pierre Bayle is perhaps most well-known for arguing in his Dictionary (1697) that the problem of evil cannot be solved by reason alone. This skepticism about theodicy is usually credited to a religious crisis suffered by Bayle in 1685 following the unjust imprisonment and death of his brother, the death of his father, and the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. But in this paper I argue that Bayle was skeptical about theodicy a decade earlier than these events, from at least the time of his Sedan philosophy course (1675–77). I then argue that both the Various Thoughts on the Comet (1683) and Philosophical Commentary on Luke 4:23 (1686–88), which are usually read as treatments of superstition and toleration respectively, are works that also closely engage the problem of evil and demonstrate the skepticism of Bayle toward theodicy.

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