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History of Modern Philosophy Group Talk (Michael Hickson, Trent)

Friday May 4, 2018, 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

The History of Modern Philosophy Group is pleased to welcome guest speaker Michael Hickson, assistant professor at Trent University. Prof. Hickson’s recent research has focused on the history of 17-century philosophy, especially Descartes, Bayle, skepticism, and the problem of evil. Increasingly, his research includes both historical and contemporary issues related to conscience and toleration.

Talk Title

Pierre Bayle and the Death of God

Talk Abstract

In the Dutch Republic, in the span of a few months in 1685, two of the most influential theories of religious toleration in Western history were composed: Pierre Bayle’s “Letter on the Rights of Conscience” (the ninth letter of the Nouvelles lettres critiques) and John Locke’s A Letter concerning Toleration (the Epistola de tolerantia, which was written in 1685 but not published until 1689). Considerable attention has been paid to both of these works, both individually and also in contrast to one another. Roughly half the scholars that have worked on these texts together have found the arguments for toleration offered by Bayle and Locke to be fundamentally similar. The other half of the interpreters have found the arguments radically different. In this paper I present the two arguments for toleration and explore the cause of this scholarly divide. I argue that both Bayle and Locke ground their arguments for toleration in a secular foundation (which accounts for the similarities between them), but that there are important differences between the kinds of secularism espoused by Bayle and Locke (which accounts for their differences). Adapting Charles Taylor’s work on secularism, I conclude that Bayle’s model of secularism, far more than Locke’s, is responsible for the “death of God” in modern Western history.

About the History of Philosophy Research Group

One of five departmental Research Interest Groups, the History of Philosophy Group is home to the History of Modern Philosophy Research Group, which focuses on the period, roughly, from Descartes to Kant.



History of Philosophy Research Interest Group
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