Journal of the History of Philosophy 48 (4):528-529 (2010)

Given the difficulties of Pierre Bayle’s writing—its occasional nature, its digressive and wandering style, and its sheer size—it is no small task to present him as an author of a coherent metaphysical doctrine. But Todd Ryan does just that in this cogently-argued analysis of Bayle’s encounters with, among others, Descartes, Malebranche, Locke, Leibniz, and Spinoza. We are thus invited, as the subtitle indicates, to “rediscover early modern philosophy” by way of Bayle’s philosophical engagements.The main fault line in Bayle scholarship concerns the sincerity of the philosopher’s religious and philosophical commitments, and scholars have had recourse to biographical and contextual scholarship to solve some of these problems. Ryan sidesteps context, simply approaching Bayle’s texts as coherent arguments and analyzing them philosophically—a fruitful approach generally. That said, he periodically finds himself drawn into the debates about Bayle’s intentions, since he wishes to insist upon a single coherent interpretation of the philosopher as a Cartesian, something that requires one to confront instances where Bayle expresses doubts about Cartesian principles. Ryan’s strategy is to insist that Bayle takes evidence to be “a matter of degree
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DOI 10.1353/hph.2010.0018
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