Reading Bayle


202 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8266-1
DDC 194




Reviewed by Jay Newman

Jay Newman is a professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph. He
is the author of Competition in Religious Life, Religion vs. Television:
Competitors in Cultural Context, and Inauthentic Culture and Its
Philosophical Critics.


The name of Pierre Bayle is well known to most historians of ideas, who
can readily identify this influential thinker as a major philosophical
sceptic, effective advocate of toleration, and herald of the
Enlightenment; but when contemporary readers actually read Bayle, they
generally find his writings to be exceedingly more obscure and elusive
than those of most other major figures of early modern philosophy, and
Bayle has not received the continuous attention (particularly among
English-language scholars) that his eminence and historical influence
might seem to warrant.

Thomas M. Lennon, historian of philosophy at the University of Western
Ontario, has provided a sophisticated and engaging introduction to
Bayle’s work that directly confronts the Bayle enigma and illuminates
the distinctive vision of this unusual thinker who has been viewed in
such radically different ways by readers. Inspired partly by Mikhail
Bakhtin’s approach to Dostoevsky, Lennon emphasizes the dialogical and
polyphonic aspects of Bayle’s thinking and writing and shows how these
features of Bayle’s approach to philosophy correspond with his
commitment to toleration and his subtle treatment of issues relating to
authority, infallibility, reason, conscience, heresy, idolatry,
transubstantiation, theodicy, providence, grace, and divine–human
dialogue. An informed historian of early modern philosophical,
theological, and political ideas, Lennon concisely places Bayle in
historical context and explores the dialectical relationship between
Bayle and the various thinkers who stimulated his reflection. Lennon
also often succeeds in showing how classical theological issues,
particularly those dividing Catholic and Calvinist thinkers, have
continuing philosophical and practical import.

The reader may regret that Lennon has not elaborated on the relation of
Bayle’s vision to that of, for example, Socrates, Erasmus, Montaigne,
Charron, Pascal, or certain contemporary liberal theologians. But this
is not to detract from Lennon’s project, which like that of the Bayle
whom we meet in the pages of Lennon’s study, is meant to evoke
continuing reflection rather than present us with a definitive
understanding of subjects that are too often reduced to a set of rigid
propositions. Lennon’s book brings to life a thinker too often
neglected or misunderstood and the issues that preoccupied him.


Lennon, Thomas M., “Reading Bayle,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,