Pierre Bayle

French philosopher and writer

Pierre Bayle (18 November 1647 – 28 December 1706) was a French philosopher and writer best known for his seminal work the Historical and Critical Dictionary, published beginning in 1695.

Pierre Bayle by Louis Ferdinand Elle, 17th century.


  • Reason is like a runner who doesn't know that the race is over, or, like Penelope, constantly undoing what it creates.... It is better suited to pulling things down than to building them up, and better at discovering what things are not, than what they are.
    • Pierre Bayle, Reply to the Questions of a Provincial (Réponse aux questions d'un provincial, 1703). Quoted in Elisabeth Labrousse, Bayle, trans. Denys Potts (Oxford University Press, 1983), p. 61
  • There is not less wit nor invention in applying rightly a thought one finds in a book, than in being the first author of that thought. Cardinal du Perron has been heard to say that the happy application of a verse of Virgil has deserved a talent.
    • Pierre Bayle, Works, Volume II, p. 779; in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 653-54: About quotation.
  • If the Multiplicity of Religions prejudices the State, it proceeds from their not bearing with one another but on the contrary endeavouring each to crush and destroy the other by methods of Persecution. In a word, all the Mischief arises not from Toleration, but from the want of it.

Quotes about Bayle

  • When men follow this blind and powerful instinct of nature, they always suppose the very images, presented by the senses, to be the external objects, and never entertain any suspicion, that the one are nothing but representations of the other....This argument is drawn from Dr. Berkeley; and indeed most of the writings of that very ingenious author form the best lessons of scepticism which are to be found either among the ancient or modern philosophers, Bayle not excepted. He professes, however, in his title page (and undoubtedly with great truth) to have composed his book against the sceptics as well as against the atheists and free-thinkers. But that all his arguments, though otherwise intended, are, in reality, merely sceptical, appears from this, that they admit of no answer and produce no conviction. Their only effect is to cause that momentary amazement and irresolution and confusion, which is the result of scepticism.
  • Pythagoras was a man; and with all his imperfections on his head, we shall look among the race of men, for his better, in yain, yea, for his equal, or his second, but in vain. Pythagoras was entirely a Deist, a steady maintainer of the unity of God, and of the eternal obligations of moral virtue. No Christian writings, even to this day, can compete in sublimity and grandeur with what this illustrious philosopher has laid down concerning God, and the end of all our actions; and it is likely, says Bayle, that he would have carried his orthodoxy much farther, had he had the courage to expose himself to martyrdom.
  • The story he told me was "per sfogarsi," as Bayle loved to say; his idea was that I would not discover the real hero. I shall always believe that it was his own story under another name, and I love to believe it because it was so exactly his way of looking at things...
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