The Implications of Bayle’s Qualified Academic Scepticism for Moral Knowledge

  • Kristen IrwinEmail author
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas Archives internationales d'histoire des idées book series (ARCH, volume 221)


Recent attention to Pierre Bayle has made much of the difficulty in specifying the nature and extent of Bayle’s scepticism. After offering an abbreviated defense of reading Bayle as a qualified Academic sceptic, I draw out several important implications for the possibility of moral knowledge from this particular account. First, insofar as moral beliefs are justified on the basis of Bayle’s fallibilist conception of reason (bon sens), their justification is merely πιθανόν (plausible or persuasive), not certain. A further implication is that merely plausible moral beliefs will never be sufficient to justify any kind of persecution, religious or otherwise. Second, the well-foundedness of moral beliefs can only be derived from la droite raison, the aspect of reason that Bayle describes as “the natural light”. Bayle’s willingness to ascribe reliability, immediacy, and easy accessibility to basic moral beliefs is on the basis of their deliverance by the natural light. Though Bayle discounts the reliability of the natural light with respect to non-moral beliefs, he never questions the natural light with respect to moral beliefs. Moral beliefs are thus the most certain, most reliable beliefs that we have. Insofar as these moral beliefs are indeed from la droite raison and not merely conscience, we have moral knowledge, not merely normatively-charged beliefs. A further implication is that since Bayle claims on the basis of the natural light that any interpretation of Scripture requiring the commission of crimes is false, then religious persecution is forbidden on the basis of the natural light.


Conscience Moral knowledge Right reason 


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Loyola University ChicagoChicagoUSA

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