The Absence of Deistic Ideas from 1630 to 1670

  • C. J. Betts
Part of the Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idees / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 104)


Before the middle of the seventeenth century, the concepts which were to be central to Enlightenment deism already existed; the word ’déiste’ was in circulation; and there had been some evidence of deistic free-thought, clandestinely expressed, before 1630. If movements of thought proceeded at a steady rate, we might expect that during the next few decades French deism would emerge into prominence. Yet what occurs is the opposite. The search for deism, between about 1630 and 1670, produces extremely meager results. Even Busson’s researches have failed to turn up anything of real significance.1 There is, it is true, one phenomenon which is of fundamental importance in the history of deism, as in the history of thought generally; it is the growth of metaphysical and religious rationalism. This is seen not only in the philosophy of Descartes and his followers, but also in the many works of rational apologetics which were published.2 But the potential of metaphysical rationalism as a weapon of free-thought was not yet apparent, despite the opposition to Descartes,3 and in the mid-century free-thought of any kind is rare, more so than for many years before and after.


Seventeenth Century Natural Religion Pure Nature Religious Atmosphere Renaissance Humanist 
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  1. Henri Gouhier, La pensee religieuse de Descartes, 2nd edition (Paris, 1972), p. 104Google Scholar
  2. Francisque Bouillier, Histoire de la philosophic cartesienne, 3rd edition, 2 vols. (Paris, 1868).Google Scholar
  3. R. H. Popkin, The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Descartes, revised edition (Assen, 1964)Google Scholar
  4. Francois de La Mothe le Vayer, Deux dialogues faits a limitation des anciens, edited by Ernest Tisserand (Paris, 1922), pp. 73–74Google Scholar
  5. Luciano Erba, Magia e invenzione, note e ricerche su Cyrano de Bergerac e sualtriautori (Milan, 1967)Google Scholar
  6. Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (London, 1964)Google Scholar
  7. Edited by Philippe Sellier, Les Classiques du Mercure (Paris, 1976), p. 376Google Scholar
  8. Henri Bremond, Histoire litteraire du sentiment religieux en France, (Paris, 1915–1933)Google Scholar

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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague 1984

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  • C. J. Betts

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