Arnauld Versus Leibniz and Malebranche on the Limits of Theological Knowledge

  • Robert Sleigh
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 145)


In Chapter I of The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza, Richard Popkin offers a succinct and accurate account of the dispute over the basis of religious knowledge that was a central quarrel of the Reformation. The idea is this: In Luther’s initial criticism of Catholic practices he accepted the Catholic position that religious propositions are to be tested for truth by their agreement with Church tradition, councils, and Papal pronouncement. But in subsequent writings Luther took the decisive step of recommending replacement of the Catholic criterion by a test phrased in terms of consistency with Scripture, as interpreted by the conscience of the faithful. Popkin went on to note that Calvin transformed this simple test into an elaborate epistemology of religious knowledge without thereby denying Luther’s basic claims. Popkin then traced the history of the alliance between Catholic Counter Reformation thinkers and sixteenth and seventeenth century Pyrrhonian sceptics, in their efforts to undermine Calvin’s epistemology of religious knowledge. In Chapter VI Popkin noted the Jansenists uses of Catholic Pyrrhonism in defense of their antiphilosophical views and their opposition to rational theology. And in his seminal paper “Scepticism, Theology, and the Scientific Revolution in the Seventeenth Century,”1 Popkin clarified the ways in which the new sciences and traditional theology interfaced in the seventeenth century.


Actual World Seventeenth Century Straightforward Analysis Religious Knowledge Deductive Closure 
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  1. 1.
    Richard H. Popkin, “Scepticism, Theology and the Scientific Revolution in the 17th Century,” in Problems in the Philosophy of Science, eds. Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1988 ), pp. 1–39.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    All citations from Arnauld are to Oeuvres de Messire Antoine Arnauld, Docteur de la Maison et Société de Sorbonne,43 vols. (Paris, 1775–1783); hereafter cited as OA/ volume/ page.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Leibniz references labeled G are to G. W. Leibniz, Die philosophischen Schriften, 7 vols., ed. C. I. Gerhardt ( Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung); reproduced by George Olms, Hildesheim, 1978.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Malebranche, Oeuvres complètes,22 vols., ed. André Robinet (Paris: Vrin, 1958–1984), vol. 5, p. 29; hereafter cited as OM.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    René Descartes, Oeuvres de Descartes, 11 vols., ed. Charles Adam and Paul Tannery (Paris: CNRS/Vrin, 1964–1974); hereafter cited as AT.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1996

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  • Robert Sleigh

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