"Pierre Bayle: Freedom of Speech and Censorship"
Hubert Bost from the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris
Given on March 1, 2007
Prof. Bost posited that Pierre Bayle held that ‘freedom of conscience should not be limited by human powers, even if this conscience is wrong.’ Before he fleshed out this argument, Prof. Bost began with a brief description of Pierre Bayle’s life. Prof. Bost then presented Bayle’s “thoughts on tolerating heretical books” and censorship. Bost first outlined the 17th and 18th centuries’ definition of censorship, and then reviewed the circumstances under which Bayle confronted censorship before the publication of his Dictionnaire historique et critique. Next Bost dealt with political censorship in France and ecclesiastical censorship in the Dutch Republic as applied to the Dictionnaire. Prof. Bost presented a very interesting view of Bayle’s publishing experience as his immensely popular Dictionnaire navigated the scrutiny of both political and religious censors yet survived as a work which contained controversial ideas. Bayle’s somewhat unique experiences and ability to play political and ecclesiastical sides against one another worked in his favor as he strove for freedom of speech and the presentation of ideas which opposed the various political and theological authorities of his time.