Epicureans and Atheists in France, 1650–1729

Cambridge University Press
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Atheism was the most foundational challenge to early-modern French certainties. Theologians and philosophers labelled such atheism as absurd, confident that neither the fact nor behaviour of nature was explicable without reference to God. The alternative was a categorical naturalism, whose most extreme form was Epicureanism. The dynamics of the Christian learned world, however, which this book explains, allowed the wide dissemination of the Epicurean argument. By the end of the seventeenth century, atheism achieved real voice and life. This book examines the Epicurean inheritance and explains what constituted actual atheistic thinking in early-modern France, distinguishing such categorical unbelief from other challenges to orthodox beliefs. Without understanding the actual context and convergence of the inheritance, scholarship, protocols, and polemical modes of orthodox culture, the early-modern generation and dissemination of atheism are inexplicable. This book brings to life both early-modern French Christian learned culture and the atheists who emerged from its intellectual vitality.
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About the author

Alan Charles Kors is the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania. He taught at the cole Pratique des Hautes tudes and the Folger Library. He is also co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. He has published the Encyclopaedia of the Enlightenment (2003), Atheism in France, 1650729 (1990) and D'Holbach's Coterie: An Enlightenment in Paris (1976).

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Additional Information

Publisher
Cambridge University Press
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Published on
Jun 28, 2016
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Pages
253
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ISBN
9781316684115
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / General
History / General
History / Modern / General
Philosophy / History & Surveys / General
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This content is DRM protected.
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Although most historians have sought the roots of atheism in the history of "free thought," Alan Charles Kors contends that attacks on the existence of God were generated above all by the vitality and controversies of orthodox theistic culture itself. In this first volume of a planned two-volume inquiry into the sources and nature of atheism, he shows that orthodox teachers and apologists in seventeenth-century France were obliged by the logic of their philosophical and pedagogical systems to create many models of speculative atheism for heuristic purposes. Unusual in its broad sampling of the religious literature of the early-modern learned world, this book reveals that the "great fratricide" among bitterly competing schools of Aristotelian, Cartesian, and Malebranchist Christian thought encouraged theologians to refute each other's proofs of God and to depict the ideas of their theological opponents as atheistic. Such "fratricide" was not new in the history of Christendom, but Kors demonstrates that its influence was dramatically amplified by the expanding literacy of the seventeenth century. Capturing the attention of the reading public, theological debate provided intellectual grounds for the disbelief of the first generation of atheistic thinkers.

Originally published in 1990.

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