Skepticism and Belief In Early-Modern France: The Fideism of Bishop Pierre-Daniel Huet
Alan Charles Kors
Bishop Pierre-Daniel Huet (1630-1721) was an influential scholar of the seventeenth century, whose posthumously published Treatise Concerning the Weakness of Human Understanding (1723) shocked many of his Jesuit friends for its controversial and heretical content. This thesis has investigated the origins and the development of Huet’s skepticism, analyzing not only the author’s published works, but his marginalia, correspondence, and manuscripts as well. Thus, this thesis attempted to reconcile Huet’s published works, including his memoirs, with his private correspondence and manuscripts, resolving the tensions between his private and public images and revealing the development of his skepticism. Such reconciliation demonstrated the continuity from Huet’s earlier dogmatic works to his scandalous treatise. In so doing, the thesis showed that Huet’s intentions were misunderstood by his friends. His skepticism, while appearing to be a heterodox set of arguments, aimed to preserve theological doctrines from the unscrupulous scrutiny of rational analyses of the Cartesians. Thus, by showing the weakness of natural human reason and its inability to know anything with certainty, Huet hoped to prove that natural philosophy had no place in theology and to convince his readers to submit to faith in the Christian Revelation. By historically analyzing Huet’s ideas in the context of both his Jesuit education and the debates in which he participated, this thesis has resolved the seeming incongruity between Huet’s philosophical skepticism and religious devotion, showing how such a seemingly contradictory position was possible in seventeenth-century France.