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Title: "In good faith" : irony, scepticism and fideism in the controversial literature of the eighteenth century
Author: Bradbury, P. A.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 1998
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This dissertation is a study of the controversial literature of the eighteenth century, an examination of certain texts which offended against the religious convictions of the period. The discussion concentrates on four works: Pierre Bayle's Dictionnaire Historique et Critique (1696-1701), Bernard Mandeville's Fable of the Bees (1714-1724), Henry Dodwell junior's Christianity not founded on argument (1742) and David Hume's Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779). This dissertation seeks to establish why these texts were so disconcerting, subversive and fascinating to an eighteenth-century audience. These works were not straight-forward declarations of impiety: the authors themselves - with varying degrees of irony - proclaimed their innocence of any subversive design. And the contemporary response was not always a unanimous chorus of disapproval: it was a curious mixture of outraged denunciation, careful negotiation and - in some cases - unqualified praise. While some readers believed that Bayle et al were seeking to undermine the Christian religion, other readers insisted that they were defending its prerogatives in good faith. This dissertation examines how such contrasting interpretations were constructed from the textual evidence and will thus be a contribution to the study of reader-response in the period. The interpretative difference of opinion was due - at least in part - to the presence of incommensurable theological idioms in the period. Bayle, Mandeville and Dodwell employed religious languages which were unfamiliar to an Anglican audience. While some readers shared the necessary theological presuppositions, many contemporaries were simply baffled by Mandeville's Augustinian moralism, Bayle's use of scepticism and Dodwell's rigorous fideism. The eighteenth century was riven by outbreaks of theological controversy: it was a period in which the definitions of orthodox and heterodox opinions were peculiarly fluid and unstable, a period in which a religious consensus could not be taken for granted.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available