The Importance of Comets for the Cause of Astrology: the Case of Pierre Bayle in the Years 1680-1705

Author: Dr Jacques Halbronn
Abstract: I would like to suggest a re-reading of the work of Pierre Bayle, concerning his assertions of the scientific status of History, and emphasizing in particular his critique of astrology in the writings dealing with comets which were translated into English in 1708. Those who have written about Bayle’s thinking have not understood that when Bayle deals with comets he is actually looking at the way they had been previously viewed by historian, and by religion. I therefore take the opposite standpoint to those who consider that Bayle’s proposals on comets are no more than a pretext through which to approach other subjects. Indeed it is better, I feel, to re-position Reflections on Comets in the line which we would call astro-history, and to place it closer to the critical work of Claude Duret, published in 1595, a century earlier. Speaking of pretexts, it must be understood that the debate on astrology and its effects on events is an integral part of a larger debate on History which is, at its heart, similar. Moreover, it is no accident that Bayle, from the opening pages of his Reflections, fiercely criticizes historians before even beginning to develop his critique of astrology. This critique is not as superficial as we might be led to believe; it involves a methodology which Bayle shows to us in great detail, and which aims less at traditional astrological knowledge, in which comets have a somewhat secondary role, than at those works which will not accept such a traditional view about astrology at all, except with certain reservations. In many cases, the word ‘comet’ can be replaced with any astral configuration without Bayle’s argument losing its pertinence.
Keywords: Claude Duret, Bayle, traditional, comets
Publication: Astrology and the academy: papers from the inaugural conference of the Sophia Centre (published by C
Dated: 2004
Pages: 181 – 201

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