In Positive Atheism: Bayle, Meslier, d’Holbach, Diderot (Edinburgh University Press, 2021), Dr. Charles Devellennes looks at the religious, social, and political thought of the first four thinkers of the French Enlightenment: Pierre Bayle, Jean Meslier, Paul-Henri Thiry d’Holbach and Denis Diderot to explicitly argue for atheism as a positive philosophy. He shows how atheism evolved considerably over the century that spans the works of these four authors: from the possibility of the virtuous atheist in the late 17th century, to a deeply rooted materialist philosophy with radical social and political consequences by the eve of the French revolution. The metamorphosis of atheism from a purely negative phenomenon to one that became self-aware had profound consequences for establishing an ethics without God and the rise of republicanism as a political philosophy.
Charles Devellennes is a Senior Lecturer in Political and Social Thought at University of Kent’s School of Politics and International Relations. His research interests lie in the interdisciplinary area of the history of political thought, specifically with eighteenth century political thought in the field of religion and politics, and the rise of atheism in France at this time.