Skepticism and Politics in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

Friday, May 11, 2012–Saturday, May 12, 2012
All Day

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street

—a conference organized by Gianni Paganini, University of Piedmont, Vercelli, and John Christian Laursen, University of California, Riverside


This conference starts from the point that much of our thinking in both philosophy and politics today is an inheritance from the encounters by major philosophers such as Hobbes, Descartes, Hume, Smith, and Kant with the skeptical traditions. Their work, in turn, influenced a host of minor figures such as the libertines of the seventeenth century and the political activists of the time of the French Revolution. The skeptical foundations of Hobbesian political philosophy, Cartesianism, and the clandestine writers of the seventeenth century fed into the Humean empiricism, Smithian cosmopolitanism, and Kantian political idealism of the Enlightenment. Along the way, literature and historical writing tried to make sense of the implications of skepticism for political life. All put together, we will try to bring out the political implications of philosophical skepticism in the early modern period as the foundation for understanding its continuing political implications today.

Session 1
Chair: Gianni Paganini, University of Piedmont, Vercelli

Daniel Brunstetter, University of California, Irvine
“Itineraries of a Skeptic: From Sebond to La Mothe Le Vayer”

Jean-Charles Darmon, Université de Versailles-Ecole normale supérieure
“Skeptical and Political Questionings of the Fable: Remarks on Some Experiences of Relativist Thought in the Classical Age”

Session 2
Chair: Joshua Dienstag, University of California, Los Angeles

Gianni Paganini, University of Piedmont, Vercelli
“Hobbes and the French Skeptics”

Sylvia Giocanti, Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail
“To Obey the Laws and Customs of One’s Country: To Live in Disorder and Barbarity. The Powerlessness of Skeptical Politics According to Samuel Sorbière”

Andrew Sabl, University of California, Los Angeles
“David Hume: Skepticism in Politics?”

Session 3
Chair: Whitney Mannies, University of California, Riverside

Pierre Force, Columbia University
“Skepticism and Political Economy”

Rodrigo Brandão, Universidade Federal do Paraná
“Can a Skeptic be a Reformer? Skepticism in Morals and Politics during the Enlightenment: The Case of Voltaire”

Session 4
Chair: Sharon Lloyd, University of Southern California

Sébastien Charles, Université de Sherbrooke
“General Skepticism and the Political Exception: The Strange Dogmatism of Brissot de Warville in the French Revolution”

Michael Forster, University of Chicago
“The Zetetic Method and Liberalism in Kant and Herder”

John Christian Laursen, University of California, Riverside
“Karl Friedrich Stäudlin’s Diagnosis of the Political Effects of Skepticism in Late Eighteenth-Century Germany”