François de La Mothe Le Vayer  

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"And Le Vayer’s way of handling the dicta of St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas as to the virtues of unbelievers being merely vices is for its time so hardy that the Cardinal’s protection alone can explain its immunity from censure. St. Augustine and St. Thomas, says the critic calmly, had regard merely to eternal happiness, which virtue alone can obtain for no one. They are, therefore, to be always interpreted in this special sense. And so at the very outset the ground is summarily cleared of orthodox obstacles. The Petit discours chrétien sur l’immortalité de l’âme, also addressed to Richelieu, tells of a good deal of current unbelief on that subject; and the epistle dedicatory professes pain over the “philosopher of our day [ Vanini ] who has had the impiety to write that, unless one is very old, very rich, and a German, one should never expatiate on this subject.” But on the very threshold of the discourse, again, the skeptic tranquilly suggests that there would be “perhaps something unreasonable” in following Augustine’s precept, so popular in later times, that the problem of immortality should be solved by the dictates of religion and feeling, not of “uncertain” reason. “Why,” he asks, “should the soul be her own judge?” And he shows a distinct appreciation of the avowal of Augustine in his Retractationes that his own book on the Immortality of the Soul was so obscure to him that in many places he himself could not understand it. The “Little Christian Discourse” is, in fact, not Christian at all; and its arguments are but dialectic exercises, on a par with those of the Discours sceptique sur la musique which follows. He was, in short, a skeptic by temperament; and his Preface d’une histoire shows his mind to have played on the “Mississippi of falsehood called history” very much as did that of Bayle in a later generation." --A Short History of Freethought Ancient and Modern, Volume 2 of 2, by John M. Robertson

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

François de La Mothe Le Vayer (1588, Paris - May 9 1672), was a French writer. He was admitted to the French Academy in 1639, and was the tutor of Louis XIV. Modest, sceptical, and occasionally obscene in his Latin pieces and in his verses, he made himself a persona grata at the French court, where libertinism in ideas and morals was hailed with relish. Besides his educational works, he wrote Jugement sur les anciens et principaux historiens grecs et latins (1646); a treatise entitled Du peu de certitude qu'il y a en histoire (1668), which in a sense marks the beginning of historical criticism in France; and sceptical Dialogues, published posthumously under the pseudonym of Orasius Tubero.


Born in Paris of a noble family of Maine. His father was an avocat at the parlement of Paris and author of a curious treatise on the functions of ambassadors, entitled Legatus, seu De legatorum primlegiis, officio et munere libellus (1579) and illustrated mainly from ancient history. Francois succeeded his father at the parlement, but gave up his post about 1647 and devoted himself to travel and belles lettres.

His Considérations sur l'éloquence française (1638) procured him admission to the Académie française, and his De l'instruction de Mgr. le Dauphin (1640) attracted the attention of Richelieu. In 1649 Anne of Austria entrusted him with the education of her second son and subsequently with the completion of Louis XIV's education, which had been very much neglected. The outcome of his pedagogic labors was a series of books comprising the Géographie, Rhétorique, Morale, Economique, Politique, Logique, and Physique du prince (1651-1658). The king rewarded his tutor by appointing him historiographer of France and councillor of state. La Mothe Le Vayer inherited of Marie de Gournay's library, itself transmitted from Michel de Montaigne. La Mothe Le Vayer died in Paris.

Études critiques

  • Sylvia Giocanti, Penser l’irrésolution. Montaigne, Pascal, La Mothe Le Vayer. Trois itinéraires sceptiques, Champion, 2001.
  • Sophie Gouverneur, Prudence et subversion libertines. La critique de la Raison d’État chez François de La Mothe Le Vayer, Gabriel Naudé et Samuel Sorbière, Champion, 2005.
  • Michel Onfray, Contre-histoire de la philosophie, tome 3 : Les Libertins baroques, pages 73 à 117, éditions Grasset.
  • René Pintard, Le Libertinage érudit dans la première moitié du Template:S- (1943), Slatkine, 2000.
  • Philippe-Joseph Salazar, La Divine Sceptique. Ethique et rhétorique au XVIIe siècle, Tübingen, Gunter Narr Verlag, “Etudes Littéraires Françaises”, 68, 2000, 131 p. ISBN 3-8233-5581-3
  • Philippe-Joseph Salazar, « Sur la bonne chère rhétorique – La Mothe Le Vayer politique », in Poétique de la pensée. Études sur l'âge classique et le siècle philosophique. En hommage à Jean Dagen, B. Guion et al eds., Paris, Honoré Champion, 2006, 813-823. ISBN 978-7453-1476-3

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