Mothe Le Vayer, Francois De La

Mothe le Vayer, Francois De La a French sceptical philosopher, was born at Paris in 1586, was so well educated that he was a favorite of the great cardinal ministers Richelieu and Mazarin, and was appointed through their favor counsellor of the state and tutor to the duke of Anjou, brother of king Louis XIV. La Mothe was a moral and temperate man — by no means a common case at the French court of that period. He became so interested in the study of history that he abandoned everything for it, and so generally esteemed as he that was as crowned with distinctions in all circles which he entered. In 1639 he was made a member of the Academy. La Mothe was nearly fifty years old before he published his first work: yet, once entered into the authors' lists, he contributed something regularly every year until his death in 1672. He fought with wit and satirical humor against the life led by the court, and the licentiousness to which the people of that century gave their sanction. In his philosophy he inclined to scepticism, applying the arguments of the ancient sceptics especially to theology, limiting the latter to the sphere of simple faith. He exemplified his views in his work De la Vertu des Paiens, ou Cinq dialogues faits a l'imitation des anciens par Horatius Turbero (Mons, 1671, 12mo; 1673, 8vo; and a new edition, Augmentee d'une refutation de la philos. sceptique ou preservatif contre le Pyrrhonisme par Mr. J.M. Kahle [Berlin, 1704, 2 volumes, 8vo]). In the first dialogue he defends scepticism in the style of Sextus with much show of learning. He treats of the variety and contradictions of human opinions, morals, and habits, wherefrom he comes to deduct the doctrine that there is nothing certain, and for the welfare in common not even a common binding law of morals. In his second dialogue he speaks about the variety of nourishment and beverage and the different customs at repasts; of the conception of love, and takes ground in favor of what would now amount to the doctrine of free love, which he calls his sacred and divine philosophy. He recommends in his third dialogue a philosophic solitary life. The fourth dialogue contains a satirical praise of the ass, aiming thus sarcastically to reprimand the folly of his century. His fifth dialogue treats of the several religions, and he comes therein to the conclusion that there cannot be anything certain obtained by it; but he speaks here only in regard to the religion of reason, and says that positive religion possesses the principles of faith in revelation, which can be only gotten by God's grace, and must ever be above all reason. Mr. Arnauld, the learned theologian, answered La Mothe in a tract entitled De la Necessity de la Foi en Jesus Christ, which ably refutes the foolish reasonings of La Mothe, and yet treats the author with great consideration, as he deserved. La Mothe died in 1672. The rest of his works are of very little importance; they were published by his son at Paris in 1653; 2d ed. 1669; 3d ed. (3 volumes, fol.) in 1684. This last edition is the most complete. Yet the best edition was got up in Germany at Dresden (1756-59, 14 volumes, 8vo). See ]tienne, Essai sur La Alothe le Vayer (1849); Bayle, Hist. Dict. s.v.; Hallam, Introd. to Lit. Hist. (see Index in volume 2, Harper's edition). (J.H.W.)

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