Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Libertines and Libertinism

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_1019-1
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Abstract

Libertinism designates a movement of intellectual pursuit and moral attitude that manifested itself intensely between 1620 and 1640 and that, for diverse reasons, can be seen as preparatory to the enlightenment. Libertinism continued and evolved well beyond these decades. However, the attitude of doubt and skepticism that are identified as its core ingredients emerged earlier on. For its first uses in history, “libertinism” refers us to Calvin (1544 and 1545), who launched an attack against the Anabaptists as a sect of unbelievers. Henceforth, throughout the sixteenth century, libertinus reemerges in polemical literature signifying, depreciatively, an unbeliever. Yet, not all unbelievers or non-Christians were libertines. Polemics of the seventeenth century show the complexity and multifaceted nature of libertine writing and status quo. Unsurprisingly, libertinism poses the problem of categorization of thought in historical perspective. Categories are conditioned by a unifying thought and theme, by coherence and more or less conscious structuring of ideas among a specific group of thinkers and writers. However, ideology is bound to affect classifications, and approaches to the historiographical phenomenon of libertinism have long been determined by historians’ own morality and Christian worldview. The word “libertine” continued to be used in the pejorative sense by historians from the end of the nineteenth century until well into the twentieth century. See, for example, Lucien Febvre’s Le problème de l’incroyance (Febvre, Lucien, Le problème de l’incroyance. Albin Michel, Paris, 1942) and the influential work by René Pintard (1943). However, subsequent decennia, and especially from the 1970s on, demolished significantly this approach that was marked by a Christian moralistic mindset and referentiality (in part. (Schneider 1970) and, recently, Cavaillé’s publications, 2001, 2011, esp. 2002). The early modern libertinus – in Roman Antiquity, a freed, liberated slave – has since been revalued and reappreciated as the one who dares to put into question established dogmata, a freethinker who reasons unstrained by theological principles, religious ethics, or any type of systematic belief. This cannot be entirely dissociated from the implications free thought bears in favor of liberté des moeurs, announcing eighteenth-century sexual libertinism.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Romance Languages and CulturesRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands

Section editors and affiliations

  • Anna Laura Puliafito
    • 1
  1. 1.Universität BaselBaselSwitzerland