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Authority in ancien regime France : the understanding of Jacques du Bosc



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This thesis addresses the question of authority in seventeenth-century France and argues that through the writings of Jacques Du Bosc we are able to come to a particular, though recognizably common, understanding of the foundations of authority and how different structures (e.g., political, social, religious) were integrated through the organizing principle of grace. The writings of Jacques Du Bosc reflect numerous interests of seventeenth-century France (philosophy, feminism, Jansenism and hagiography and political panegyrics) and he has variously been described as a feminist, a libertin, a honnete homme, a philosopher and a courtier. Each of these descriptions is true but an additional description, that of priest, must also be included. His principle perceptions were formed by his culture and his vocation and consequently addresses his culture: the religious, social, and political structures, the intellectual milieu and various debates he engaged to better understand the complexity of lived experience (Chapter Two). In Le Philosophe indifferent, Du Bosc presents a progressive philosophy of history to counter sectarian thinking which begins with Natural Law, is developed in Mosaic Law and culminates in Christian Law. Christian Law, which is validated by the lumiere revelee, the revelation of Christ, animates all life via grace. By this immediacy he is able to steer a path between stoic and sceptic. In his attempt to find a middle ground, however, Du Bosc applies Aristotelian and Thomistic moral theory to theology and philosophy which neither philosopher would have accepted as valid and which ultimately undermines his own arguments both in this work and in those works that address Jansenism (Chapter Three). Du Bosc also incorporates grace as the authority in his writings about women. Du Bosc does not limit himself to Christian women but also addresses the heroism of pre-Christian women. Throughout these works he argues for the viability of an informed, thoughtful womanhood and that what is good, is also true, and beautiful (Chapter Four). In the Jansenist controversy, his last debate, he again invokes the authority of grace and the structures that safeguard it: Church and State. He initially attempts a balance in his approach though this soon gives way to impatience and he condemns them as heretics for their arrogance. The integrated graceful behaviour he espoused, personified in l'honnete homme, comes undone in the face of intransigence, as does his argument for detachment, and authoritarianism replaces detachment. In this analysis of authority it is apparent that Du Bosc had a definite understanding of the source of authority and the means by which it was communicated: grace. All of nature, he argued, was united in an organic whole from the grand political gesture to the least action, from the ranking of the estates to the description of the heavens. Any conflict could be resolved, given a proper understanding of history, through a universalism arrived at through indifference. This detachment held the choice of the individual and the unity of the whole in an exquisite and finely balanced tension. This tension was the means whereby seventeenth-century French society thrived and maintained its complexity. When the tension was further intensified by challenges to this integrated organic whole, the balance was lost and the source of authority recognized by society shifted. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)





Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)







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