Sacrifice and Self-interest in Seventeenth-Century France

Quietism, Jansenism, and Cartesianism


How much of our own self- interest should we be willing to sacrifice for love of another? The Quietists answered, all of it, even the salvation of our own soul. Opposing them were the Jansenists, including Arnauld, who saw self-interest as inescapable. The debate swept across French society in the 17th century, with Bossuet and Fénelon on opposite sides, and was multi- dimensional, with political and ecclesiastical intrigue, charges of heresy, and many shenanigans. Initially theological, the debate’s basis lay in differing philosophical concepts of freewill, with both sides claiming support from Descartes’s views. The debate thus highlights interpretation of the Cartesians, especially Malebranche, a prominent participant in it. Nevertheless, this is the first book on the debate in English.

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Biographical Note

Thomas M. Lennon, Ph.D. Ohio State (1968) is Professor Emeritus at the University of Western Ontario. He has published Battle of the Gods and Giants (Princeton UP, 1993), Plain Truth: Descartes, Huet, and Skepticism (Brill, 2008), translations of Malebranche and Huet, and many journal articles.

Table of contents


1 Pure Love
 1 Sacrifice
 2 The Theological Idiom
 3 Freedom and Volition
 4 A Tawdry Affair
 5 Contemporary Connections

2 The Impossible Supposition
 1 Is Pure Love Possible?
 2 The Abandonment of Hope
 3 Novelty: Historical and Theological Contexts for the Impossible Supposition
 4 Secular Versions of the Impossible Supposition
 5 The Possibility of Virtue

3 Quietism
 1 François de Sales (1567–1622)
 2 Bossuet on François
 3 Bossuet and Mme Guyon
 4 Attrition and Contrition: Sirmond vs. Camus

4 Spontaneity and Indifference
 1 Two Senses of Freedom
 2 Spontaneity
 3 Indifference

5 The Augustinus
 1 The First Attack on Molinist Indifference
 2 The Importance of the Augustinus
 3 The Text of the Augustinus
 4 Objections and Replies
 5 Hope

6 Cartesian Wills
 1 Descartes’s View: Circumstantial Evidence
 2 Descartes’s View: Textual Evidence

7 The Object of Love
 1 Amour propre and amour de soi
 2 Malebranche on the Will
 3 Malebranche and Lamy
 4 The Quietist Critique of Malebranche

8 Bossuet’s Jansenism
 1 Du Vaucel’s Reports from Rome
 2 The Text: Bossuet’s Treatise on Free Will
 3 Nicole’s Refutation of the Quietists
 4 The Episode of an ecclesiastical problem
 5 Quesnel’s Contribution

9 The Dénouement
 1 Descartes
 2 Jansenius
 3 Fénelon

10 The Last Temptation
Appendices: The Condemned Propositions
Bibliography of Works Cited


Historians of philosophy, of religion, of French literature, of ideas generally in the early modern period, and philosophers, theologians, psychologists and laypeople interested in such topics as love and freewill. Keywords are love, Descartes, Bossuet, Malebranche, Fénelon, Jeanne de Guyon, Jansenius, impossible supposition, freewill, women’s history, church politics, grace, François de Sales, indifference, and Pierre Nicole.