5-6 March 2020, Room 25 | Institute of Philosophy, UJ

Lecture and workshop by Prof. Winfried Schröder (Univ. of Marburg)

5 Mar 2020, 17-18:30, Lecture: "The origins of atheism in the early modern period and the Enlightenment."6 Mar 2020, 11-12:30, Workshop: "Symbolum sapientiae." Abstracts and registration on the event details page.
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Time & Location

5-6 March 2020, Room 25
Institute of Philosophy, UJ, Grodzka 52, 33-332 Kraków, Poland

About the Event

Lecture, 5 Mar 2020, 17-18:30, Abstract:

The origins of atheism in the early modern period and the Enlightenment 


The denial of an omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good creator of the universe, i. e. atheism as a philosophical stance (in demarcation from heterodoxy, anticlericalism, anti-Christian views or blasphemy) raises several issues which historians of philosophy have not yet unanimously resolved. Opinions over its origin in the history of European thought diverge widely. According to influential scholars (Minois; Whitmarsh) there has been a continuous tradition of philosophical atheism since classical antiquity. Others (Buckley; Hyman) regard atheism as a much younger phenomenon, which appeared only in the heyday of the Enlightenment with Diderot and d’Holbach. An equally controversial question concerns the factors that contributed to the emergence of atheism. There is no consensus on the role played by deism (the attack on the Bible or revelation in general), scepticism / pyrrhonism, the rise of natural science (which made theism explanatorily superfluous), or a political agenda (which aimed at abolishing Christianity and its institutions understood as pillars of repressive political dominance esp. of the ancien régime). 

These questions will be addressed on the basis of 17th- and 18th-century sources which were discovered and made available during the last decades (see the edition series by McKenna, Mori/Mothu and Schröder) but have largely been neglected by contemporary anglophone scholars (with the notable exception of Jonathan Israel): the corpus of the so-called littérature clandestine, texts distributed illegally in the ‚literary underground‘ of the 17th and 18th century (McKenna/Mothu; Paganini). These include the earliest atheist treatise known, the anonymous Theophrastus redivivus [1659], the writings of the first identifiable atheist, Matthias Knutzen [1674], the flagships of the Radical Enlightenment, the two treatises Traité des trois imposteurs and De tribus impostoribus (both late 17th c.) as well as attacks on theism employing sophisticated epistemological and proof-theoretical arguments (e.g. in the anonymous Symbolum sapientiae).

Workshop, 6 Mar 2020, 11-12:30:

Symbolum sapientiae

The anonymous late 17th-century Symbolum Sapientiae is one of the most elaborate philosophical treatises of the littérature clandestine, “perhaps the intellectually most formidable text” of early atheism (Israel, Enlightenment contested, p. 168). Most importantly, the Symbolum displays a specimen of a variety of atheism hitherto unknown. Drawing upon arguments deriving from the skeptical (pyrrhonian) tradition, its author rejects theism – instead of dogmatically denying the existence of God – on the basis of careful methodological reflection. The relevant sections of the text will be provided in Latin and English.

Bibliography for the events


Anonymus: Theophrastus redivivus, ed. Guido Canziani / Gianni Paganini. Florence 1981.

Anonymus: Symbolum sapientiae, ed. Guido Canziani / Winfried Schröder / Francisco Socas. Milan 2000.

Anonymus [Johann Joachim Müller]: De tribus impostoribus, ed. W. Schröder. Stuttgart 1999.

Anonymus: Traité des trois imposteurs, ed. Winfried Schröder. Hamburg ²1994.

Bloch, Olivier (ed.): Le matérialisme du XVIIIe siècle et la littérature clandestine. Paris 1982.

Buckley, Michael J.: At the origins of modern atheism [1987]. ²New Haven et al. 2010.

Hyman, Gavin: A short history of atheism. London 2010.

Hyman, Gavin: Atheism in modern history, in: Michael Martin (ed.): The Cambridge companion to atheism. Cambridge 2007, 27-46.

Israel, Jonathan: Radical Enlightenment. Philosophy and the making of modernity, 1650-1750. Oxford 2001.

Israel, Jonathan: Enlightenment contested. Philosophy, modernity, and the emancipation of man, 1670-1752. Oxford 2006.

Knutzen, Matthias: Schriften und Materialien, ed. Winfried Schröder. Stuttgart 2010.

McKenna, Antony (ed.): Libre pensée et littérature clandestine. Paris / Oxford 1993ff.

McKenna, Antony / Mothu, Alain (eds.): La philosophie clandestine à l'âge classique. Oxford / Paris 1996.

Minois, Georges: Histoire de l'athéisme. Les incroyants dans le monde occidental des origines à nos jours. Paris 1998.

Mori, Gianluca: L’ateismo dei moderni. Filosofia e negazione di Dio da Spinoza a d’Holbach. Rom: Carocci 2016.

Mori, Gianluca / Mothu, Alain (eds.): Philosophes sans dieu. Textes athées clandestins du XVIIIe siècle. Paris 2005.

Paganini, Gianni: Introduzione alle filosofie clandestine. Roma / Bari 2008.

Schröder, Winfried: Ursprünge des Atheismus [1998]. ²Stuttgart 2012.

Schröder, Winfried (ed.): Philosophische Clandestina der deutschen Aufklärung. Stuttgart 1994ff.

Whitmarsh, Tim: Battling the gods: the struggle against religion in ancient Greece and Rome. London 2015.

Winiarczyk, Marek: Diagoras of Melos: a contribution to the history of Ancient Atheism; translated from Polish by Witold Zbirohowski-Kościa. Berlin / Boston 2016. 



Anonymus: Cymbalum mundi sive Symbolum sapientiae, ed. Guido Canziani, Winfried Schröder and Francisco Socas, Milan, Franco Angeli, 2000. 

Anonymus:Symbolum Sapientiae (Wien, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, cod. 11539). La clave de la sabiduría (Un tratado clandestino del siglo XVII). Edición bilingüe de Francisco Socas, Huelva, Universidad de Huelva, 2015 [Exemplaria classica, 6].

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