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Western Enlightenment

A brief survey of the European/American Enlightenment, from the Locke/Hobbes debate through Rousseau, and some of the greatest hits in between (Voltaire, deism, Diderot, Encyclopedia, etc.)

Western Enlightenment

  1. 1. Western Enlightenment
  2. 2. Background • Rising Literacy Rates: 30-70% for males in urban European areas; 30-50% for rural males; 20-50% for females • Print culture: books, newspapers, journals, subscription series, lending libraries • Social Culture: salons, coffee houses and cafes, secret societies • Emergence of public opinion, and censorship • Middle-class movement: Rising numbers of urbanites, professionals, businessmen; critical of traditional aristocratic structures • Scientific Revolution and Spinoza’s monistic mechanism • Reformation, Wars of Religion
  3. 3. Extent • Affordable: newspapers and broadsheets accessible to lower income readers; subscription-based book series; lending libraries • Popularization of Scientific Revolution (Bernard de Fontenelle, Plurality of Worlds; Voltaire), Engineering and technology • International Movement: Holland, England, France, Scotland, Americas, German-speaking territories, Russia • Political Influence: "Enlightened Despots" Frederick the Great of Prussia, Catherine the Great of Russia, Charles III of Spain, Joseph II of Austria, etc.
  4. 4. Themes "we currently see 'Enlightenment' as the growth of a non- theocentric 'philosophy' of civil society, with political economy and a history of society and l'esprit humain among its outgrowths." -- JGA Pocock on John Robertson •Often hostile to religion, at least organized religion •Rationality, philosophical logic, and scientific process applied to Social issues. •Argumentation: Disagreement on many fundamental issues •Progress through education; progress linear •Equality and Protection of Rights
  5. 5. J. G. A. POCOCK, HISTORIOGRAPHY AND ENLIGHTENMENT (2008) "In studying the intellectual history of the late 17th century and the 18th, we encounter a variety of statements made, and assumptions proposed, to which the term 'Enlightenment' may usefully be applied, but the meanings of the term shift as we apply it. The things are connected, but not continuous; they cannot be reduced to a single narrative; and we find ourselves using the word “Enlightenment” in a family of ways and talking about a family of phenomena, resembling and related to one another in a variety of ways that permit of various generalizations about them."
  6. 6. Social Contracts • Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) • Leviathan: "The natural state of men, before they were joined in society, was a war, and not simply, but a war of all against all." • State of Nature: "the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" • state exists as expression of social contract to raise our level of discipline and accomplishment. • Authoritarian commonwealth. • Sovereignty rests with monarch • Loss of rights preferable to loss of order • John Locke (1632-1704) • tabula rasa: born a blank slate • moral and intellectual development a function of environment • Equality and Progress • Christianity a rational moral system subordinating self-regard • people enter into the social contract to preserve, not surrender, their social rights. • Sovereignty rests with citizenry • Mutual Obligations: monarch must preserve rights of citizens, or citizens can and should replace monarch.
  7. 7. François-Marie Arouet, aka Voltaire • Writer in multiple genres: novels, pamphlets, non- fiction, drama – Literary criticism – Scientific Popularizer, esp. Newton • Rich and intelligent woman, Émilie du Châtelet, who supported him and participated in writing projects • Candide: anti-war, against religious intolerance, argues against Locke/Spinoza idea that human nature fundamentally good and world a beneficent place. • Religion – Organized Church: "l'infame" – Deism
  8. 8. Relgion and Anti-Religion • Voltaire argued for religious toleration, and was an architect of deism, including the idea of Jesus as "good fellow". • God as "Divine Watchmaker" (following Spinoza) and Final Arbiter • Freemasons spread deism as practice, social change through enlightenment. Members included Voltaire, Diderot, Duke of Orleans, Frederick the Great, W.A. Mozart, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Simon Bolivar. • Some argued that Christianity, stripped of superstition and institutional power, an acceptable Enlightenment morality. • Denis Diderot highly critical of Christianity, moving from deism to atheism -- the first true atheist in the Western tradition. Argued that belief in God neither required for understanding nor beneficial for human development • David Hume argued that Miracles cannot ever be accepted as true. • Immanuel Kant argued for rational basis of morality, the Categorical Imperative to treat individuals as ends in themselves rather than means to an end.
  9. 9. Religion and Historiography •"Scepticism might end either in reducing Christ to a being describable in human terms, or in an irreducible claim to have met him and been reborn in the encounter. This is how Enlightenment left Protestant Christianity polarized between two extremes—the one unitarian and the other evangelical—a polarization that persists in the politics of the United States of America." - JGA Pocock
  10. 10. Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu • 1721 Persian Letters a critique of French society in the voice of Turkish visitors, particularly Church and Monarchy. • 1748 The Spirit of the Laws attempted to apply scientific method to social relationships, categorizing states as "republics, suitable for small states and based on citizen involvement; monarchy, appropriate for middle-sized states and grounded in the ruling class's adherence to law; and despotism, apt for large empires and dependent on fear to inspire obedience." (Spielvogel 369) • Argues that systems of government must be adapted to cultural and historical environment, but that ideal form would include division of powers between executive, legislative and judicial authorities. • Monarchist, but believed in moderation of power, shared sovereignty
  11. 11. The Encyclopedia, or Classified Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts and Trades • Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert. 17 volumes of text, including 60,000 articles; 11 volumes of illustrations published between 1751 and 1772. Over 100 authors. • Practical knowledge, applied science and technology: catalog of "modern" life. Deliberate attempt to change society by intellectual discourse • Highly critical of society and government; highly annoying to the French government, "but contributors to the Encyclopedia learned to avoid censure by hiding controversial ideas in obscure articles or by cloaking them with irony." (KOT-B 401). • Sold by subscription, like a journal; Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson both readers. • Reduction in price for later editions made it accessible to wider range of society: "doctors, clergymen, teachers, lawyers and even military officers." (Spielvogel 370)
  12. 12. Social Theory • Cesare Beccaria – punishment should be a deterrent to crime – torture - punishment before judgement - not legitimate – execution, especially public execution, both unsuccessful deterrent and damaging to public morals • Nicholas, Marquis de Condorcet – "nature has set no term to the perfection of human faculties; that the perfectibility of man is truly indefinite; and that the progress of this perfectibility, from now onwards independent of any power that might wish to halt it, has no other limit than the duration of the globe upon which nature has cast us. This progress will doubtless vary in speed, but it will never be reversed." – Ironically, written while he was fleeing the Revolutionary Terror, prior to his suicide in 1794.
  13. 13. Economic Theory • Physiocrats, (François Quesnay and Pierre Dupont de Nemours, etc.) defined concept of supply and demand and benefit of individual self-interest. • laissez-faire (to let alone) instead of mercantilism. • Adam Smith, On the Wealth of Nations – argued for economic freedom, clear rejection of mercantilism and protectionism – assumes boundless wealth of nature, "limitless" natural resources. – creation of wealth through economic activity, not measured by specie – expanding economy based on pursuit of enlightened self-interest on the part of all individuals, specialization to maximize benefit, "Invisible Hand" of collective decisions – State should establish social and physical infrastructure: Army/Police, Judiciary and Public Works.
  14. 14. Jean-Jacques Rousseau • Balance between sentiment and reason necessary, foreshadowing the Romantic movement. – Not a feminist, but a believer in sentiment as a necessary balance to rationality, childhood stage through which all pass, and that naturally irrational women provide critical emotional foundation to civilization. This made him immensely popular among women. – great advocate of breast feeding, leading to a sharp decline in the use of wet-nurses, particularly among upper and middle classes. • Radical democrat: majoritarian – The Social Contract (1762) argued that the general will of society was more important than the individual; freedom came from obedience to law – ideal community should be one which worked together to increase common good; the highest value was virtue. • Émile (1762): unforced pedagogy, learning from nature and action. Religious faith, which led him to split with Encyclopedists
  15. 15. Sources • Background Image: "China Trade Painting" from the Waikoloa Hilton collection • Kagan, Ozment, Turner: Western Civilization: Brief Edition • Spielvogel, Western Civilization

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A brief survey of the European/American Enlightenment, from the Locke/Hobbes debate through Rousseau, and some of the greatest hits in between (Voltaire, deism, Diderot, Encyclopedia, etc.)


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