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Enlightenment Notes

History Notes > General History X: Europe 1715-99 Notes

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Contents

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Enlightenment Tutorial
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Wootton Lecture
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Enlightenment and the Forces of Change -- L. Walsh and A. Lentin
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Enlightenment! Which Enlightenment? -- J. I. Israel
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What Is Counter--Enlightenment? -- M. Lilla
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The Case for the Enlightenment: A Comparative Approach -- J. Robertson
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The Real Counter--Enlightenment: The Case of France -- D. M. McMahon
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The Enlightenment -- R. Porter
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A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of
Modern Democracy -- J. I. Israel

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Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity and the Emancipation of Man
1670--1752 -- J. I. Israel

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Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650--1750 -- J. I.
Israel

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Historical Writing in the Enlightenment World -- Johnson Wright

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Historians and Eighteenth--Century Europe -- M. S. Anderson
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The Enlightenment: A Comparative Social History -- Thomas Munck

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Enlightenment Tutorial

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Israel -- against national Enlightenments --> more unitary
Porter and Tech -- national
Traditionalist view -- school of thought largely against religion
Modern view -- network of people discussing ideas --> social and cultural

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Israel -- main thinking was done by around 1740
~ Spinoza says everything --> more subdued 18th century --> revolution which brings
thought back to Spinoza's ideas

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French Revolution -- not generally seen to have been caused by ideas
~ How did peasants obtain these ideas?
~ Financial turmoil -- most cited factor
Israel -- idea of the 'right Enlightenment'
~ Betrayal of moderates who joined courts
Voltaire -- tries to reconcile thought with Christian thinking
~ Enlightened despotism is a pragmatic doctrine -- does not matter how reforms
are implemented as long as they are implemented

~ Spinoza was against divine--right monarchy

~ Not clear what government system he was advocating

~ Need for tolerance
Spinoza and the French Revolution
~ Against any form of revolution
~ Saw revolutions as only bringing about tyranny
Enlightenment -- reason and knowledge for human betterment

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Still a national context
Issue of specific thinkers -- artificial dichotomy between radical and conservative

~ Rousseau -- Israel sees him as mainstream but he has some pretty radical ideas
Israel emphasises the importance of
Spinoza
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! Is Israel's view accurate?

~ Mainstream can be seen as a 'watered down' version of the radical
Enlightenment

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Pock -- realisation that society comes to --> there is a divorce between ideas of civic virtue
and what needs to be done to facilitate political change
~ Moment when humanist civic virtue s rejected

~ Court and country in England
~ America has a preserved civic humanist tradition -- has been moved away from in
Europe
Issue of the place of justice
~ Aquinas -- civic society joined with religion

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Humanist issues
~ Radical -- could be defined as a departure from expectations and philosophical
innovation

~ Spinoza would be radical
Yet radical has a more immediate political connotation
Montesquieu says similar things to Adam Smith
Self--interest -- alternative source of morality
~ Bayle and Mandeville
Smith -- invisible hand
~ Way nature shaped human morality and psychology
Mainstream -- commerce increases communications between people which makes them
more polite --> safe and peaceful society
~ Smith and Montesquieu see what is happening as due to commerce -- exchange
of ideas and less violence
Smith was more likely to make an economic than moralistic argument against slavery
Mainstream were against slavery
Generally, all attacked feudalism -- aim of rationalising society
Burke is an enlightenment thinker -- yet he is very conservative
~ French Revolution was a break with tradition -- institutions need to be built on
history
~ Yet he also argued for American revolutionaries on the grounds of liberty
Locke -- human tragedy of slavery is that it makes white people tyrants

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Wootton Lecture

! 1776 -- Declaration of Independence
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*> Smith's Wealth of Nations
Machiavelli (1513 -- The Prince) -- beginning of the 'Enlightenment Project'
Montesquieu -- love of liberty
*> Tyranny can be rigidly established -- all, even the tyrant, are enmeshed in this
- Do not realise and cannot escape
Montesquieu's Persian Letters -- founding text of the French Enlightenment
Montesquieu -- connection of power and sexuality
*> Power relations in state and family
Take concepts for granted as normative
*> Justice, virtue, rights etc.
- Machiavelli's Prince has little to say on this
Montesquieu and Tocqueville -- 2 great philosophers of liberty
Montesquieu -- personal is political
Rousseau -- attack on imdm and narcissism
Politics are taught in the abstract
Postmodernism made rhetoric fashionable
Augustine -- 3 fundamental passions => sex, money and power
Hobbes -- argument depends on pleasure and power
*> Our own interest is pleasure => obtain this through power
- Power, pleasure and profit
Shift from happiness in the next world to being in this world => secularisation
Power and pleasure -- unlimited aspirations
*> Destruction of classical ethics
MacIntyre -- emotivism
*> Moral right and wrong are whatever we want them to be
*> Epicureanism
Spinoza -- seen as founder of modern democratic thought
*> Hobbes -- no final cause or summum bonus
Voltaire -- enlightened despotism
*> Yet against slavery and for religious toleration

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Enlightenment and the Forces of Change -- L. Walsh and A. Lentin
(Milton Keynes: The Open University, 2004)
pp. 1--66
The Enlightenment and its mission
Middle and late decades of the 18th century -- 1740--80
~ 'The Age of Reason'
Unprecedented focus on a particular set of values, attitudes and beliefs shared by
prominent writers, artists and thinkers of that period
From 1680 can be seen as the pre--Enlightenment
France -- much greater sense of opposition to the Catholic Church
~ Less than in England where it was perceived to be less oppressive
At its height in the 1760s and early 1770s
France
~ Voltaire died in 1778
~ Diderot died in 1784
Belief that the expansion of knowledge, the application of reason and dedication to
scientific method would result in the greater progress and happiness of humankind
World is rational and that nature is essentially good
Epoch--making discoveries of Isaac Newton at the end of the 17th century
~ Motion of planets and gravitational force
~ Suggested that the natural world was governed by 'laws'
Importance of reason and intellect is embodied in the French Encyclopedie
~ Published in Paris 1751--72 in 28 volumes
~ Main editor was Denis Diderot
~ To bring together knowledge to make humanity more virtuous and happier
~ All knowledge is good in itself
Encyclopedists were known as philosophes
~ Francois Arouet de Voltaire best personified the French Enlightenment

~ Commitment to Enlightenment values -- known throughout Europe for his

active intervention in humanitarian causes and incessant attacks on abuses,

particularly abuses of power by the Catholic Church

~ Criticism was moderate, urbane, measured and witty

~ Best--known work is his 'philosophical tale' Candide (1759)
French was the common language of the Enlightenment
Rational, reformist agenda of the Enlightenment found its most forceful expression in
France
Philosophes saw themselves as engaged in a battle for minds -- appealed to and
cultivated something which they saw as a new factor in European society --> public
opinion
~ Encyclopedie had a social and political polemic -- subversive system of
cross--referencing and ironic word play

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French Revolution unleashed energy --> inspired leaders with a sense of missionary zeal
~ Believed that the Enlightenment had pointed the way towards political reform
and the kind of system in which its principles could be put into practice

~ Many across Europe shared this belief -- German philosopher Immanuel Kant

hailed the opening stages of the revolution as 'the enthronement of reason in

public affairs'
Napoleon's regime
~ Many aspects and certainly the image he sought to project of it exemplify the
intellectual and moral appeal of the Enlightenment
~ Expansion of France --> introduced across most of Europe systems of rational
administration and modern laws and institutions

~ Bringing freedom, light, reason and modernity

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William Wilberforce in his thoughts on religion and slavery -- adopted archetypal
Enlightenment procedure of structured, rational 'enquiry'
! Robert Owen applied the critical reformist spirit -- A New View of Society (1813--6)

~ Mill in New Lanark

~ Like most Enlightenment thinkers, the creation of happiness was a rational
business with identifiable causes and effects that could be formulated as universally
applicable principles

~ Representative of branch concerned with practical reform
! Very object of government was held to be the maximisation of pleasure

~ Declaration of Independence which the American revolutionaries sent to

Europe -- 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'
Application of reason and knowledge to practical reform was also the concern of the
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British Royal Institution (1799)

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Napoleon drew up his Civil Code and introduced it across much of Europe -- inspired by
Enlightenment idea of laws and principles of universal application
Desire to classify, demystify and explain aesthetic experience
~ Edmund Burke
Enlightenment mission penetrated all aspects of human thought and activity

Enlightenment, science and empiricism
! Scholars had always wanted knowledge
! New emphasis on empirical knowledge -- grounded in experience
! 17th century thinkers and scientists -- Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and John Locke
! Philosophical and practical advantages of Newtonianism and the scientific method
were further brought out in the second half of the 18th century -- startling advances in
industrial technology
! David Hume's approach to the issues of suicide and the immortality of the soul was
shaped by empirical reasoning

~ Dismissed all speculative reasoning
! Landscape artists gave greater attention to direct observation
! French scientist Antoine Lavoisier set in motion a development known as the 'chemical
revolution' which changed the way in which chemical elements were classified

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French Revolution and Napoleon's regime perpetuated the Enlightenment emphasis on
science as a means of acquiring mastery over the natural world
~ Intellectual power was harnessed in the service of the state

Enlightenment, religion and morality
! Human nature itself was seen to be a basic constant
! It was widely accepted that human behaviour and the human condition were
susceptible to environmental and educational influence
! Desire for moral reform was supported by a belief in universally valid moral standards

~ Later thinkers would be less confident
! Hume (1751) -- Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

~ 'The end of all moral speculation is to teach us our duty; and, by proper

representations of the deformity of vice and beauty of virtue, beget corresponding

habits and engage us to avoid the one and embrace the other'
! Increasingly, particularly in late Enlightenment texts, this confidence in our ability to
discover and apply clear moral distinctions came into conflict with an alternative view of
human nature and morality

~ Philosophical materialism -- everything was susceptible to examination by the

physical sciences


~ Particularly influential in France

~ Rooted in physical matter -- threat to traditional religion and free will

~ Physical sensations are important -- new legitimisation of hedonism


~ Marquis de Sade twisted such ideas into perversity --> amoralism



~ Dialogue between a Priest and a Dying Man (1782)
! Enlightenment thinkers analysed religious belief in the same way as they rationally
scrutinised secular topics

~ Threw down a challenge to ecclesiastical institutions


~ Especially in France where there was a strong alliance of church and state



~ Perceived corruption, privilege and censorship of the Church
! One of the alternatives frequently recommended was the natural, universal religion of
deism -- pure and rational system of ethics

~ 1766 -- 2 young French nobles were sentenced to death for their behaviour at a

procession honouring the Virgin Mary

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Rousseau was a fervent believer but he was unorthodox
~ Catholic Church in France and the Calvinist Church in Geneva were outraged by
his suggestion that people were naturally good and that an emotional communion
with nature was as sound a basis for faith as the formal teachings of the Church
Rousseau's Emile (1762) -- 'Profession of faith of a Savoyard vicar'
~ Formally condemned by the authorities at Geneva and publicly burned
It was rare for writers to profess outright atheism -- issue of censorship laws which were
particularly stringent in France
~ Reasoned critique was applied more to practices than more fundamental matters
of doctrine and faith
Christianity itself was often orientated towards Enlightenment and reform
~ 1790 -- fiercely controversial reform of the French Church --> had supporters as
well as opponents among the clergy

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