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The Enlightenment. Sapere Aude ! Dare to know! - Immanuel Kant (1784). One day, Bossuet The next, Voltaire. Bishop Bossuet, Politics drawn from Holy Scripture (late 17 th c.) The grounds of authority: God, Bible, King

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The enlightenment

The Enlightenment


Dare to know!

- Immanuel Kant (1784)

One day bossuet the next voltaire
One day, BossuetThe next, Voltaire

  • Bishop Bossuet, Politics drawn from Holy Scripture (late 17th c.)

    • The grounds of authority: God, Bible, King

    • These ordered society, gender and social relations, attitudes to nature, wealth, non-Christian cultures, science

  • Hierarchical, paternal, sacred power

  • Monarchy as the best form of government


  • ‘How I hate these philosophers who, making their own intelligence the measure of God’s purposes, would regard Him merely as the creator of a certain general order which He, then, left to develop as best it might. As if God’s aims were vague and confused generalities.’


  • ‘I see… preparations for a great onslaught on the Church in the name of Cartesian philosophy. From the womb of that philosophy, from its principles, to my mind imperfectly understood, I foresee the birth of more than one heresy .’

Voltaire 1694 1778
Voltaire (1694-1778)

  • Rule of law

  • Commercial prosperity

  • Religious Toleration

  • Arts and Sciences

  • Civil liberties

The old regime an enchanted hierarchical world
The Old Regime:An enchanted, hierarchical world

  • Witches, the devil

  • Intercession of saints

  • Preparing for death and the


  • The great chain of being

  • Hierarchy and privilege

What was the enlightenment
What was the Enlightenment?

  • A new way of thinking, a profound epistemological shift

  • Climate of opinion, the ‘public sphere’

  • Campaign to transform state and society

Galileo s telescope
Galileo’s telescope

  • De-centered the earth

  • De-stabilised humans’ self-conception

  • Challenged religious authorities’ monopoly on knowledge


  • Skepticism, radical doubt

  • Individual reason – hierarchies set aside

  • Rationalism – truth found through reason

Spinoza bayle
Spinoza - Bayle

  • Freedom of conscience

  • Religious toleration (they were from religious minorities)

  • Secular foundations for political authority

  • Rational foundations for society rather than tradition or superstition

  • God and nature are one. The quest to understand Nature’s laws is to become close to God.

Locke newton montesquieu
Locke, Newton, Montesquieu

  • Repudiation of metaphysical ‘systems’

  • Knowledge through the senses – empiricism

  • Locke’s blank-slate

  • Newton’s laws of nature – induction, not deduction

  • Montesquieu’s laws of society found in history

  • Newtonian thinking was

    • open-ended… could change with the introduction of more facts

    • focused on relations and patterns, not inherent essences

  • Implications: authorities could not claim to master eternal truths.

The problem of evil
The problem of ‘Evil’

  • With the ‘devil’ removed from the cosmic scheme, how does one account for ‘evil’ in the world?

    • Best of all possible worlds (Leibniz, 17th c.)

    • Historical, universal progress (18th)

    • Stoicism and utility: ‘we must cultivate our gardens’ (Voltaire, Candide, 1759)

Lisbon earthquake 1755
Lisbon Earthquake, 1755

  • How could ‘nature’ prove to be so evil, including ‘human nature’?

    • 40-50K killed

    • 80-90% of the buildings destroyed

  • What are we to learn from it?

    • Voltaire: cultivate one’s garden

    • Rousseau: cities are bad, providence good

The encyclop die
The Encyclopédie

  • French, edited by Diderot and d’Alembert, 17 vols.

  • Published over 20 years in mid 18th c.

    • Most famous philosophers of the age

  • Aim: to spread practical knowledge in society

  • With amusing ‘digs’ at authorities from time to time (e.g.: ‘knowledge of God’ and ‘black magic’ are treated together on the tree of knowledge)

Rousseau the dissenting voice
Rousseau: the dissenting voice

  • First Discourse on the Sciences and Arts

  • Second Discourse on the Origins of Inequality

    • Civilisation is corrupting

    • The ‘arts and sciences’, consumption and urban living alienate the individual from his/herself

Rise of critical public sphere
Rise of Critical Public Sphere

  • Jürgen Habermas, Structural Transformation of the Bourgeois Public Sphere (1962)

    • New ideology of family

      • from necessity and coercion to morality and sentiment

    • This notion of the family was projected on ‘society’ through public institutions

Public sphere
Public Sphere

  • Print: a reading revolution

    • Literacy rates rise dramatically in 18th c.

    • Shift from devotional literature to novels

    • Shift of intensive, reverential reading to extensive critical reading

    • Seditious literature – libels, pornography

      • draw on Enlightenment epistemology to ridicule church and state

Public sphere1
Public Sphere

  • Salons

    • Increasing independence from the Court

  • Theatres

    • Official and market-driven ones

    • Who determines playbills? Public asserts itself

  • Pubs, cafés

    • owners subscribed to newspapers

  • Freemasonry

Tribunal of public opinion
Tribunal of Public Opinion

  • The authority of ‘public opinion’

  • Authorities unwittingly contribute to its rise

    • By policing

    • Through propaganda

    • By invoking the concept

The public vs the people
The ‘public’ vs. the ‘people'

  • Rise of popular agitation in late 18th century

    • peasant revolts

    • urban rebellions

  • Fear of the masses intensifies

  • Solution: transform the people into a public

    • How? More enlightenment!

Enlightenment as modern

  • The ‘Ancients vs. Moderns’ debate

    • The printing press, firearms and compass

    • Debate within the official French Academy

    • Enlightenment: a ‘narrative’ about progress

  • Universal history

    • Kant’s Perpetual Peace

    • Marx’s theory of history

The mission to modernise
The mission to modernise

  • Imperialism

    • Civilizing missions of the 19th century

  • Universal education

    • Only way out of class disorder: education (and discipline) the masses

Modernity good or bad
Modernity:Good or Bad?

Charles louis richard exposition of the doctrine of the modern philosophers 1785
Charles-Louis RichardExposition of the doctrine of the modern philosophers (1785)

  • The results of modern philosophy

    • The corruption of faith and morals

    • The destruction of religion and every idea of duty, of obligation, of law, of conscience, of justice and injustice

    • “What a picture! What goals! What effects!”

Declaration of the Rights of Man

and of the Citizen of 1789

Modernity progress or pathology
Modernity:Progress or Pathology?

  • WWI and WWII: Is Europe Civilised? Is ‘Civilisation’ healthy?

  • Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents (1929)

  • Horkheimer and Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947)

  • Reinhart Koselleck, Critique and Crisis: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society (1959)

Is the enlightenment a myth
Is the Enlightenment a myth?

  • Too all embracing as a concept?

  • Is it helpful to thinking of the Enlightenment as at the origins of ‘modernity’?

  • Is modernity a useful concept?

  • What Enlightenment is is still open to debate.