① Roy Porter Enlightenment

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Roy Porter Enlightenment



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The terms by which the restored king was to rule was a constitutional monarchy under the Constitution of Portugal. Brazil declared its independence of Portugal in , and became a monarchy. In Russia, the government began to actively encourage the proliferation of arts and sciences in the midth century. This era produced the first Russian university, library, theatre, public museum and independent press. Like other enlightened despots , Catherine the Great played a key role in fostering the arts, sciences and education. She used her own interpretation of Enlightenment ideals, assisted by notable international experts such as Voltaire by correspondence and in residence world class scientists such as Leonhard Euler and Peter Simon Pallas. The national Enlightenment differed from its Western European counterpart in that it promoted further modernization of all aspects of Russian life and was concerned with attacking the institution of serfdom in Russia.

The Russian Enlightenment centered on the individual instead of societal enlightenment and encouraged the living of an enlightened life. However, it lacked the skeptical and critical spirit of the Western European Enlightenment. The political system was built on aristocratic republicanism , but was unable to defend itself against powerful neighbors Russia, Prussia and Austria as they repeatedly sliced off regions until nothing was left of independent Poland.

Warsaw was a main centre after , with an expansion of schools and educational institutions and the arts patronage held at the Royal Castle. The movement went into decline with the Third Partition of Poland — a national tragedy inspiring a short period of sentimental writing — and ended in , replaced by Romanticism. The Enlightenment has always been contested territory. According to Keith Thomas, its supporters "hail it as the source of everything that is progressive about the modern world. For them, it stands for freedom of thought, rational inquiry, critical thinking, religious tolerance, political liberty, scientific achievement, the pursuit of happiness, and hope for the future.

From the start, conservative and clerical defenders of traditional religion attacked materialism and skepticism as evil forces that encouraged immorality. By , they pointed to the Terror during the French Revolution as confirmation of their predictions. As the Enlightenment was ending, Romantic philosophers argued that excessive dependence on reason was a mistake perpetuated by the Enlightenment because it disregarded the bonds of history, myth, faith, and tradition that were necessary to hold society together.

It would expose truth and expand human happiness. However, scholars have never agreed on a definition of the Enlightenment, or on its chronological or geographical extent. Not until the late nineteenth century did English scholars agree they were talking about "the Enlightenment". Enlightenment historiography began in the period itself, from what Enlightenment figures said about their work.

A dominant element was the intellectual angle they took. Bertrand Russell saw the Enlightenment as a phase in a progressive development which began in antiquity and that reason and challenges to the established order were constant ideals throughout that time. Although many of these philosophical ideals were picked up by Catholics, Russell argues that by the 18th century the Enlightenment was the principal manifestation of the schism that began with Martin Luther. Jonathan Israel rejects the attempts of postmodern and Marxian historians to understand the revolutionary ideas of the period purely as by-products of social and economic transformations.

There is little consensus on the precise beginning of the Age of Enlightenment, though several historians and philosophers argue that it was marked by Descartes ' philosophy of Cogito, ergo sum "I think, therefore I Am" , which shifted the epistemological basis from external authority to internal certainty. Adorno argued:. Enlightenment, understood in the widest sense as the advance of thought, has always aimed at liberating human beings from fear and installing them as masters. Yet the wholly enlightened earth radiates under the sign of disaster triumphant.

Extending Horkheimer and Adorno's argument, intellectual historian Jason Josephson-Storm has argued that any idea of the Age of Enlightenment as a clearly defined period that is separate from the earlier Renaissance and later Romanticism or Counter-Enlightenment constitutes a myth. Josephson-Storm points out that there are vastly different and mutually contradictory periodizations of the Enlightenment depending on nation, field of study, and school of thought; that the term and category of "Enlightenment" referring to the scientific revolution was actually applied after the fact; that the Enlightenment did not see an increase in disenchantment or the dominance of the mechanistic worldview ; and that a blur in the early modern ideas of the humanities and natural sciences makes it hard to circumscribe a Scientific Revolution.

In the s, study of the Enlightenment expanded to include the ways Enlightenment ideas spread to European colonies and how they interacted with indigenous cultures and how the Enlightenment took place in formerly unstudied areas such as Italy, Greece, the Balkans, Poland, Hungary and Russia. Habermas described the creation of the "bourgeois public sphere" in 18th-century Europe, containing the new venues and modes of communication allowing for rational exchange. Habermas said that the public sphere was bourgeois, egalitarian, rational and independent from the state, making it the ideal venue for intellectuals to critically examine contemporary politics and society, away from the interference of established authority. While the public sphere is generally an integral component of the social study of the Enlightenment, other historians [note 3] have questioned whether the public sphere had these characteristics.

In contrast to the intellectual historiographical approach of the Enlightenment, which examines the various currents or discourses of intellectual thought within the European context during the 17th and 18th centuries, the cultural or social approach examines the changes that occurred in European society and culture. This approach studies the process of changing sociabilities and cultural practices during the Enlightenment. One of the primary elements of the culture of the Enlightenment was the rise of the public sphere , a "realm of communication marked by new arenas of debate, more open and accessible forms of urban public space and sociability, and an explosion of print culture", in the late 17th century and 18th century.

The values of this bourgeois public sphere included holding reason to be supreme, considering everything to be open to criticism the public sphere is critical , and the opposition of secrecy of all sorts. The creation of the public sphere has been associated with two long-term historical trends: the rise of the modern nation state and the rise of capitalism. The modern nation state, in its consolidation of public power, created by counterpoint a private realm of society independent of the state, which allowed for the public sphere. Capitalism also increased society's autonomy and self-awareness , as well as an increasing need for the exchange of information.

The context for the rise of the public sphere was the economic and social change commonly associated with the Industrial Revolution : "Economic expansion, increasing urbanization, rising population and improving communications in comparison to the stagnation of the previous century". Meanwhile, the colonial experience most European states had colonial empires in the 18th century began to expose European society to extremely heterogeneous cultures, leading to the breaking down of "barriers between cultural systems, religious divides, gender differences and geographical areas". The word "public" implies the highest level of inclusivity — the public sphere by definition should be open to all. However, this sphere was only public to relative degrees.

Enlightenment thinkers frequently contrasted their conception of the "public" with that of the people: Condorcet contrasted "opinion" with populace, Marmontel "the opinion of men of letters" with "the opinion of the multitude" and d'Alembert the "truly enlightened public" with "the blind and noisy multitude". Because of the focus on reason over superstition, the Enlightenment cultivated the arts. Areas of study such as literature, philosophy, science, and the fine arts increasingly explored subject matter to which the general public, in addition to the previously more segregated professionals and patrons, could relate.

As musicians depended more and more on public support, public concerts became increasingly popular and helped supplement performers' and composers' incomes. The concerts also helped them to reach a wider audience. Handel , for example, epitomized this with his highly public musical activities in London. He gained considerable fame there with performances of his operas and oratorios. The music of Haydn and Mozart , with their Viennese Classical styles, are usually regarded as being the most in line with the Enlightenment ideals.

The desire to explore, record and systematize knowledge had a meaningful impact on music publications. Jean-Jacques Rousseau 's Dictionnaire de musique published in Geneva and in Paris was a leading text in the late 18th century. Another text influenced by Enlightenment values was Charles Burney 's A General History of Music: From the Earliest Ages to the Present Period , which was a historical survey and an attempt to rationalize elements in music systematically over time. As the economy and the middle class expanded, there was an increasing number of amateur musicians.

One manifestation of this involved women, who became more involved with music on a social level. Women were already engaged in professional roles as singers and increased their presence in the amateur performers' scene, especially with keyboard music. The majority of the works that were published were for keyboard, voice and keyboard and chamber ensemble. The increasing study of the fine arts, as well as access to amateur-friendly published works, led to more people becoming interested in reading and discussing music.

Music magazines, reviews and critical works which suited amateurs as well as connoisseurs began to surface. The philosophes spent a great deal of energy disseminating their ideas among educated men and women in cosmopolitan cities. They used many venues, some of them quite new. In the midst of all the governments that decide the fate of men; in the bosom of so many states, the majority of them despotic It is the realm of talent and of thought. The Republic of Letters was the sum of a number of Enlightenment ideals: an egalitarian realm governed by knowledge that could act across political boundaries and rival state power.

The salon was the principal social institution of the republic [] and "became the civil working spaces of the project of Enlightenment". In France, the established men of letters gens de lettres had fused with the elites les grands of French society by the midth century. This led to the creation of an oppositional literary sphere, Grub Street , the domain of a "multitude of versifiers and would-be authors".

The writers of Grub Street, the Grub Street Hacks, were left feeling bitter about the relative success of the men of letters [] and found an outlet for their literature which was typified by the libelle. Written mostly in the form of pamphlets, the libelles "slandered the court, the Church, the aristocracy, the academies, the salons, everything elevated and respectable, including the monarchy itself". It was Grub Street literature that was most read by the public during the Enlightenment.

The increased consumption of reading materials of all sorts was one of the key features of the "social" Enlightenment. Developments in the Industrial Revolution allowed consumer goods to be produced in greater quantities at lower prices, encouraging the spread of books, pamphlets, newspapers and journals — "media of the transmission of ideas and attitudes". Commercial development likewise increased the demand for information, along with rising populations and increased urbanisation. Literacy rates are difficult to gauge, but in France the rates doubled over the course of the 18th century. Reading underwent serious changes in the 18th century.

In particular, Rolf Engelsing has argued for the existence of a Reading Revolution. Until , reading was done intensively: people tended to own a small number of books and read them repeatedly, often to small audience. After , people began to read "extensively", finding as many books as they could, increasingly reading them alone. The vast majority of the reading public could not afford to own a private library and while most of the state-run "universal libraries" set up in the 17th and 18th centuries were open to the public, they were not the only sources of reading material.

Intended for a largely rural and semi-literate audience these books included almanacs, retellings of medieval romances and condensed versions of popular novels, among other things. Libraries that lent out their material for a small price started to appear and occasionally bookstores would offer a small lending library to their patrons. Coffee houses commonly offered books, journals and sometimes even popular novels to their customers.

The Tatler and The Spectator , two influential periodicals sold from to , were closely associated with coffee house culture in London, being both read and produced in various establishments in the city. It is extremely difficult to determine what people actually read during the Enlightenment. For example, examining the catalogs of private libraries gives an image skewed in favor of the classes wealthy enough to afford libraries and also ignores censored works unlikely to be publicly acknowledged. For this reason, a study of publishing would be much more fruitful for discerning reading habits.

Across continental Europe, but in France especially, booksellers and publishers had to negotiate censorship laws of varying strictness. Indeed, many publishing companies were conveniently located outside France so as to avoid overzealous French censors. They would smuggle their merchandise across the border, where it would then be transported to clandestine booksellers or small-time peddlers. Readers were more interested in sensationalist stories about criminals and political corruption than they were in political theory itself. The second most popular category, "general works" those books "that did not have a dominant motif and that contained something to offend almost everyone in authority" , demonstrated a high demand for generally low-brow subversive literature.

However, these works never became part of literary canon and are largely forgotten today as a result. A healthy, legal publishing industry existed throughout Europe, although established publishers and book sellers occasionally ran afoul of the law. Borrowing records from libraries in England, Germany, and North America indicate that more than 70 percent of books borrowed were novels. Less than 1 percent of the books were of a religious nature, indicating the general trend of declining religiosity. A genre that greatly rose in importance was that of scientific literature.

Natural history in particular became increasingly popular among the upper classes. Students in Enlightenment universities and academies were taught these subjects to prepare them for careers as diverse as medicine and theology. As shown by Matthew Daniel Eddy, natural history in this context was a very middle class pursuit and operated as a fertile trading zone for the interdisciplinary exchange of diverse scientific ideas. The target audience of natural history was French polite society, evidenced more by the specific discourse of the genre than by the generally high prices of its works. Naturalists catered to polite society's desire for erudition — many texts had an explicit instructive purpose.

However, natural history was often a political affair. As Emma Spary writes, the classifications used by naturalists "slipped between the natural world and the social In this way, natural history spread many of the scientific developments of the time but also provided a new source of legitimacy for the dominant class. The first scientific and literary journals were established during the Enlightenment. However, it was not until that periodicals began to be more widely produced. French and Latin were the dominant languages of publication, but there was also a steady demand for material in German and Dutch. There was generally low demand for English publications on the Continent, which was echoed by England's similar lack of desire for French works. Languages commanding less of an international market—such as Danish, Spanish and Portuguese—found journal success more difficult and more often than not a more international language was used instead.

French slowly took over Latin's status as the lingua franca of learned circles. This in turn gave precedence to the publishing industry in Holland, where the vast majority of these French language periodicals were produced. Jonathan Israel called the journals the most influential cultural innovation of European intellectual culture. Being a source of knowledge derived from science and reason, they were an implicit critique of existing notions of universal truth monopolized by monarchies, parliaments and religious authorities. They also advanced Christian enlightenment that upheld "the legitimacy of God-ordained authority"—the Bible—in which there had to be agreement between the biblical and natural theories.

Although the existence of dictionaries and encyclopedias spanned into ancient times, the texts changed from simply defining words in a long running list to far more detailed discussions of those words in 18th-century encyclopedic dictionaries. As the 18th century progressed, the content of encyclopedias also changed according to readers' tastes. Volumes tended to focus more strongly on secular affairs, particularly science and technology, rather than matters of theology. Along with secular matters, readers also favoured an alphabetical ordering scheme over cumbersome works arranged along thematic lines.

For Porset, the avoidance of thematic and hierarchical systems thus allows free interpretation of the works and becomes an example of egalitarianism. Harris' book avoided theological and biographical entries and instead it concentrated on science and technology. Published in , the Lexicon technicum was the first book to be written in English that took a methodical approach to describing mathematics and commercial arithmetic along with the physical sciences and navigation.

Other technical dictionaries followed Harris' model, including Ephraim Chambers ' Cyclopaedia , which included five editions and was a substantially larger work than Harris'. The folio edition of the work even included foldout engravings. The Cyclopaedia emphasized Newtonian theories, Lockean philosophy and contained thorough examinations of technologies, such as engraving , brewing and dyeing. In Germany, practical reference works intended for the uneducated majority became popular in the 18th century.

The Marperger Curieuses Natur-, Kunst-, Berg-, Gewerkund Handlungs-Lexicon explained terms that usefully described the trades and scientific and commercial education. Jablonksi Allgemeines Lexicon was better known than the Handlungs-Lexicon and underscored technical subjects rather than scientific theory. For example, over five columns of text were dedicated to wine while geometry and logic were allocated only twenty-two and seventeen lines, respectively. However, the prime example of reference works that systematized scientific knowledge in the age of Enlightenment were universal encyclopedias rather than technical dictionaries.

It was the goal of universal encyclopedias to record all human knowledge in a comprehensive reference work. The work, which began publication in , was composed of thirty-five volumes and over 71 separate entries. A great number of the entries were dedicated to describing the sciences and crafts in detail and provided intellectuals across Europe with a high-quality survey of human knowledge. In d'Alembert's Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot , the work's goal to record the extent of human knowledge in the arts and sciences is outlined:. As a Reasoned Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Trades, it is to contain the general principles that form the basis of each science and each art, liberal or mechanical, and the most essential facts that make up the body and substance of each.

The massive work was arranged according to a "tree of knowledge". The tree reflected the marked division between the arts and sciences, which was largely a result of the rise of empiricism. Both areas of knowledge were united by philosophy, or the trunk of the tree of knowledge. The Enlightenment's desacrilization of religion was pronounced in the tree's design, particularly where theology accounted for a peripheral branch, with black magic as a close neighbour.

One of the most important developments that the Enlightenment era brought to the discipline of science was its popularization. An increasingly literate population seeking knowledge and education in both the arts and the sciences drove the expansion of print culture and the dissemination of scientific learning. The new literate population was due to a high rise in the availability of food. This enabled many people to rise out of poverty, and instead of paying more for food, they had money for education.

Sir Isaac Newton's celebrated Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica was published in Latin and remained inaccessible to readers without education in the classics until Enlightenment writers began to translate and analyze the text in the vernacular. The first significant work that expressed scientific theory and knowledge expressly for the laity, in the vernacular and with the entertainment of readers in mind, was Bernard de Fontenelle 's Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds The book was produced specifically for women with an interest in scientific writing and inspired a variety of similar works. Charles Leadbetter 's Astronomy was advertised as "a Work entirely New" that would include "short and easie [ sic ] Rules and Astronomical Tables".

A similar introduction to Newtonianism for women was produced by Henry Pemberton. Extant records of subscribers show that women from a wide range of social standings purchased the book, indicating the growing number of scientifically inclined female readers among the middling class. Sarah Trimmer wrote a successful natural history textbook for children titled The Easy Introduction to the Knowledge of Nature , which was published for many years after in eleven editions. Most work on the Enlightenment emphasizes the ideals discussed by intellectuals, rather than the actual state of education at the time.

Leading educational theorists like England's John Locke and Switzerland's Jean Jacques Rousseau both emphasized the importance of shaping young minds early. By the late Enlightenment, there was a rising demand for a more universal approach to education, particularly after the American and French Revolutions. The predominant educational psychology from the s onward, especially in northern European countries was associationism, the notion that the mind associates or dissociates ideas through repeated routines. In addition to being conducive to Enlightenment ideologies of liberty, self-determination and personal responsibility, it offered a practical theory of the mind that allowed teachers to transform longstanding forms of print and manuscript culture into effective graphic tools of learning for the lower and middle orders of society.

These universities, especially Edinburgh, produced professors whose ideas had a significant impact on Britain's North American colonies and later the American Republic. Within the natural sciences, Edinburgh's medical school also led the way in chemistry, anatomy and pharmacology. In France, the major exception was the medical university at Montpellier. The history of Academies in France during the Enlightenment begins with the Academy of Science , founded in in Paris. It was closely tied to the French state, acting as an extension of a government seriously lacking in scientists.

It helped promote and organize new disciplines and it trained new scientists. It also contributed to the enhancement of scientists' social status, considering them to be the "most useful of all citizens". Academies demonstrate the rising interest in science along with its increasing secularization, as evidenced by the small number of clerics who were members 13 percent. They perceived themselves as "interpreters of the sciences for the people". For example, it was with this in mind that academicians took it upon themselves to disprove the popular pseudo-science of mesmerism. These academic contests were perhaps the most public of any institution during the Enlightenment.

However, by roughly this subject matter had radically expanded and diversified, including "royal propaganda, philosophical battles, and critical ruminations on the social and political institutions of the Old Regime". Topics of public controversy were also discussed such as the theories of Newton and Descartes, the slave trade, women's education and justice in France. More importantly, the contests were open to all and the enforced anonymity of each submission guaranteed that neither gender nor social rank would determine the judging. Indeed, although the "vast majority" of participants belonged to the wealthier strata of society "the liberal arts, the clergy, the judiciary and the medical profession" , there were some cases of the popular classes submitting essays and even winning.

Of a total of 2, prize competitions offered in France, women won 49—perhaps a small number by modern standards, but very significant in an age in which most women did not have any academic training. Indeed, the majority of the winning entries were for poetry competitions, a genre commonly stressed in women's education. In England, the Royal Society of London also played a significant role in the public sphere and the spread of Enlightenment ideas. It was founded by a group of independent scientists and given a royal charter in This is where the Royal Society came into play: witnessing had to be a "collective act" and the Royal Society's assembly rooms were ideal locations for relatively public demonstrations.

Two factors were taken into account: a witness's knowledge in the area and a witness's "moral constitution". In other words, only civil society were considered for Boyle's public. Salons were places where philosophes were reunited and discussed old, actual or new ideas. This led to salons being the birthplace of intellectual and enlightened ideas. Coffeehouses were especially important to the spread of knowledge during the Enlightenment because they created a unique environment in which people from many different walks of life gathered and shared ideas.

They were frequently criticized by nobles who feared the possibility of an environment in which class and its accompanying titles and privileges were disregarded. Such an environment was especially intimidating to monarchs who derived much of their power from the disparity between classes of people. If classes were to join together under the influence of Enlightenment thinking, they might recognize the all-encompassing oppression and abuses of their monarchs and because of their size might be able to carry out successful revolts. Monarchs also resented the idea of their subjects convening as one to discuss political matters, especially those concerning foreign affairs—rulers thought political affairs to be their business only, a result of their supposed divine right to rule.

Coffeeshops became homes away from home for many who sought to engage in discourse with their neighbors and discuss intriguing and thought-provoking matters, especially those regarding philosophy to politics. Coffeehouses were essential to the Enlightenment, for they were centers of free-thinking and self-discovery. Although many coffeehouse patrons were scholars, a great deal were not. Coffeehouses attracted a diverse set of people, including not only the educated wealthy but also members of the bourgeoisie and the lower class.

While it may seem positive that patrons, being doctors, lawyers, merchants, etc. One of the most popular critiques of the coffeehouse claimed that it "allowed promiscuous association among people from different rungs of the social ladder, from the artisan to the aristocrat" and was therefore compared to Noah's Ark, receiving all types of animals, clean or unclean. Together, Steele and Addison published The Spectator , a daily publication which aimed, through fictional narrator Mr. Spectator, both to entertain and to provoke discussion regarding serious philosophical matters. The first English coffeehouse opened in Oxford in Brian Cowan said that Oxford coffeehouses developed into " penny universities ", offering a locus of learning that was less formal than structured institutions.

These penny universities occupied a significant position in Oxford academic life, as they were frequented by those consequently referred to as the virtuosi , who conducted their research on some of the resulting premises. According to Cowan, "the coffeehouse was a place for like-minded scholars to congregate, to read, as well as learn from and to debate with each other, but was emphatically not a university institution, and the discourse there was of a far different order than any university tutorial". These bruits were allegedly a much better source of information than were the actual newspapers available at the time. The debating societies are an example of the public sphere during the Enlightenment.

In the late s, popular debating societies began to move into more "genteel" rooms, a change which helped establish a new standard of sociability. The debating societies were commercial enterprises that responded to this demand, sometimes very successfully. Some societies welcomed from to 1, spectators a night. The debating societies discussed an extremely wide range of topics.

Before the Enlightenment, most intellectual debates revolved around "confessional" — that is, Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed Calvinist or Anglican issues and the main aim of these debates was to establish which bloc of faith ought to have the "monopoly of truth and a God-given title to authority". After the second half of the 17th century and during the 18th century, a "general process of rationalization and secularization set in" and confessional disputes were reduced to a secondary status in favor of the "escalating contest between faith and incredulity".

In addition to debates on religion, societies discussed issues such as politics and the role of women. However, it is important to note that the critical subject matter of these debates did not necessarily translate into opposition to the government. In other words, the results of the debate quite frequently upheld the status quo. Once inside, spectators were able to participate in a largely egalitarian form of sociability that helped spread Enlightenment ideas.

Historians have long debated the extent to which the secret network of Freemasonry was a main factor in the Enlightenment. It expanded rapidly during the Age of Enlightenment, reaching practically every country in Europe. It was especially attractive to powerful aristocrats and politicians as well as intellectuals, artists and political activists. During the Age of Enlightenment, Freemasons comprised an international network of like-minded men, often meeting in secret in ritualistic programs at their lodges.

They promoted the ideals of the Enlightenment and helped diffuse these values across Britain and France and other places. Freemasonry as a systematic creed with its own myths, values and set of rituals originated in Scotland around and spread first to England and then across the Continent in the eighteenth century. They fostered new codes of conduct—including a communal understanding of liberty and equality inherited from guild sociability—"liberty, fraternity and equality". One example was the Illuminati founded in Bavaria in , which was copied after the Freemasons, but was never part of the movement. For one thing, all historians now agree that the very labelling of the eighteenth century as an 'age of reason' is deeply misleading.

Many of the century's leading intellectuals themselves dismissed the rationalist, system-building philosophers of the seventeenth century, notably Descartes with his notion of 'clear and distinct ideas' self-evident to reason and Leibniz. They repudiated them as fiercely as they rejected what they considered the verbal sophistries of rationalist, scholastic theology, developed first by St Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages Thomism , and further elaborated in the Counter-Reformation. In the light of the triumph of Newtonian science, the men of the Enlightenment argued that experience and experiment, not a priori reason, were the keys to true knowledge. Man himself was no less a feeling than a thinking animal. No doubt, as Goya observed, the 'sleep of reason produces monsters'.

But, divorced from experience and sensitivity, reason equally led to error and absurdity, as Voltaire delightfully demonstrated in his philosophical novel Candide, in which the stooge, Dr Pangloss, is so blinded by his Leibnizian metaphysical conviction that 'all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds', as to become utterly indifferent to the cruelty and suffering going on under his best of all possible noses. As Gay has emphasized, the exponents of Enlightenment were neither rationalists, believing that reason was all, nor irrationalists, surrendering their judgement before feeling, faith, intuition and authority.

They criticized all such simple-minded extremes, because they were, above all, critics, aiming to put human intelligence to use as an engine for understanding human nature, for analysing man as a sociable being, and the natural environment in which he lived. Upon such understanding would the foundations for a better world be laid. They called themselves 'philosophers', and this term in the French form, philosophes will serve - for there is no exact English equivalent - as a convenient group name for them below. But we must not think of them as akin to the stereotypical philosophy professor of today, agonizing over the nuances of words in his academic ivory tower. Rather they were men of the world: journalists, propagandists, activists, seeking not just to understand the world but to change it.

A more rounded knowledge of such intellectuals as Diderot and Condorcet has dispelled the old caricature of the philosophes as dogmatic system-builders, infatuated with pet economic nostrums and 'vain utopias seated in the brain'. Above all, we should be careful not to give oversimplified accounts of their ideas. They often popularized - to get through to the people. They often sloganized they needed to, in order to be heard. But there was much subtlety behind the slogans. Yet it would be simplistic to jump to the conclusion that he had declared total war on all religion whatsoever. Experience of twentieth-century police states should have taught us why the philosophes had to speak in foreign tongues under different circumstances: now they had to be blunt, now they had to hold forth in riddles or fables, in order to circumvent the all-present censor.

Straight-talking was not always possible or effective. Once ingrained myths and prejudices are thus cleared away, we can begin to reassess the nature and significance of the Enlightenment. Yet that is still not easy. In his dazzling and sympathetic account, written in the optimistic climate of the s, Gay depicted the Enlightenment as a unity 'there was only one Enlightenment' , the work of a group who largely knew and admired each other, or at least were familiar with each others' works. They hailed from the major nations of Europe and British North America. These constituted the hard core of what Gay called a 'family' or a 'little flock' of philosophes, flourishing from around the s to the dawn of the new American Republic in the s, when the French Revolution was on the horizon.

Like the members of every close family, Gay cheerfully conceded, they had their disagreements. Yet he emphasized the cardinal points upon which they were essentially at one. Thanks to Gay's generous collective portrait of this 'party of humanity', the philosophes can no longer be dismissed as a bunch of pointy-headed intellectual poseurs. Yet Gay's survey must be our point of departure in illuminating the Enlightenment, not the last word upon it. Many problems of interpretation remain outstanding, exposed by further digging in the archives or produced by new angles of vision. For one thing, there is the question of the relations between generals and rank-and-file. Gay's decision to devote his pages mainly to the 'great men' of the Enlightenment certainly honoured the towering reputation - 'notoriety' many would say - of the likes of Voltaire and Rousseau, men often condemned by reactionaries, as if they had almost single-handedly engineered the French Revolution.

Gay's strategy enabled him to get under their skin, and to show they were complex human beings, whose ideas changed over time in response to experience - rather than just being names on the spines of books. But more recent scholarship has looked away from these 'prize blooms' and paid more attention to the 'seedbed' of the Enlightenment. What sort of intellectual life, what groupings of writers and readers, made it possible for such giants to flourish? What conditions helped disseminate their teachings to wider audiences? Who continued their mission after their deaths? As well as a 'High Enlightenment', wasn't there also a 'Low Enlightenment'? Complementing the elite version, wasn't there also a 'popular' Enlightenment?.

The choice as to whether we see the Enlightenment principally as an elite movement, spearheaded by a small, illustrious band, or view it instead as a tide of opinion advancing upon a broad front, obviously colours our judgement of its impact. The smaller the leadership, the more readily the Enlightenment can be pictured primarily as a radical revolution of the mind, combatting the encrusted orthodoxies of the centuries with the new weapons of pantheism, Deism, atheism, republicanism, democracy, materialism, and so forth.

I'm a social historian and an 18th century man". He also wrote and lectured on the history of London. With G. In Roberta Bivins and John V. Several of the essays address Porter's work directly, and William F. Bynum appends a biographical sketch. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other people named Roy Porter, see Roy Porter disambiguation. American Historical Association. Retrieved 7 September The New York Times. ISSN

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