The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy

The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy

by Anthony Gottlieb
     
 

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The author of the classic The Dream of Reason vividly explains the rise of modern thought.Western philosophy is now two and a half millennia old, but much of it came in just two staccato bursts, each lasting only about 150 years. In his landmark survey of Western philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance, The Dream of Reason, Anthony Gottlieb documented the

Overview

The author of the classic The Dream of Reason vividly explains the rise of modern thought.Western philosophy is now two and a half millennia old, but much of it came in just two staccato bursts, each lasting only about 150 years. In his landmark survey of Western philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance, The Dream of Reason, Anthony Gottlieb documented the first burst, which came in the Athens of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Now, in his sequel, The Dream of Enlightenment, Gottlieb expertly navigates a second great explosion of thought, taking us to northern Europe in the wake of its wars of religion and the rise of Galilean science. In a relatively short period—from the early 1640s to the eve of the French Revolution—Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz, and Hume all made their mark. The Dream of Enlightenment tells their story and that of the birth of modern philosophy.As Gottlieb explains, all these men were amateurs: none had much to do with any university. They tried to fathom the implications of the new science and of religious upheaval, which led them to question traditional teachings and attitudes. What does the advance of science entail for our understanding of ourselves and for our ideas of God? How should a government deal with religious diversity—and what, actually, is government for? Such questions remain our questions, which is why Descartes, Hobbes, and the others are still pondered today.Yet it is because we still want to hear them that we can easily get these philosophers wrong. It is tempting to think they speak our language and live in our world; but to understand them properly, we must step back into their shoes. Gottlieb puts readers in the minds of these frequently misinterpreted figures, elucidating the history of their times and the development of scientific ideas while engagingly explaining their arguments and assessing their legacy in lively prose.With chapters focusing on Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Pierre Bayle, Leibniz, Hume, Rousseau, and Voltaire—and many walk-on parts—The Dream of Enlightenment creates a sweeping account of what the Enlightenment amounted to, and why we are still in its debt.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Michael Wood
Gottlieb's aim, admirably fulfilled, is to help us see what older and newer philosophers have to say to us but not to turn them into mouthpieces for what we already think we know. "It is tempting to think that they speak our language and live in our world. But to understand them properly, we must step back into their shoes"…Gottlieb often makes fun of his philosophers, but gently, as a way of bringing us closer to them, and they emerge as brilliant, vulnerable humans rather than monsters of any kind.
Publishers Weekly
06/20/2016
Gottlieb (The Dream of Reason), a former executive editor of the Economist, takes on the difficult task of trying to figure out what exactly the Enlightenment’s greatest thinkers were thinking, and to describe their thoughts in lay terms. He draws on intellectual, political, and scientific developments in Europe from the 1630s to the French Revolution. Gottlieb begins with Descartes and progresses through Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Bayle, Leibniz, and Hume, concluding with Voltaire, Rousseau, and the Philosophes. Gottlieb skillfully juggles the biographical eccentricities of the philosophers and their enormous paper flow (some one million pages for Leibniz alone), but he takes on too much when he tries to show how these men, largely ill at ease with their peers and religious institutions, have been mishandled by such later thinkers as Kant and Pope John Paul II. The book overflows with information, but chapters could be better organized internally. Moreover, Gottlieb’s writing can feel dull and uninspired given the material and his array of insights, including Locke’s defense of serfdom and colonialism, and his possible theft of his theory on private property from a friend; Spinoza’s influence on Einstein; and Hobbes’s conviction that rational man would seek self-preservation and peace. The book has flaws, but Gottlieb’s knowledge makes it worth reading. (Aug.)
Edward O. Wilson
“Wondrously perceptive and exceptionally well written,The Dream of Enlightenmentnot only provides a key account of the Enlightenment philosophers but also inspires us to consider a new enlightenment that could fundamentally transform our own world as much as it did theirs.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
“A rare combination of encyclopedic knowledge, clarity, and lapidary style. I have never seen a discussion of philosophy as fun to read, presented with such clarity.I spent a decade and a half waiting for this book, yet it exceeds expectation: Gottlieb has a philosophical erudition that is so refreshing in a world of narrow academic résumé building.”
Library Journal
06/15/2016
Gottlieb (former executive editor, the Economist) provides a sequel to The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance. Here, there are individual chapters on René Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, Baruch Spinoza, John Locke, Pierre Bayle, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, David Hume, and other French philosophers. Gottlieb attempts to understand "these pioneers" by "step[ping] back into their shoes." He unpacks their major philosophical ideas from within the contexts of their lives and times and also traces their subsequent scholarly receptions. No small task, but one accomplished with delightfully economical prose. British philosophers get the most attention, with the longest chapters going to Hobbes, Locke, and Hume. And while Gottlieb acknowledges that "all histories of philosophy are selective," his might advantageously have included more on another Brit, Francis Bacon. That would have allowed highlighting inductive thinking to accompany Descartes's rationalism, even if Gottlieb is right that Bacon was not the stock empiricist he's often made out to be. We should all look forward to his projected next volume, taking philosophy's story forward from Immanuel Kant. VERDICT An accessible introduction to Enlightenment philosophers with much to offer all educated readers. [See Prepub Alert, 2/29/16.]—Mark Spencer, Brock Univ., St. Catharines, Ont.
Kirkus Reviews
2016-05-14
A lively collective portrait of daring intellectuals.In this second volume of a planned trilogy on the history of philosophy, former Economist executive editor Gottlieb (The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance, 2001, etc.) examines influential thinkers from the 1630s to the late 18th century, including Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz, Hume, and two "unlikely bedfellows" buried opposite one another in the crypt of the Panthéon in Paris: Voltaire and Rousseau. Surprisingly to some, writes Gottlieb, "all these men were amateurs" who questioned the implications of new scientific and religious ideas for self and society. The well-born Descartes was "fascinated by machines and all kinds of mechanical contraptions." Hobbes, "the most vilified thinker in Britain," was an irascible man whose writings included "tirades against Aristotle and scholasticism" and attacks on academics and theologians. "Above all," writes Gottlieb, "it was probably Hobbes's materialism…that made him an anathema." Like Descartes, Hobbes regarded nature as a machine, but he took the idea further, maintaining "that absolutely everything is physical." Gottlieb sees much of Hobbes in the works of Locke and Hume, as well. Spinoza, excommunicated from the synagogue, "treated the Bible as a collection of documents that reveal as much about their authors as about anything else," best examined "with the tools of a literary critic and historian." Locke, according to Gottlieb, laid down the precepts of British empiricism, whose later exemplars included John Stuart Mill, Bertrand Russell, and A.J. Ayer. Pierre Bayle, a French philosophy professor, argued against religious superstitions such as the belief that comets were divine warnings, and his work focused on religious tolerance and "the so-called problem of evil." Gottlieb reveals how his subjects were esteemed or derided by their contemporaries and also how their ideas filtered down to later generations. The Enlightenment, the author convincingly asserts, set the ground for toleration of religious dissent, scientific progress, and the dismantling of feudalism. Engaging, accessible, and informative.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780871404435
Publisher:
Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date:
08/30/2016
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
18,683
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.40(d)

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Meet the Author

Anthony Gottlieb was the executive editor of the Economist from 1984 until 2006. He studied philosophy at Cambridge University and University College, London, and has been a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University. He has written articles and book reviews for the New York Times. He is a visiting scholar at New York University and a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities.

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