The Idea of Enlightenment: A Postmortem Study / Edition 1

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In "The Idea of Enlightenment", Robert Bartlett explores the roots of the contemporary dissatisfaction with the modern Enlightenment, the momentous political-philosophical project that sought to liberate politics from religious control. What is unsatisfactory about our post-Enlightenment condition, argues the author, is that the heralded "death of God" has been rapidly followed by the death of reason and, with it, the Enlightenment's hope that politics might be governed by reason rather than by God or his ministers.

Having undertaken close analysis of five seminal writings, both ancient and modern, Bartlett contends that the fundamental question at the heart of the Enlightenment was and remains the quarrel between reason and faith. What is more, the ancient founders of political philosophy too envisioned a kind of enlightenment that, though less politically active or hopeful than its modern counterpart, still supplies the means to understand that quarrel. For the ancient enlightenment permits us to re-acquaint ourselves with the philosophic significance of the conflict between faith and reason, which the success of the modern Enlightenment encouraged us to forget or ignore. In the end, then, Bartlett's return to political philosophers of the past is meant to revive the possibility, against the tenor of our times, that human reason remains our proper "Star and compass."

The book breaks important new ground in its interpretation of texts by Strauss, Bayle, Montesquieu, Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle while integrating all of these thinkers into a lively and highly original account of the classical political philosophers' conception of enlightenment as a powerful alternative to the modern conception.

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Editorial Reviews

Postmodern doubt in the existence of reason gives rise to this study by Bartlett (political science, Emory U., Atlanta) of the philosophical roots of the Enlightenment. Initial chapters consider current notions of the role of reason and the divine in an enlightened political stance by examining the current dissatisfaction with the modern Enlightenment, tracing that dissatisfaction to a controversy beginning with Pierre Bayle's and Montesquieu's , and an introduction to the thought of Leo Strauss and Alasdair MacIntyre. The second half of the volume gives new readings of Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle for an alternative definition to the modern conception of Enlightenment. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802048370
  • Publisher: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division
  • Publication date: 2/10/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert C. Bartlett is an assistant professor in the department of Political Science at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix
Part 1 The Collapse of the Modern Enlightenment
1. The Contemporary Consensus 3
2. The Project of Enlightenment and the Foundation of Modern Political Rationalism: Notes on Bayle and Montesquieu 13
3. On the Possibility of a Return to Premodern Rationalism: Alasdair MacIntyre and Leo Strauss 45
Part 2 An Introduction to the Ancient Enlightenment
4. Politics and the Divine in the Ancient Community: On Thucydides': War of the Peloponnesians and Athenians 67
5. The Original Understanding of Enlightenment: On the 'Cave' in: Plato's Republic 107
6. The Limits of Enlightenment: Aristotle's: Politics 125
Conclusion 187
Notes 195
References 211
Index 219
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