Three Deaths and Enlightenment Thought: Hume, Johnson, Marat

Overview

In recent years there has been an extended debate about Enlightenment thought. Though many scholars have concluded that there were several 'Enlightenments,' some continue to make generalizations about the Englightenment and some speak about 'the Enlightment agenda.' After discussing the cult of the deathbed scene in eighteenth-century Britain and France, the author looks at three currents of Enlightment thought implicit in the deathbed 'projects' of David Hume, Samuel Johnson, and Jean Paul Marat. Although Hume ...

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Overview

In recent years there has been an extended debate about Enlightenment thought. Though many scholars have concluded that there were several 'Enlightenments,' some continue to make generalizations about the Englightenment and some speak about 'the Enlightment agenda.' After discussing the cult of the deathbed scene in eighteenth-century Britain and France, the author looks at three currents of Enlightment thought implicit in the deathbed 'projects' of David Hume, Samuel Johnson, and Jean Paul Marat. Although Hume and Johnson hold profoundly different views of religion, their political thinking has much in common. Their reformist thought differs radically from what might be called the transformist thought of Marat, who hoped the French would become disinterested citizens whose civil religion was patriotism. The author argues that Enlightment thought was more varied and-in its reformist current-less hostile to tradition than many observers have allowed. Enlightment thought was less a cluster of ideas than a debate about a number of questions, especially the following: how to contain religious and secular fanaticism (or what was called enthusiasm); what are the effects of luxury; and what is the nature of the passions. There was, as J.G.A. Pocock says, 'a family of Enlightments,' and 'there is room for the recognition of family quarrels...' Why look at deathbed scenes to chart the currents of Enlightment thought? Because an interest in deathbed scenes was widespread in eighteenth-century Britain and France. The final days of Hume stirred up a controversy that lasted for at least a decade and the final days of Johnson also attracted a great deal of attention, but Marat's death had the greatest impact of the three. His assassination gave impetus to the Jacobins' attempt to eliminate the influence of the church and greatly expand the influence of the state. Marat's project to transform France failed, but so did the projects of Hume and Johnson. Hume argued that religious belief was based on the foolish fear of death, yet religion remained a strong force in Britain. Johnson hoped for a return to God-fearing religion, yet the educated classes continued to prefer a more benign brand of Christianity in which God's benevolence was stressed far more than his judgment.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781611481402
  • Publisher: Bucknell University Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2001
  • Pages: 219
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Miller has published widely on eighteenth-century intellectual history. His articles on Adam Smith, David Hume, Edmund Burke, Joseph Addison, Samuel Johnson, and Edward Gibbon have appeared in a number of journals, including Sewanee Review, Partisan Review, and the Times Literary Supplement. He has also written two books and many articles on a variety of subjects -from American intellectual history to modern French thought. An independent scholar who is a Contributing Editor to the Wilson Quarterly, he has taught at Rutgers University and Beaver College. He has also been a Program Director for the National Endowment for the Humanities and a Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
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