The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790

The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790

by Ritchie Robertson

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In a brilliant and significant revisionist history of the Enlightenment, Ritchie Robertson challenges orthodox tropes, tapping into a wealth of new sources — literature, philosophy, science and religion — to show that the era was indeed sprawling in thought. This is “big” history and it is delicious!

A magisterial history that recasts the Enlightenment as a period not solely consumed with rationale and reason, but rather as a pursuit of practical means to achieve greater human happiness.

One of the formative periods of European and world history, the Enlightenment is the fountainhead of modern secular Western values: religious tolerance, freedom of thought, speech and the press, of rationality and evidence-based argument. Yet why, over three hundred years after it began, is the Enlightenment so profoundly misunderstood as controversial, the expression of soulless calculation? The answer may be that, to an extraordinary extent, we have accepted the account of the Enlightenment given by its conservative enemies: that enlightenment necessarily implied hostility to religion or support for an unfettered free market, or that this was “the best of all possible worlds”. Ritchie Robertson goes back into the “long eighteenth century,” from approximately 1680 to 1790, to reveal what this much-debated period was really about.

Robertson returns to the era’s original texts to show that above all, the Enlightenment was really about increasing human happiness – in this world rather than the next – by promoting scientific inquiry and reasoned argument. In so doing Robertson chronicles the campaigns mounted by some Enlightened figures against evils like capital punishment, judicial torture, serfdom and witchcraft trials, featuring the experiences of major figures like Voltaire and Diderot alongside ordinary people who lived through this extraordinary moment.

In answering the question 'What is Enlightenment?' in 1784, Kant famously urged men and women above all to “have the courage to use your own intellect”. Robertson shows how the thinkers of the Enlightenment did just that, seeking a well-rounded understanding of humanity in which reason was balanced with emotion and sensibility. Drawing on philosophy, theology, historiography and literature across the major western European languages, The Enlightenment is a master-class in big picture history about the foundational epoch of modern times. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062410672
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/14/2020
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 1008
Sales rank: 105,424
File size: 20 MB
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About the Author

Ritchie Robertson is Professor of German at Oxford University, a fellow of the British Academy, and a lead reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xiii

Preface xv

Note on Translations xxiii

1 Happiness, Reason and Passion 1

Is Happiness Possible? 4

Freedom from Fear 9

The Witch Craze and its End 14

Reason 21

The Passions 32

Interpreting the Enlightenment 37

2 The Scientific Revolution 42

Bacon or Descartes? 44

Newton and Newtonianism 56

Experimental Philosophy 65

The Heavens and the Earth 71

Science and the Enlightenment Public 77

The Harmony of Science and Religion 82

3 Toleration 85

Against Toleration 87

Persecution in France 91

Toleration in the Dutch Republic 94

Britain: 'a Persecuting Society' 99

Toleration in the Holy Roman Empire 105

William Penn's Holy Experiment 108

Arguments for Toleration 111

Bayle 115

Voltaire 123

Lessing 126

Goethe 130

Beyond Toleration 133

4 The Religious Enlightenment 136

Optimism 137

Physico-Theology 147

Religious Moderation in England and Scotland 157

Theological Enlightenment in Germany 166

The Catholic Enlightenment 170

Enlightenment in the Orthodox World 176

The Jewish Enlightenment 179

The Study of the Bible 182

The New Testament 191

5 Unbelief and Speculation 199

The Disenchantment of the World 200

Medicalization 206

Secularization? 210

The Fear of Hell 215

Natural Religion 220

Voltaire and the Bible 224

Atheism 232

An Evil God? 241

New Religious Speculations 245

The Power of Feeling 249

Enlightened Dying 253

6 Science and Sensibility 261

Self-Love and Sympathy 262

The Science of Man: Hume's Treatise 274

Anthropologies 282

The Science of Woman 293

Sexual Relations without Sin 301

Classifying Humanity 307

Diderot and the Grey Areas of Humanity 317

Empathetic Fiction 323

Sentiment and Society 340

7 Sociability 351

Politeness 353

The Public Sphere 358

Societies 365

The Republic of Letters 373

The Ethos of Scholarship 377

The Virtual Public Sphere 382

Censorship 389

Unsociability: Hume vs Rousseau 395

8 Practical Enlightenment 401

Police 401

The Encyclopédie 412

Agriculture 420

Medicine 427

Bringing up Children 434

Schools and Universities 445

Punishment 450

9 Aesthetics 464

Arts, Art, Aesthetics 465

Cartesian Aesthetics: Neoclassicism 468

Taste 474

Genius 483

Art and Morality 490

Imitation 493

Tragedy 500

The Sublime 506

10 The Science of Society 512

Montesquieu: The Spirit of the Laws 513

Commerce 521

Political Economy 529

Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations 535

Luxury 543

11 Philosophical History 555

Writing Secular History 555

Two Centres of History: Gottingen and Edinburgh 562

Two Histories of England: David Hume and Catharine Macaulay 572

Gibbon's Decline and Fall 582

The Future 595

12 Cosmopolitanism 600

Citizens of the World 600

Travel and Travel Writers 606

Myths of China 621

Empire 626

The Histoire des deux Indes 631

The Discovery of Asia 637

The Primitive 642

Cultural Cosmopolitanism: Forster and Herder 648

13 Forms of Government 655

Monarchy 656

Enlightened Absolutism 662

Republics 683

Rousseau and the Social Contract 692

14 Revolutions 706

The American Revolution 707

The French Revolution 717

At Long Last, an English Enlightenment 735

Some Enlightenment Legacies 745

Conclusion: The Battle over the Enlightenment 769

References 781

Select Bibliography 893

Index 927

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