Jane O'Grady

Did He Influence the Mushrooming Zeitgeist?

Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650–1750

By

Oxford University Press 810pp £30 order from our bookshop

‘“Dare to know!” – that is the motto of enlightenment’, wrote Kant in 1784, in his famous essay ‘What is Enlightenment?’ Clerical authority, the veracity of the Bible, miracles, magic, satanic possession, monarchy, aristocracy, hierarchy, slavery, women’s subordination to men – all were challenged. Reason, which had immemorially been subordinated to ecclesiastical authority, but which Descartes had called God’s voice speaking in each of us, became, over the period of the Enlightenment, something both more subjective and more objective – the individual’s working out of the truth, without the intervention of Church or State, in a way that would nonetheless secure universal convergence. There was a sense of transcending not only the constraints of superstition but of nationality, perhaps even of class, gender and race, in the avid pursuit of reasoned truth. ‘My dear David, you belong to all nations,’ declared Diderot to David Hume, ‘and … I flatter myself that I am, like you, a citizen of the great city of the world.’

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Tarantino's latest film is 'a fairy tale about Hollywood, where fantasy is an industrial product and the boulevards… ,
    • 'I don’t think we’re here on Earth to be Happy. I think we’re here on Earth to help God. I am a messianic writer'.… ,
    • 'Darley’s book is not a mad dash through this most compelling and complex of English counties. Nor is it another ti… ,
    • 'Moser’s book offers such a gripping account of a profoundly damaged human being, trapped in a cycle of repetition,… ,
    • 'Ideas that I’d thought were set down in full continue to smoulder ... this book is only a snapshot of some larger… ,
    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,