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Whitewashing History

Pinker’s (Mis)Representation of the Enlightenment and Violence

Philip Dwyer

advent of what Pinker calls the age of reason, a dated term for the Enlightenment, a movement that placed “life and happiness at the center of values,” and that had “a sudden impact on Western life” in the second half of the eighteenth century. Pinker

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In the Eyes of Some Britons

Aleppo, an Enlightenment City

Mohammad Sakhnini

globalist, were steeped in the context of their entanglement with the world of others. 1 It was a traveling experience that shows how Enlightenment toleration, sociability, and living in peace with and among others also existed in Aleppo, a place many

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David Allen Harvey

Despite its long-standing reputation for skepticism and irreverence, the Enlightenment took religion quite seriously. Historians have long recognized this fact, and have often represented the intellectual history of the eighteenth century in terms of the struggle between religious faith and philosophical skepticism. One common view of the period holds that religious dogmatism and intolerance, memorably condemned by Voltaire as l’Infâme, served as the negative pole against which the positive Enlightenment ideals of secularism, reason, and tolerance were articulated. Nearly a century ago, Ernst Cassirer characterized this view (which he did not entirely share) by writing, “French Encyclopedism declares war openly on religion,” accusing it of “having been an eternal hindrance to intellectual progress.” Around the same time, Carl Becker argued that the eighteenth-century philosophes sought to recast the “heavenly city” imagined by church fathers such as St. Augustine into a vision of a terrestrial utopian future. A generation later, Peter Gay described the philosophes as “modern pagans,” who “used their classical learning to free themselves from their Christian heritage.” For such scholars, the historical signifi cance of the Enlightenment lay in its break with religious tradition and embrace of “modernity”, defined primarily by secularism and rationality.

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Ronald Schechter

This article argues that the term “holy” (saint/sainte) was a key word in the French revolutionary lexicon during the Terror. Its use was comparable in frequency to the terms “glorious” and “useful”. Among the many things revolutionaries regarded as “holy”—for example, liberty, equality, the constitution, the laws, and the revolution itself—by far the most often cited was the “Mountain”. Historians have assumed that “Montagne” simply referred to the deputies who occupied the upper benches in the National Convention, but an analysis of the term “holy Mountain” shows that the real significance of the name came from its analogy to Mount Sinai. Revolutionaries venerated the Mountain as a source of divine laws and as a force with the godlike capacity to punish “impious” enemies. The concept indicates an authentic religiosity among the revolutionaries, who are otherwise seen as heirs to the Enlightenment, and therefore questions the traditional opposition between Enlightenment and religion.

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Charles Bradford Bow

This article examines the “progress” of Scottish metaphysics during the long eighteenth century. The scientific cultivation of natural knowledge drawn from the examples of Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626), John Locke (1632–1704), and Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) was a defining pursuit in the Scottish Enlightenment. The Aberdonian philosopher George Dalgarno (1616–1687); Thomas Reid (1710–1796), a member of the Aberdeen Philosophical Society known as the Wise Club; and the professor of moral philosophy at Edinburgh University Dugald Stewart (1753–1828), contributed to that Scottish pattern of philosophical thinking. The question of the extent to which particular external senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell) might be improved when others were damaged or absent from birth attracted their particular interest. This article shows the different ways in which Scottish anatomists of the mind resolved Molyneux’s Problem of whether or not an agent could accurately perceive an object from a newly restored external sense.

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Cat Moir

This article argues that G. E. Lessing should be viewed as one of the German Enlightenment’s foremost thinkers of peace alongside his contemporary Immanuel Kant, whose contribution to thinking peace in the eighteenth century is already well recognised. It makes this case by examining two of Lessing’s late works: the 1779 drama Nathan the Wise and the 1780 essay The Education of the Human Race. The dialogue between faith and reason characteristic of Enlightenment discourse is at the heart of both texts, but here it is argued that peace is a crucial third moment. While in Nathan Lessing asserts the need to find peace between the forces of faith and reason in a literary register, in the Education essay he does so in a more explicitly theoretical mode.

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David Allen Harvey

Classical polytheism or “paganism” presented a challenge to the Philhellenes of the Enlightenment, who found it difficult to accept that the greatest minds of antiquity had been taken in by (vide Fontenelle) “a heap of chimeras, delusions, and absurdities.” Rejecting the claim that “paganism” was a deformation of the “natural religion” of the early Hebrew patriarchs, several Enlightenment thinkers developed theories of classical polytheism, presenting it as the apotheosis of the great kings and heroes of the first ages of man, a system of allegorical symbols that conveyed timeless truths, and the effort of a prescientific mentality to understand the hidden forces of nature. Although divergent in their interpretations of “paganism,” these theories converged by separating its origins from Judeo-Christian traditions and presenting religion as an essentially human creation. Thus, Enlightenment theories of classical mythology contributed to the emergence of the more cosmopolitan and tolerant spirit that characterized the age.

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Alex Murray

Jack the Ripper is purported to have claimed: ‘I gave birth to the twentieth-century.’ In what follows I want to suggest that what Jack the Ripper ‘gave birth to’ was little more than a perpetuation of the paradox that lies at the heart of Western civilization: the dialectic of enlightenment. The rationalising impulse that led to the liberation of the modern subject from the tyrannical faith in myth, superstition, and sovereign power, and their embodiment in the objective world is, according to Adorno and Horkheimer, also responsible for its negation by reducing it to the status of that objective, or natural world from which it was attempting to liberate itself. A reading of Iain Sinclair’s 1987 novel, White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings, in relation to contemporary theorisations of modernity, such as that of Alain Touraine, suggests that any escape from the Ripper paradox, any ‘spiritual deliverance’ through historical investigation, requires a reconceptualisation of the relationship between subject and object, past and present – in short – a reappraisal of the project of modernity.

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Wu Wei East and West

Humanism and Anti-Humanism in Daoist and Enlightenment Political Thought

Eric Goodfield

Some contemporary authors have witnessed the flourishing of the Sinophilia of the Early Enlightenment and the direct impact of Daoist and Chinese thought on the ideas of Spinoza, Leibniz, Voltaire, Quesnay and the philosophes and have proceeded to make overt connections between the Daoist notion of 'non-action' or Wu wei and Enlightenment doctrines of laissez-faire. In contrast to such approaches, I argue that these frequent conceptual comparisons have often been inappropriate where touchstone humanist notions devoid of the Dao de Jing's fundamental spiritual and metaphysical commitments are brought forward as evidence of interconnection.

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An Intellectual Genealogy of the Revolt against “Esprit de Système”

From the Renaissance to the Early Enlightenment

Jeffrey D. Burson

the eighteenth-century Age of Enlightenment. 5 The sixteenth-century crisis bequeathed to the early Enlightenment a chastened, initially less optimistic humanism among scholars whose work prepared the way for the aversion to system-building and the