The Idea of Enlightenment

The Idea of Enlightenment: A Postmortem Study

ROBERT C. BARTLETT
Copyright Date: 2001
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442675957
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  • Book Info
    The Idea of Enlightenment
    Book Description:

    An exploration of the roots of the contemporary dissatisfaction with the modern Enlightenment. The author argues that the heralded "death of God" has been rapidly followed by the death of reason.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7595-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Part One: The Collapse of the Modern Enlightenment

    • Chapter 1 The Contemporary Consensus
      (pp. 3-12)

      In the heyday of the momentous political-philosophic project known as the Enlightenment - a period lasting from at least the middle of the sixteenth century to the publication of Rousseau’sFirst Discourse(1750) - it seemed only a matter of time before the darkness characteristic of every ‘cave’ or political community would be eliminated forever. This act of enlightenment could be achieved not by somehow forcing the philosopher to return from the light of the sun to the cave, as in theRepublicof Plato, but by reconstructing the cave such that the sun’s light might penetrate to its every...

    • Chapter 2 The Project of Enlightenment and the Foundation of Modern Political Rationalism: Notes on Bayle and Montesquieu
      (pp. 13-44)

      Every effort to ‘enlighten’ politics is an attempt to increase the political power of human reason by eliminating or at least reducing the power of those who claim to speak in the name of God. The philosophers of the early Enlightenment therefore faced the claims to knowledge of the orthodox as both a theoretical and a political problem: the ascent of reason to its rightful place in the community must itself be reasonable, and this evidently requires not only the practical rejection of theocratic rule but the theoretical refutation of its basis. Yet when one examines the foundation of the...

    • Chapter 3 On the Possibility of a Return to Premodern Rationalism: Alasdair MacIntyre and Leo Strauss
      (pp. 45-64)

      Alasdair MacIntyre may well be at present the most widely discussed and debated academic philosopher in North America and Britain. And not without reason. In a series of major books and scholarly articles published since 1981, MacIntyre has both formulated a devastating critique of the moral and political life brought about by the modern Enlightenment and adumbrated an ever more certain, and daring, positive project to recast the framework within which we conceive of ourselves as thinking and acting beings. For MacIntyre seeks nothing less than to replace the entire moral philosophy of the Enlightenment with a Thomistic Aristotelianism properly...

  5. Part Two: An Introduction to the Ancient Enlightenment

    • Chapter 4 Politics and the Divine in the Ancient Community: On Thucydides’ War of the Peloponnesians and Athenians
      (pp. 67-106)

      The contemporary study of Thucydides has rightly focused on his understanding of justice, above all on its fate in the face of necessity¹. Going together with Thucydides’ analysis of justice, however, is his sometimes unobtrusive but nonetheless persistent concern with the belief in the divine as that belief manifests itself in and through the Peloponnesian war. As regards this feature of Thucydides’ book - and hence the world it records - recent scholars have for the most part shown indifference or contempt. For example, in the context of the debate at Delium concerning the return of corpses and the inviolability...

    • Chapter 5 The Original Understanding of Enlightenment: On the ‘Cave’ in Plato’s Republic
      (pp. 107-124)

      To begin to recover the problem of enlightenment as it appeared originally, as it came to sight in the political philosophy of antiquity, one must consider Plato’s portrait of ‘the cave’ in the seventh book of theRepublic. For the cave as ‘an image of our nature in its education and lack of education’ (Republic514al-2) is the source of the very metaphor of ‘enlightenment’ that all subsequent thinkers have made use of, directly or indirectly, explicitly or implicitly. Since Plato’s Socrates details the image of the cave as part of a lengthy answer concerning the possibility of his most...

    • Chapter 6 The Limits of Enlightenment: Aristotle’s Politics
      (pp. 125-186)

      The scientific or philosophic study of politics is challenged today in a manner and to a degree that it has not been for a very long time, perhaps since its inception. One sign of this challenge is that students of political thought are for the most part no longer inclined to speak of ‘reason,’ ‘science,’ and ‘truth’ with quite the same confidence one sees in Plato and Aristotle, for example, to say nothing of Thomas Hobbes (LeviathanII.31, end [Hobbes 1968]). In this contemporary scholars simply show their awareness of the change in philosophy itself according to which ‘truth’ is...

  6. Conclusion
    (pp. 187-194)

    Plato and Aristotle deserve the name of ‘enlightenment’ philosophers at least to this extent: both sought to demonstrate that the life of philosophy is compatible with or at any rate not harmful to healthy politics. Indeed, in their respective portraits of the ‘best regime,’ both tried to earn for philosophy a political respect it had largely been without. Such respect required in the first place that philosophy defend, in its manner, the most deeply held beliefs of the political community. Plato’sRepublicincludes a refinement of the Homeric theology and culminates in a description of the self-subsisting Ideas, the highest...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 195-210)
  8. References
    (pp. 211-218)
  9. Index
    (pp. 219-224)