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Intellectual Origins of the French Enlightenment

Intellectual Origins of the French Enlightenment

Ira O. Wade
Copyright Date: 1971
Pages: 700
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    Intellectual Origins of the French Enlightenment
    Book Description:

    With the same sense of historical responsibility and veracity he has exemplified in his studies on Voltaire, Ira O. Wade turns now to Voltaire's milieu and begins an account of the French Enlightenment which will explain its genesis, its nature and coherence, and its diffusion in the modern world. To understand the movement of ideas that produced the spirit of the Enlightenment, Mr. Wade identifies and examines the people, events, and rich development of philosophy in the Renaissance and seventeenth century. He considers, in turn, the challenges of the Renaissance and the responses of its leading writers (Rabelais, Bacon, and Montaigne); Baroque thought (Descartes, Hobbes, Pascal, the Freethinkers); and Classicism (Moliere, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz, Newton). Mr. Wade begins his discussion by examining the critical literature on the Enlightenment and concludes with a theoretical chapter, "The Making of a Spirit." As the history of an intellectual culture, his study makes vivid the power of thought in the making of a civilization.

    Originally published in 1971.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7301-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xxi)

    I have wished to assemble in some coherent way the events, chiefly of an intellectual order, which led from 1348, the year of the great plague in Florence and the beginning of modern times, to the Enlightenment. I have found, though, that it is not easy to isolate those events which are intellectual from those others which are, so to speak, not subject to rational control. What is more, intellectual events are never separated from people thinking, doing, being, becoming. To understand the quality of the event, it has been necessary for me to become acquainted with some of these...

  4. Part I. Enlightenments We Have Known

      (pp. 3-14)

      At the outset, let us formulate a preliminary opinion concerning the conditions in France during the Enlightenment. In many respects the views now held have completely changed since the beginning of the twentieth century.

      The one essential fact which all students of the Enlightenment have had to face was that it ended in France in a Revolution. Consequently we have always thought that explanation had to be found in the century itself which would justify the explosion at the end. The two nineteenth-century historians who were most responsible for stressing this fact were de Tocqueville and Taine. They were, however,...

      (pp. 15-27)

      If the events which led to the Revolution are difficult to assess in the developing conditions of the Enlightenment, the causes of the Enlightenment are equally confused. Indeed, the question as to what constitutes the Enlightenment time span has in the past sixty years been given various answers. At the end of the nineteenth century, for instance, it was looked upon as a period of transition which extended between a declining classicism and a nascent romanticism, and spanning a relatively short period of time, from the middle of the eighteenth century to the French Revolution. The emphasis was placed not...

      (pp. 28-58)

      With the new definition which has been given to the “concept” of Enlightenment, and the change in the orientation which it was thought to have taken, there have naturally been revisions in the origins scholars have assigned to it. Indeed, there is now a one-hundred-year or more history of the study in the Enlightenment’s origins.

      Sainte-Beuve saw in the libertine movement of the seventeenth century its source. To the author of theCauseries,the real ancestors of the eighteenth century were Ninon de Lenclos, Cyrano de Bergerac, Saint-Evremond, and Bayle. These free-thinkers had as their ancestors what Sainte-Beuve called a...

  5. Part II. The Renaissance Enlightenment

      (pp. 61-76)

      When Voltaire, toward the end of his life, tried to find the appropriate way to express the relationship between man and God, he shifted from his usual metaphor of watch and watchmaker and adopted rather that of eyes and light. The latter had a distinguished history, going back to Sophocles’Œdipus,which interestingly enough was the first dramatic theme which Voltaire attempted. Had he seen the significance of that metaphor in 1719 rather than fifty years later, he could have spared himself perhaps some of his hesitations and uncertainties. It is far from sure, though, that he would have understood...

      (pp. 77-128)

      The important historical events in the Renaissance are the collapse of the Byzantine Empire; new inventions such as the compass and printing; the expansion of the geographical world, especially the discovery of America; the rise of the modern university with its emphasis upon science as equal in importance to morality, and philosophy as the equal of theology; the rise and development of a way of life called humanism; and a reconstruction in the field of religion called the Reformation. This phenomenological history leads to a structural history without which no epoch can achieve an inner personality of its own. Just...

  6. Part III. Enlightenment and Baroque

      (pp. 131-168)

      The three main intellectual currents which dominated Europe at the end of the Renaissance were science, humanism, and religious reform. Science operated in the external realm of nature; humanism in the inner domain of man; reform in the Kingdom of God. Man had become involved in all three areas, being particularly concerned with the implications of the new discoveries in the natural sciences and the modifications which they introduced in the moral field. Indeed, in the Paduan School, these tendencies were already visible, since its scientific interest was characterized by investigations in the nature of matter, the psychological response to...

      (pp. 169-346)

      The period which began around 1595 and extended to 1640 was characterized in part by a great outburst of incredulity. In the heat of battle those who took part in this movement were often called atheists. The word carried unwarranted overtones: to a sincere, but scandalized, citizen, it could easily mean some person who deviated from the orthodox belief; to a person having liberal views, it could be followed with such terrifying consequences that its use would make many a person flinch. There were people burned for atheism—G. Vallée, Vanini, N. Journet, Giordano Bruno—but close investigation of each...

  7. Part IV. Enlightenment and Classicism

      (pp. 349-360)

      We shall not undertake in this section to discuss the inner reality of classicism which reached its climax in the period from 1660 to 1685. It was, admittedly, the dominant movement of the century. In fact, it was being prepared from the Renaissance and was destined to continue until the opening years of the French Revolution and even beyond. We propose only to show that out of its reality came many of the aspects of the Enlightenment. They evolved throughout the classical period in the same continuous, coherent way in which they had been developing since the early days of...

      (pp. 361-391)

      In 1746, the Abbé Prévost brought out the first volume of theHistoire générale des voyages,purported to be basically a translation of the English collections of Hakluyt, Purchase, Harris, and Churchill, with modifications in the selection and arrangement of material. Prevost announced on a very full title page that his compilation would be a new collection of all the travel accounts on land and sea hitherto published in the different languages of known nations. He promised to include all that was noteworthy, useful, and truly authenticated in the countries visited by the foreign travelers, especially their geographical situation, their...

      (pp. 392-417)

      The case of Molière as free-thinker¹ has often been discussed, ever since Brunetière’s article. The core of the comic poet’s thought, he maintained, was the imitation of nature with the added injunction that the moral and aesthetic lesson which nature instills in everyone is that each must, so far as possible, live in conformity with her. Brunetière remarked that what Molière attacked in his comedies was not libertinism or debauchery, but rather those who “fardent la nature, qui, pour s’en distinguer, commencent par en sortir.” On the other hand, those whom he approved follow nature, “la bonne nature.” On their...

      (pp. 418-643)

      Malebranche’s dates coincide precisely with those of Louis XIV. His father was one of Louis XIII’s secretaries; his mother, distinguished by her piety, had a brother who was a canon of Notre Dame. The young Malebranche was always in bad health, often passing through critical illnesses which were announced prematurely as fatal. In spite of this, he lived to the age of seventyseven, although, as in the case of Voltaire, this longevity was made possible only by a careful husbanding of his limited physical resources.

      He received his early education from a tutor, later entered the College de la Marche,...

    (pp. 644-660)

    We talk constantly of the spirit of an age without much thought as to the meaning we attribute to the expression. This is particularly true when we undertake to define the French Enlightenment, probably because we believe it is not really confined to a definite timespan, although I can readily be persuaded that other epochs would offer similar obstacles to clear definition. Nevertheless, insofar as the Enlightenment is concerned, each of the numerous theories concerning its origin seems to be founded upon the conviction that it cannot be understood unless we know to what it tended and what was its...

    (pp. 661-668)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 669-678)