The Enlightenment Southern Europe (18th.)

The Enlightenment in France was the trigger for the revolution in 1789. The debate attempted to overcome traditional thinking by integrating the physical and the metaphysical. These were expressed in philosophical terms by British empiricism and French metaphysicians.

Voltaire anonymously published his most extensive philosophical work, Dictionnaire philosophique portatif in 1764. It consisted of 73 articles already published in the famous Encyclopédie. His dictionary was burned in Geneva, The Hague and Paris and banned by The Holy Office in Rome.

The concept of freedom is central to Voltaire's thinking. In his Traité de metaphysique (1734) he took a position between the determinism of rational materialists and the spiritual transcendentalism of Christian theology of the time. For Voltaire humans are not machines determined by matter. For him, movement and free will exist. But humans are natural people governed by inexorable natural laws. In his ethics correct action was guided by the natural light of reason.

His hedonistic morality was based on positively valuing bodily pleasure and an ethic that maximized pleasure and minimized pain. He attacked Christian asceticism that was prevalent in the traditional teachings of the time.

Skepticism was used by Voltaire to defend freedom. He argued that no authority can be immune to the challenge of critical reason. He was not an atheist, but he criticized the ecclesiastical power; he was monarchical but critical of the sacred mysteries that upheld the aristocratic authority of the Ancien Régime. In the same way, he questioned the philosophical authority of Descartes, Malebranche and Leibniz. Deep down his apparent anti-religiosity was really motivated by his skepticism and libertarian doctrine.

"If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." Voltaire

In Candide (1759) he attacked Leibniz's philosophy and his religious and philosophical optimism with satire and irony. He also criticized the pessimism of his philosophy of human depravity and tried to adopt a middle way in which moral virtue could be found through reason.

Montesquieu published his most novel work L’Esprit des lois in 1750 in which he exposes the theses on his political thought.

The first is its new classification of governments. He abandoned the traditional classical divisions in monarchy, aristocracy and democracy and proposed another analysis: the republic based on virtue; the monarchy based on honor; despotism, based on fear. This classification is based on the way of deciding policies, not the position of power. It is not descriptive but a historical analysis.

The second thesis is the theory of the separation of powers. He argues that, to promote freedom, political authority must be divided into independent legislative, executive and judicial branches. His model was the British Constitution set out in Book XI Chapter 6. He inspired the Declaration of Human Rights and the US Constitution.

In 1745 Denis Diderot was invited to translate Ephraim Chambers' Cyclopaedia into French. He accepted the job, but soon altered the publication, using it as a radical and revolutionary body of opinion against traditional church and state forces. His underlying philosophy was rationalism and faith in the progress of the human mind.

His philosophical project was a radicalization of empiricism towards a materialistic metaphysics. At the same time it does not pretend to explain a universal order or even a complete intellectual system, but remains skeptical (an influence of Malebranche). He practiced this through an eclecticism that rejected binary dogmatic thinking, playing with ironies, satire, and humor as a way to underline the limitations of human understanding.

Jean Le Rond d'Alembert is best known, philosophically, for his Discours préliminaire de Encyclopédie (1751). He divides human knowledge into three branches of thought: memory, reason and imagination. Memory recalls feelings and ideas; reason compares, sequences and judges knowledge; imagination combines the previous ones to create new ideas and possibilities.

D'Alembert's goal was to synthesise the two epistemologies of the Enlightenment: Descartes's rationalism with his metaphysics and Locke's empiricism with his dedication to sensory data. (Kant would become interested in the same problem 30 years later in his Critique of Pure Reason.)

Locke's empiricism remained an unsolved problem for D'Alembert because it does not explain how ideas and sensory data combine in the mind.

On the other hand, Descartes extended his rationalism to areas that he could not verify (that God puts ideas in our minds does not sufficiently explain how they appear).

More information...

Montesquieu (1689 - 1755)
Voltaire (1694 - 1778)
Canaletto (1697 - 1768)
Carlo Goldoni (1707 - 1793)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 - 1778)
Denis Diderot (1713 - 1784)
Jean Le Rond d'Alembert (1717 - 1783)
Joseph-Louis Lagrange (1736 - 1813)
Luigi Galvani (1737 - 1798)
Antoine Lavoisier (1743 - 1794)
Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck (1744 - 1829)
Francisco de Goya (1746 - 1828)
Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749 - 1827)
Leandro Fernández de Moratín (1760 - 1828)

No comments:

Post a comment