The Enlightenment Project

Part of the Philosophical Studies in Contemporary Culture book series (PSCC, volume 4)


‘Enlightenment’ is a term used broadly by historians of ideas to refer to the intellectual and social ferment in Western Europe during the eighteenth century. This ferment was different in England from what it was in France, Germany, or Italy. One would therefore have to distinguish further among the British Enlightenment, the Scottish Enlightenment, the French Enlightenment, the German Enlightenment, etc. In addition, depending upon what features one emphasizes, some concepts which are included in one definition of the Enlightenment might be excluded in another. Figures who would be major representatives of the Enlightenment under one construal would also emerge as critics of the Enlightenment under another definition.1


Eighteenth Century Physical World Scientific Progress Analytic Philosophy Social Technology 
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Notes (Chapter 1)

  1. 1.
    The Enlightenment was the work of three overlapping, closely associated generations. The first of these, dominated by Montesquieu and the long-lived Voltaire grew up while the writings of Locke and Newton were still fresh and controversial, and did most of its great work before 1750. The second generation reached maturity in mid-century: Franklin Buffon Hume Rousseau Diderot Condillac Helvétius d’Alembert It was these writers who fused the fashionable anticlericalism and scientific speculations of the first generation into a coherent modern view of the world. The third generation, the generation of Holbach and Beccaria, of Lessing and Jefferson, of Wieland, Kant and Turgot. moved into scientific mythology and materialist metaphysics, political economy, legal reform, and practical politics In the first half of the century, the leading philosophes had been deists and had used the vocabulary of natural law; in the second half, the leaders were atheists and used the vocabulary of utility“ Peter Gay (1966), pp. 17–18.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Alasdair Maclntyre, in his enormously important and influential book After Virtue (1981), identifies the ‘Enlightenment Project’ as the “project of an independent rational justification of morality” (p. 38). While we use the same expression as Maclntyre, namely ‘Enlightenment Project’, and while we agree that part of that project was to establish the authority of Judeo-Christian morality by reason alone, that is to secularize morality, we propose to give a more systematic account of that project. We further suggest that the attempt to secularize morality antedates the Enlightenment; finally we would disagree with Maclntyre’s analysis of specific figures such as Hume and Kant. MacIntyre’s own agenda to defend an Aristotelianized version of Christianity obscures important differences between the philosophes and their critics. Nevertheless, what is important here is our agreement with MacIntyre’s recognition that contemporary moral discussion is rooted in something we can all identify as the ‘Enlightenment Project’. See also Bloom (1987), pp. 243–312; Adorno and Horkheimer (1990); McCarthy (1998).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Becker (1962), Chapter Four, for an exposition of the position that the dream of a technological utopia is the common inheritance of liberals, socialists, and Marxists.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Berlin (1993), pp. 27–28.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Randall (1962), p. 862.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Condillac (1921), p. 32.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    The purely naturalistic reading of Aristotle was a problem even within medieval Christendom. Averröes of Córdoba (died 1198), for example, an Arab commentator on Aristotle, exercised enormous influence on the early introduction and understanding of Aristotle in the West. Averröes maintained that (1) God is so self-contained that individual human actions are not guided by divine providence, (2) the material world is eternal and not created, (3) the material world is further governed by an internal necessity under the influence of celestial bodies, (4) there was no first human being, (5) the individual soul dies with the body, and (6) the human will acts within material necessity.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    La Mettrie (1960), pp. 175–76.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Condillac (1798), p. 17.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Cabanis (1805), pp. 39, 85.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    For a fascinating account of scientism, its rise during the enlightenment, its influence upon analytic philosophy, and its larger cultural influence see Sorell (1991).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cassirer (1955), p. 55.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    D’Alembert, Mélanges de Philosophie, (1759) vol. iv, pp. 63–64.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    See Diderot’s novel Jack the Fatalist.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Turgot published two essays, in 1750, dealing with his philosophy of history: “Philosophic Panorama of the Progress of the Human Mind,” and his “Plan of Two Discourses on Universal history”. See also Buffon, Histoire naturelle XIII, Paris, 1765; Yves Goguet, De l’Origine des loix, des arts,et des sciences, 1758.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    For an insightful discussion of the relevance of Comte see Scharff (1995). Scharff maintains that Comte was not a narrow positivist and that he is closer, in his view of the relation between philosophy and history, to Rorty, Charles Taylor, and Putnam.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    The full skeptical challenge to the idea of scientific progress is to be found in Montaigne’s Apology of Raimond Sebond. For the importance of Montaigne’s influence in subsequent discussion see Popkin (1964).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Condorcet (1955), p. 163 (The Ninth Stage: From Descartes to the foundation of the French Republic).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    But with these well known conclusions of the materialistic system, we only have so far its outside, not its real conceptual core. For, paradoxical as it may appear at first glance, this core is not to be found in natural philosophy, but in ethics“ Cassirer (1955), p. 69.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Helvétius (1774), De l’homme, vol. III, sec. II, ch. I, pp. 113–14. Compare to Rawls (1971), p. 74: “Even the willingness to make an effort, to try, and so to be deserving in the ordinary sense is itself dependent upon happy family and social circumstances.”Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Helvétius (1774), De l’homme, vol. III, ch. 2, p. 4.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Hartley (1791), I, ch. 1, sec. ii, proposition XIV, corollaries 5 and 6, pp. 8182.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    E.H. Carr, What is History (London, 1961), quoted by Morris Ginsburg (1973), p.637. See also the previous article by E.R. Dodds, “Progress in Classical Antiquity.” The classic works on progress are Bury, (1932) and Baillie (1950).Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Both Kant’s and Hume’s views share the characteristic aspect of our own position in having the consequence that laws, even natural laws, are in some measure made by man rather than being altogether products of his discovery“ Rescher (1973b), pp. 62–63.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    See Manser (1983), p. 131, and chapter vii.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Hylton (1993).Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Russell (1961), pp. 298–299.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Hacker (1996) offers a useful distinction between the version of analysis that derives from Russell and the version that derives from Moore. “One (Russellian) root of this new school might be denominated ‘logico-analytic philosophy’, inasmuch as its central tenet was that the new logic, introduced by Frege, Russell and Whitehead, provided an instrument for the logical analysis of objective phenomena. The other (Moorean) root might be termed ‘conceptual analysis’, inasmuch as it was concerned with the analysis of objective (mind-independent) concepts rather than ‘ideas’ or ‘impressions’. From these origins other varieties grew. Russell’s Platonist pluralism, considerably influenced by the pre-war impact of the young Wittgenstein, evolved into logical atomism. Fertilized by the Tractatus linguistic turn in philosophy, and greatly influenced by the contemporary writings and teaching of Moore and Russell, Cambridge analysis on the inter-war years emerged. At much the same time, the Tractatus was a primary source of the different school of logical positivism, which arose in Vienna, was further fertilized by contact with Wittgenstein between 1927 and 1936, and spread to Germany, Poland, Scandinavia, Britain and the United States. In both these phases of the analytic movement, philosophers, in rather different ways, practised and developed forms of reductive and (its mirror image) constructive analysis. Under the influence of Wittgenstein in Cambridge (and later, of his posthumous publications), analytic philosophy became more syncretic, and entered yet another phase. Reductive and constructive analysis were repudiated. Connective analysis exemplified in various forms in Oxford after the Second World War, emerged, and, with it, therapeutic analysis” (p. 4).Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    It would be a mistake to lump Russell and Moore together here indiscriminately. Russell credits Moore with having shown the way. “It was towards the end of 1898 that Moore and I rebelled against both Kant and Hegel. Moore led the way, but I followed closely in his footsteps” Russell (1959a), p. 54. More precisely, Russell (1967–69) credits “conversation” with Moore rather than a specific argument in Moore: “ it was largely his conversation that led me to abandon both Kant and Hegel” (p. 78). Moore’s article, “A Refutation of Idealism” appeared in Mind in 1903, and the article says nothing about wholes and parts. Rather, the article defines “idealism” as the thesis that everything is spiritual. It deals with the epistemological issue of distinguishing within perception between an act and an object. In an earlier essay in Mind in 1899, Moore had criticized Russell’s 1897 Essay on the Foundations of Geometry as being too psychologistic in appealing to a subject or mind. The specific philosophical roots of Russell’s rejection of idealism are attributed by Russell himself to (1) the claim that the discussion of mathematics in Hegel’s Logic was nonsense and to (2) the claim that when he, Russell, lectured on Leibniz, he was able to see the fallacy of Bradley’s arguments against the reality of relations. Moore’s rejection of Hegel is a rejection of what Moore considered Hegel’s subjectivism and holism. Moore offered in their place a position that can be described as realism and atomism. This raises the question, “Did Moore offer any arguments for realism and atomism?” The answer is that he did not. As Baldwin (1984), p. 366, has put it, “I think it was because Moore accepted, almost without thinking about it, the natural assumption that one should explain wholes by their parts that he rejected the conception of an organic whole as incoherent.” What this amounts to saying is that Moore and Russell had an implicit commitment to the old, pre-Copernican Revolution empiricism. However, it was only with the development of the new logic that the implicit commitment, in Russell’s case, became the basis for a principled objection and a new movement in philosophy. Finally, a crucial difference for the subsequent development of the Enlightenment Project in analytic philosophy was Russell’s commitment to scientism, something Moore did not share. See Eames (1989), pp. 56, 58–9.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Capaldi (1992).Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    According to Russell (1900/1937b),p. 14, “ ‘Kant’s Copernican Revolution’ [is the position] that propositions may acquire truth by being believed In his unpublished dissertation of 1898, entitled ”Metaphysical Basis of Ethics“, Moore maintained that Kant’s account of the a priori was excessively psychological. In Principia Ethica (1903), p. 133, Moore criticized the Copernican position: ”That ‘to be true’ means to be thought in a certain way is, therefore, certainly false. Yet this assertion plays the most essential part in Kant’s ‘Copernican Revolution’ of philosophy, and renders worthless the whole mass of modern literature, to which that revolution has given rise, and which is called Epistemology.“Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    See Popper (1950). If one accepted a holistic approach, as Hegelians insist, not only would analysis be wrong but we would not be able to formulate a theory of meaning: “The acceptance of holism should lead to the conclusion that any systematic theory of meaning is impossible,” or so says Dummett (1975), p. 121. As Putnam has moved closer to a Hegelian position he has begun to wonder if we need a theory of meaning.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Clark (1975), p. 153.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Another good source for Russell’s views of his new program are the essays published in 1918 under the title Mysticism and Logic. Hylton (1990) dates the beginning of analytic philosophy in 1912 with the formulation of logical constructionism.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    See Hacker (1996), pp. 14–15.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Russell (1945), p. 836.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Positivism is the view that all legitimate knowledge is based upon sense experience and that speculative metaphysical claims are therefore illegitimate. The term ‘positivism’ was first used to describe the doctrines of Auguste Comte (1798–1857). Positivism is the nineteenth-century expression of the Enlightenment Project. The expression ‘logical positivism’ is sometimes used (e.g., by Feigl) to denote the philosophy of the Vienna Circle because logical statements that are not based upon experience were also recognized as legitimate knowledge. ‘Analytic philosophy’ encompasses positivism but is a much broader expression that covers many who reject positivism. By encompassing positivism, however, analytic philosophy encompasses the Enlightenment Project. What we identify as the ‘analytic conversation’ is by and large a conversation among positivists, sympathetic and constructive critics of positivism, those who reformulate a more chastened positivism in the light of the criticisms, and those who have worked through positivism to the point of abandoning it.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Carnap (1963), p.13.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
  40. 40.
    Philosophically, Gödel has always been a Platonist and not an Aristotelian.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Ludwig Wittgenstein is the major anti-analytic philosopher in the twentieth-century. Carnap was always aware of this and proceeded to isolate Wittgenstein from other members of the circle. Polish analytical philosophers always saw Wittgenstein as anti-analytic. See Skolimowski (1967), pp. 247–48. As we shall see, it is important to distinguish between the Wittgenstein who wrote the Tractatus and the later Wittgenstein. But even with regard to the early Wittgenstein the case has been made that he was not an analytic philosopher. See Janik and Toulmin (1973) and McDonough (1986). We shall be discussing Wittgenstein at length in chapters five and six.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    “And the new empiricism, for all of its logical and scientific pretensions, was full of uncritical pre-Kantian assumptions about the relations of language to its ‘objects’. On reading the new empiricists one often has the impression that they are not talking about anything remotely related to the practical problems either of experimental science or of common sense, but on the contrary that they have reinstituted the archaic methodological and semantical dogmas of seventeenth-and-eighteenth century rationalists and empiricists which Kant had been at such pains to explode” H.D. Aiken in Barrett and Aiken (1962), p. 9.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    As late as 1951, Nelson Goodman was still attempting to improve the Aufbau in his book entitled The Structure of Appearance, a revision of his Harvard dissertation. Goodman recanted in 1972.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    “Rorty thinks there was a ‘hidden agenda’ behind the central problems in analytic philosophy: the defense of the values of science, democracy and art on the part of secular intellectuals.” Rajchman and West (1985), p. xii. In “Solidarity or Objectivity?”, Richard Rorty claims that “there is, in short, nothing wrong with the hopes of the Enlightenment. 1 have sought to distinguish these institutions and practices from the philosophical justifications for them provided by partisans of objectivity, and to suggest an alternative justification” Ibid., p. 16.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Haller (1988), p. 39.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    This view was expressed in a letter to Charles Morris. See the introduction by Morris to the 1969 edition of vol. I of the Encyclopedia. See also p. 103 of Hanfling (1981).Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Neurath (1938), p. 2.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    As Hacker (1996) has noted: “ the impact of the Vienna Circle and, in particular, Quine’s influence steered philosophy into new channels. To a large extent, the ‘scientific world-view’ was transformed into a scientistic world-view” (p. 265).Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    The opposition to absolute Idealism can perhaps be understood here as a rejection of its endorsement of religion. As Hacker (1996) points out, “Absolute Idealism met two needs in social and intellectual thought: it provided a defence of Christianity against threats from science (in particular, Darwinism and geology) and German biblical historical scholarship, hoping to reconcile science and religion in a ‘higher synthesis’; and it advocated an ethic of social responsibility in opposition to both utilitarianism and social Darwinism, thus contributing to the non-Marxist, Christian socialist roots of the subsequent ideological development of the British Labour party” (p. 5).Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Carnap (1963), p. 7.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Ibid., p. 38.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Ibid., p. 52.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Ibid., p. 7.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Ibid., p. 70.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Ibid., p. 9.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Ibid., p. 8.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Ibid., pp. 10–11.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Ibid., p. 67.Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Ibid., p. 23.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Ibid., pp. 23–24.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Ibid., p. 83.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of TulsaTulsaUSA

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