Aspects Of Enlightenment: Social Theory And The Ethics Of Truth

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Learn more - opens in new window or tab eBay Money Back Guarantee Get the item you ordered or get your money back. Examples which appear to contrast with these consequences prove nothing Hutchinson , p. Among the most important social theorists to adopt this rational mechanist model were Claude-Adrien Helvetius and his utilitarian followers, including Jeremy Bentham in Britain and Cesare Beccaria in Italy. According to this group, all social theory must begin from the fundamental insight that humans are motivated solely by a desire to be happy; so the goal of political and moral philosophy should be to create the greatest net pleasure for the greatest number in society.

Because members of the utilitarian school generally assumed that the private happiness of one person was likely to diminish the happiness of others, they proposed to establish sanctions that would offer pleasurable rewards to those who acted for the general good and punish those who acted in opposition to it. Among those who advocated a more experimental approach to social theory, the tradition initiated by Francis Hutcheson , David Hartley , and Adam Smith was undoubtedly most important in terms establishing a new foundation for ethics and morality.

This group generally found strong evidence that humans acted not only out of self-interest, but also out of a social instinct or sense of sympathy.

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For most of these social theorists, there seemed to be a natural accommodation between the well-being of the individual and that of the group that was nicely articulated in Smith's image of the "invisible hand" that ordered economic activity for the general benefit if each actor worked to forward his own interests. This approach led to a laissez faire or naturalistic approach to moral and ethical behavior. The heritage of Enlightenment social theory remains current in virtually all disagreements among different groups concerned with policies relating to science and technology.

The principle of unintended consequences, as directly derived from Ferguson, for example, was still being appealed to by conservative social theorists such as Friederich A. It later became the foundation for arguments by the often politically liberal or radical critics of rapid technological development. The consequentialist ethical tradition established among eighteenth-century utilitarians continues to inform policy makers at the beginning of the twenty-first century in the form of cost-benefit analyses so favored by advocates of development.

And the laissez faire admonitions of the Smithian school continue to resonate in the market-driven analyses of public choice economic theorists.

Enlightenment Thinkers

Brandon, William. Athens: Ohio University Press. The title characterizes this excellent work beautifully. The discussions of how descriptions of indigenous American societies produced a change in traditional roman notions of "liberty," divorcing them from particular corporate status, are particularly interesting. Ferguson, Adam. An Essay on the History of Civil Society, ed.


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Duncan Forbes. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press. Important example of the empirical and "conservative" approach to society in the enlightenment. Very good set of essays considering enlightenment discussions of topics that in the early s would be identified with the social sciences. Gay, Peter. The Enlightenment : An Interpretation, 2 volumes. New York : Vintage Books. Still the most comprehensive introduction to the enlightenment. Contains a very extensive and valuable bibliographical essay.

Hayek, Friedrich A. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

The Cost of the Enlightenment | Mises Wire

Illustrates the explicit appropriation of Ferguson's ideas by a key twentieth century conservative theorist. Hont, Istvan, and Michael Ignatieff, eds. An outstanding collection of essays on Scottish social thought in the enlightenment. Hume, David.

The product of a search for a natural—rational—religion was Deism , which, although never an organized cult or movement, conflicted with Christianity for two centuries, especially in England and France. For the Deist, a very few religious truths sufficed , and they were truths felt to be manifest to all rational beings: the existence of one God , often conceived of as architect or mechanician, the existence of a system of rewards and punishments administered by that God, and the obligation of humans to virtue and piety.

Age of Enlightenment

Beyond the natural religion of the Deists lay the more radical products of the application of reason to religion: skepticism , atheism , and materialism. The Enlightenment produced the first modern secularized theories of psychology and ethics. John Locke conceived of the human mind as being at birth a tabula rasa , a blank slate on which experience wrote freely and boldly, creating the individual character according to the individual experience of the world. Supposed innate qualities, such as goodness or original sin , had no reality. In a darker vein, Thomas Hobbes portrayed humans as moved solely by considerations of their own pleasure and pain.

The notion of humans as neither good nor bad but interested principally in survival and the maximization of their own pleasure led to radical political theories. Where the state had once been viewed as an earthly approximation of an eternal order, with the City of Man modeled on the City of God, now it came to be seen as a mutually beneficial arrangement among humans aimed at protecting the natural rights and self-interest of each. The idea of society as a social contract , however, contrasted sharply with the realities of actual societies.

Thus, the Enlightenment became critical, reforming, and eventually revolutionary. Locke and Jeremy Bentham in England, Montesquieu , Voltaire , Jean-Jacques Rousseau , Denis Diderot , and Condorcet in France, and Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson in colonial America all contributed to an evolving critique of the arbitrary, authoritarian state and to sketching the outline of a higher form of social organization, based on natural rights and functioning as a political democracy.

Such powerful ideas found expression as reform in England and as revolution in France and America. The Enlightenment expired as the victim of its own excesses. The more rarefied the religion of the Deists became, the less it offered those who sought solace or salvation. The celebration of abstract reason provoked contrary spirits to begin exploring the world of sensation and emotion in the cultural movement known as Romanticism.

The Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution severely tested the belief that an egalitarian society could govern itself. That faith in and commitment to human progress, as well as other Enlightenment values, were questioned beginning in the late 20th century within some currents of European philosophy , particularly postmodernism. Article Media. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback.

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Start Your Free Trial Today. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. The Enlightenment was both a movement and a state of mind. The term represents a phase in the intellectual history of Europe, but it also serves to define programs of reform in which influential literati, inspired by a common faith in the possibility….

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The industrial and commercial developments, already significant by themselves, were the cause, and perhaps also the effect, of a wider and still more momentous change preceding the Revolution—the Enlightenment. Today the Enlightenment can be understood as the conscious formulation of a profound cultural transformation. The dynasties installed after the wars of succession—the Habsburg-Lorraine in Milan and Tuscany and the…. History at your fingertips.


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