Question #3

Putting the two previous questions together: was there one Enlightenment, or several?

As we make “Enlightenment” include more than just Paris, we can still ask whether Paris remains a privileged centre or not? Are you “Enlightened” insofar as you are reading the same books as the people in Paris and arguing about them in a language they would understand, or are there alternative ways of being “Enlightened” in the eighteenth century that bypass Paris altogether?

If you talk about the “Scottish Enlightenment”, for example, as people in the last fifty years have quite often done, is this in order to distinguish it from the “French Enlightenment” or the “German Enlightenment” or the “Neapolitan Enlightenment”, or is it to indicate that Scotland was participating in a much broader set of international developments?

I don’t know the history of the historiography of the Enlightenment especially well, but my sense is that the idea that there was a unitary pan-European Enlightenment only goes back to the time of the Second World War — by way of criticism in Adorno & Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, and by way of celebration in post-war scholarship (a tradition that culminates in Peter Gay’s two volumes on The Enlightenment in 1966).

And if you do think there was only one, or if you think there was more than one Enlightenment, ask yourself whether you think the answer to the question matters much. Is it important to you that the Enlightenment is a unitary phenomenon, or not, and, if so, why?

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