Philosphers of the Enlightenment Period

EUH 5905/ HIS 5930

Cultural and Intellectual History of Europe in the Eighteenth Century:
Basic Enlightenment Texts


I: The required books are:

Interpretive Text.

Outram, Dorinda.. The Enlightenment (Cambridge UP)

Original Texts

Voltaire, Candide (Norton Critical Edition)
Hume, David.  The Natural History of Religion (Stanford UP)
Lessing, Gotthold. Lessing’s  Philosophical and Theological Writings (Cambridge
Pietists: Selected Writings. Ed. Peter Erb (Paulist Press)
Montesquieu, Montesquieu’s Selected Writings, ed. Richter (Hackett)
Beccaria, Cesare. On Crimes and Punishments (Hackett)
Rousseau, Jean Jacques. Discourse on the Origins of Inequality
and the Social Contract,  in: The Basic Political  Writings (Hackett)
Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Penguin)
Diderot, Denis.  Rameau’s Nephew and other Works (Macmillan/Library of Liberal
Goethe, Wolfgang.  The Sorrows of Young Werther and selected Writings (Signet
Kant, Immanuel. Perpetual peace and Other Essays (Hackett)


This course will focus on a way of thinking and reacting that had its center in the 18th century but began earlier–somewhere in the 1680’s–and ended in the first few decades of the nineteenth century. For most historians who study the era, the age is usually called the Age of the Enlightenment, referring to the most dynamic intellectual and cultural movement of the time. And this will be the general framework around which I will structure the course. For many, the Enlightenment marked the beginning of modernity, whether interpreted in a positive or negative manner. Whether this is true or not, it is obvious that certain questions were raised during the period that still concern us,
ranging from how government should work, to questions such as: 1) what is well-being and happiness?  2) What function does religion have in our life? 3) Why do we punish and what do punishments achieve? 4) What defines a human and is that humanity modified by race, by gender, and by stages of culture? 5) What is a nation or a republic and what duties and freedoms does one derive from being a citizen or subject of such an entity? 6) And perhaps the most basic, what is the relationship between our passions, emotions, imagination, and our judgment?

As in any period, the specific answers to these questions varied enormously, but the task for you is to try to bring out certain themes that united them — basic problems—but also estranged them – the specific answers to these problems. In the process we will be talking about the political and social environment in which these people lived, the means by which they had to express themselves, the media in which these ideas were transmitted to the rest of the literate and semi-literate people in Europe, and the institutions that allowed new forms of sociability to evolve.

At the heart of these issues is a definition of what the Enlightenment was all about. Was it a unitary movement or one filled with contradictory political, social, and cultural assumptions? Did its call, expressed most clearly in the American Declaration of Independence, that All Men are Created Equal, implicitly exclude women from the political realm? Did it include slaves? Was its’ supposed dedication to science and commerce a hidden agenda to enslave the rest of the world? These are part of the many questions scholars raise that surround the original sources you will read and interpret.

In this course, I have organized the reading material around some basic themes. We will begin with a short but interesting secondary work that attempts to define the outlines of the period. It will be the only secondary work assigned. The rest of the reading is in original sources, most of them complete, though a few sets of selections have been chosen when the original texts were too long (e.g. Montesquieu, Pietists, De Sade). We will begin the original readings with Voltaire, the person whom many once considered the embodiment of the Enlightenment and try to see what kind of issues he felt were central. Then we will address three major themes: The first is what I call the “reconstitution of religious thought.” The second, the attempt to define what a “modern” polity should be. The third and last, the need to reconsider what human nature is and what humans should do when one accepts the proposition that our sensations and our feelings are the basic motors of our thoughts and activities. We will end with two short essays by Kant, the person now seen as being the major representative of the Enlightenment.

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