Lecture Notes

Enlightenment: a brief overview

Here’s the link to the overview prezi.

Lord Rochester’s Satyr Against Reason and Mankind

The poem has three parts: introductory remarks, a satire on reason vs. right reason, and an attack on mankind.

Discussion Questions:

  • What is the tone of the introductory passages and what difference does it make with respect to understanding the point of view of the satyr?
  • Given our discussion to this point, how do you read the poetic “I”? How does the oscillation between a biographical and a imaginative figuration matter to your reading of the poem?
  • What is the difference between reason and right reason, and how is the poem’s presentation of this dialectic paradoxical?
  • What points of attack does the satyr launch against “mankind”? Does he/it get it right?
  • How does the poem point to the limits of the human, or at least challenge the categorical distinctions between human and animal? How might this early engagement with the notion of a human rub against a theological notion? A scientific one?
  • What do you make if the paradoxical claims and images throughout the poem (i.e. you have to be a knave because to be other wise is to be a fool that the knave will call knave only to exploit foolishness)? What are they for in terms of the satire?
  • Finally, if this is a satire, what, if any, is the corrective thrust of the poem?

. . . and just for fun (kind of) take a look at Johnny Depp as Rochester and ask yourself about the nature of Rochester as a libertine: Can a rake ever be anything but a paradox: an actor whose role is to pretend not to act, but simultaneously and perpetually highlight the play of identity?

Immanuel Kant: What is Enlightenment?


Summary Questions:

What are the two main factors in man’s “self-incurred tutelage”?

Does Kant favor revolution as a means to lasting social and political change?

What exactly is Public reason? Private Reason?

What does it means to say we live in an “age of Enlightenment”?

What is/are the paradox(es) that conclude the essay?

Discussion starters:

  • Kant’s essay dramatizes one key feature of Enlightenment: man’s capacity to use reason and debate to solve problems of all sorts. How does this shift earlier notions of the “human”?
  • What does it mean here to have faith in the infinite perfectibility of man? And why doesn’t revolution, by it very definition contribute here?
  • How does Kant’s essay suggest a new notion of history as linear and progressive contribute to our thinking in the present moment about perfectibility, utopia, and human rationality?

Michel Foucault: What is Enlightenment?


Foucault’s essay consists basically of two parts. The first lays out briefly Foucault’s sense of why Kant’s essay might be important for developing a view of Enlightenment by linking Kant’s short essay to his larger philosophical project in the Critiques. The second part has Foucault setting out from Kant’s essay, which he sees as “located at the crossroads of critical reflection and reflection on history,” to outline an “attitude of modernity” (38).

  • What is the “attitude of modernity” and how is it connected to Kant?
  • Look very carefully as Foucault’s reading of Kant’s term Menschheit and the two valences upon which it can be read. What difference does it make to read mankind as a socio-political order vs. a foundational taxonomy of human’s humanity?
  • Foucault, in describing the “permanent critique of our era,” suggests some things we should not do and somethings we should do. What do the terms “archeology” and “genealogy” introduce into the legacy of Enlightenment that make a radical break from say a Kantian program of perfectibility?
  • What does it mean to say that critique, as a fundamental component of our philosophical ethos, is concerned with limits? How does Foucault’s limits link to Kant’s essay or broader philosophical project


Enlightenment and Government

Outram frames the basic idea as a question: What is the relationship, if any, between the ideas/ideals of Enlightenment and the actual structures of  power and their activities?

Three responses from historians:

  • Enlightened Despostism, or the idea that monarchs deployed or were influenced by the Enlightenment principles of freedom, toleration, equality, secularization, and liberty of the press.
    • Problems: (1) anachronistic and (2) didn’t clearly distinguish between governmental actions based on Enlightenment idea and on older ideologies.
  • Marxist: monarchies served “feudal” interests and the notion of absolutism stems from the bourgeoisie. Thus for Outram, the Marxist view of the eighteenth century presents monarchies struggling to “reconcile irreconcilable interests, feudalism and capitalism, aristocracy and bourgeoisie” (31).
  • Koselleck: relation of Enlightenment to government “determined by reaction against the religious conflicts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries” (32). So “critque” becomes the password to understanding Enlightenment and government because it should be confined to the private sphere otherwise it can become disruptive and violent upsetting the social order. Think Kant here!

So the question Outram asks finally, is “what have historians experienced, for so long, such a high level of difficulty in discussing this theme?” The task, as she sees it, is to develop a way of thinking about the relation between Enlightenment and government that is “dynamic, less anachronistic, and more sensitive to the pressure of regional and national patterns and situations” (33).

Business as usual?

  • Cameralism: Germany and France (35)
    • Strong central state, social regulation and welfare, intellectuals influence, unifying force between monarchs, servants, and elites.
    • secularization of power

Enlightenment Specifics

  • Church reform and religious toleration
  • Economics
    • Physiocrats: Land and agriculture (40)
    • Adam Smith: Nature and/or self-interest
  • Basis of Monarchy
    • Divine Right vs. Contract
    • Rational critique vs. personally involved monarch

A way out?

  • Revolution
  • Limits of reform
  • public opinion

Sir Robert Filmer

  • Major work, Patiarcha, or the Natural Power of Kings Asserted, was posthumously published in 1680
  • It became a major focal point in Locke’s argument against the power structure that supported the idea of divine right of inheritance.
  • It also had social implications beyond the overt defense of political monarchy

 My King, My Father

  • The primary point here is that the King derives his power not from the people, nor does the power ever devolve to the people.
  • Rather, kingly authority was originally derived from God and was passed down from head of household to head of household.
  • “There is, and always shall be continued to the end of the world, a natural right of a supreme Father over every  multitude, although, by the secret will of God, many at first do most unjustly obtain the exercise of it” (10).

 My Father, My King

  • “If obedience to parents be immediately due by natural law, and the subjection to Princes by the mediation of a human ordinance, what reason is there that the law of nature should give place to the laws of men?” (10).
  • “As the father over one family, so the King, as Father over many families, extends his care to preserve, feed, clothe, instruct, and defend the whole commonwealth” (10).
  • And if you disagree expect a spanking or execution as the father/king sees fit.

Thomas Hobbs

  • Born in 1588 with his twin Fear
  • Staunch Materialist, Determinist, Rationalist, and Secular thinker (you may want to look some of these terms up to help get a handle on Hobbes and to and extent the broader intellectual history of Enlightenment.)
  • Lived in exile in Paris from 1640-51, where he tutored Charles II
  • 1651 He makes enemies in the Royalist camp when he writes and publishes Leviathan
  • Here is a link to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry for Hobbes. Look at the section of materialism. I’d also suggest you read this entry on Hobbes’s moral and political philosophy to get a surface picture rather than a depth reading of where we’ll be going with Hobbes.


  • Men are Equal: Both in physical and mental capacity. But this equality breeds “hope in attainting of our Ends” (7). In short, it produces competition and enmity.
  • Diffidence: The primary ends of man: Self-preservation which causes men to “endeavor to destroy, or subdue one another” because they mistrust those around them (7).
  • War: The fear and mistrust of others coupled with the drive of self-preservation creates Anticipation (or pre-emptive strikes): the desire “to master the persons of all men he can, so long, till he see no other power great enough to endanger him” (7).
  • This is the great natural state of mankind–“War of everyone against everyone” not so much in the actual fighting, “but in the known disposition thereto” (7).

Why the war of all against all gives way to contract and law:

  • Primarily because the natural state of war is inconvenient. There is no Industry, cultivation, exploration, geography, arts, letters, no society, and instead “continual fear, and danger of violent death.
  • In the state of war, “the life of man” is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” (7).
  • How does Hobbes confirm the truth of his doctrine? Well if the logic of the argument is unsatisfactory (an ultimately it is) then he asks for inquirers to search their own experience to confirm Hobbes’s theory, but not condemn mankind.
  • Is man naturally bad or evil? Of course not, “in such a war nothing is unjust” (8). Because man has not made any law that murder for self-preservation violates, murder is not unlawful.
  • The governing virtues in the war of every man are Force and Fraud because there is no law but self-preservation.
  • Further, Hobbes argues that no law will every be made until people get together and decide on a ruler that will make laws for them. “Where there is no common Power, there is no Law” (8).

Enlightenment: Property and Slavery

Two main themes from Outram:

  1. The emergence of radical opposition to the age old practice of slavery
  2. Failure of Enlightenment to actually end the practice of slavery

The problem: Slavery during the eighteenth century was an integral part of a global economy that included not only the profits made by plantation owners and European markets selling merchandise, but also huge financial gain for slave traders and the shipping industry. So to question slavery during the Enlightenment meant moving beyond the deplorable state of the individual slaves to consider broader moral and intellectual issues.

  • Bible: The moral objection was ambiguous and not just because anti-slavery proponents were often also slave owners. The appeal to the bible presented no clear ground for mass protest on doctrinal grounds. Moreover, the slippery issue of conversion and baptism further complicated the Christian abolitionist position.
  • Science: Linking of race and slavery produced complex intellectual problems about the nature and limits of the human. Ironically science only made things worse as the definition of the human moved away from belief in a soul as the ultimate bedrock of humanity and toward a taxonomic model. With all the different physiological traits, how does one begin to sift the human? What is natural? Science and anatomy in the hands of either party became a ideological bludgeon.
  • Political: As we saw in Locke’s theory of property and defense of slavery, property rights did little to help this situation either.

Highlighting the complexity of Enlightenment thinking and practice on slavery, Outram sums up the issues as: “the normative power of racial difference; the relation between property and liberty; the degree of authority to be given to biblical teaching on slavery, and hence the degree of authority to be given the bible itself; the limits of spiritual equality; the grounding of social and legal inferiority in physical difference” (74). She also foregrounds how the tension between abstraction and practical action in Enlightenment’s thinking about slavery points to a generalizable problem in Enlightenment, namely, the struggle between theory and praxis.

The final issue Outram turns to is the late eighteenth-century concepts of “sentiment, humanity and benevolence” (75). And this turns back to the problem of universal rights when faced with an intellectual, economic, and social program with vested interest in understanding and maintaining difference.

Aphra Behn Oroonoko: or, the Royal Slave. A True History

Daniel Defoe from The True-born Englishman: A Satire

William Cowper “The Negro’s Complaint” and Hannah More “The Slave Trade”

Enlightenment: Print and the Public Sphere

Notes to Outram: “Coffee Houses and Consumers: the Social Context of Enlightenment”

Question of social context: Did the various transmission media impact the ideas/ideals of Enlightenment or silently deliver them?

  • Massive social changes from economic expansion to industrialization/urbanization
  • Increase in the production of consumable goods, especially books, pamphlets etc (p. 13)
  • Spread of colonial empires brought contact and “promoted a new kind of equality between ‘consumers’ of culture'” (p.13).

Print and Literacy: Readers

  • Problems of assessing literacy rates and types of literacy
  • Shift in the way people read: intensively and orally to extensively and silently
  • Physical access to print in the coffee houses broadened the dissemination of ideas to both sexes and across economic/class lines
  • Shift to vernacular languages and emergence of lending libraries

Republic of Letters: Writers and Publishers

  • Emergence of the professional writer more or less freed from the constraints of patronage
  • Division in the “Republic”
  • Grubstreet vs. Social elites
  • Women and men turn on the idea of “independance” (see p. 21)

Clubs and Academies: Production of unity

  • Masonry and Learned Academies
  • Essay contests

From Urban to Rural: Bibliotheque Bleue

  • Confrontation with the Other at home


  • Big business of circulating and commodifying ideas: “New social institutions were constructed based on the interchange of ideas, rather than to mark or display social and political rank” (26). From this comes the problematic force of “public opinion”.
  • The yoking of big business and public opinion: “public opinion as a critical politica force was brought into being at the same time, and through many of the same social and economic mechanisms through which culture also became part of an international system of trading and exchange. Did commodification itself create the public realm?” (27).

Joseph Addison and Richard Steele Spectator essays # 1 & 10

From No. 1

“Thus I live in the World, rather as a Spectator of Mankind, than as one of the Species; by which means I have made my self a Speculative Statesman, Soldier, Merchant, and Artizan, without ever medling with any Practical Part in Life. I am very well versed in the Theory of an Husband, or a Father, and can discern the Errors in the Œconomy, Business, and Diversion of others, better than those who are engaged in them; as Standers-by discover Blots, which are apt to escape those who are in the Game. I never espoused any Party with Violence, and am resolved to observe an exact Neutrality between the Whigs and Tories, unless I shall be forc’d to declare myself by the Hostilities of either side. In short, I have acted in all the parts of my Life as a Looker-on, which is the Character I intend to preserve in this Paper.”

A few basic questions:

  • What kind of human gets to participate in the public sphere?
  • Can one be a “Speculative” everything and on what grounds does this knowledge rest?
  • Why the paradoxically detailed anonymity?

From No. 10

“. . . as a modest Computation, I may reckon about Threescore thousand Disciples in London and Westminster, who I hope will take care to distinguish themselves from the thoughtless Herd of their ignorant and unattentive Brethren. Since I have raised to myself so great an Audience, I shall spare no Pains to make their Instruction agreeable, and their Diversion useful.”

“The Mind that lies fallow but a single Day, sprouts up in Follies that are only to be killed by a constant and assiduous Culture. It was said of Socrates, that he brought Philosophy down from Heaven, to inhabit among Men; and I shall be ambitious to have it said of me, that I have brought Philosophy out of Closets and Libraries, Schools and Colleges, to dwell in Clubs and Assemblies, at Tea-tables, and in Coffee-houses.”

“But there are none to whom this Paper will be more useful than to the female World.”


  • What do you make of the circulation numbers and the “audience” that he has raised?
  • To what stated end is the bringing philosophy in the coffee houses?
  • How does Mr. Spectator characterize the men and women constituents of his audience and his intended goals for each of the sexes?

David Hume “Of the Liberty of the Press”




Hume proposes two questions and sets out to answer each in turn:

  1. How it happens that Great Britain alone enjoys the peculiar privilege?
  2. Whether the unlimited exercise of this liberty be advantageous or prejudicial to the public?

First, be able to summarize how he answers each. Satisfactory? Unsatisfactory?

Second, I’d like to talk about Hume’s notion of the liberty of the press within our current context. Google “Of the liberty of the Press” and you get an eyeful. So what do you make of this idea and its enshrinement in current political economy?

Third, can we parse the two components of “liberty” and “press” to gain a deeper appreciation for Hume’s commitment to liberty and the press? Why is liberty so essential? What does he mean by “press”?

Some thoughts/questions:

How is it that ecclesiastical government is exempted from “the common right of mankind” to voice an opinion?

Is it true that a free press does not lead popular rebellion?

%d bloggers like this: