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University of Guelph
Sociology and Anthropology
SOAN 2111
Linda Hunter

SOAN 2111 – October 22, 2012 THE FRENCH ENGLIGHTENMENT, MONTESQUIEU AND VOLTAIRE I. The French Enlightenment: Philosophical Foundations II. Rococo Artists: Watteau (1684-1721) and Chardin (1699-1779) III. Montesquieu a. Introduction and background b. Social science – spirit of laws c. Montesquieu’s classification of society: republic, monarchy, despotism, nature and types d. Social phenomena – laws – cause/effect e. Conclusions and critique IV. Voltaire a. Introduction and background b. Keeping freedom and belief I. Enlightenment: Philosophical Foundations European 18 century was a very important time in terms of colonial expansion and development - perfectibility of humanity - reforms in education, medicine… movements to abolish slavery - the Neoclassical and romantic movements in art – reflection of the impulse and changes - there was still intellectual repression: censorship, book burning o many philosophers sent to jail for their new thoughts - witch burning all over Europe - peasants suffered severe poverty and powerlessness - legal disabilities of women; exclusions from education o any women with money could get education – very few women - the century ended with the French Revolution - “The Age of Reason” - because the physical world was dominated by natural laws it was likely that the social world was too - many philosophers disagreed about how the world is and should be - boils down to reason and observation - philosophers inspired by John Locke and Newton o they had to also be skeptical of inherited ‘truths’ - they had to have a reason ‘age of reason’ - create a more rational world with reason Some core propositions common to 18 century rationalism 1) reason is the universally distinguishing property of humans 2) human nature is everywhere the same 3) institutions are made for ‘men’ rather than ‘men’ for institutions 4) progress is the central law of society 5) the guiding ideal of humankind is the realization of humanity 6) the aim of life is life itself, not the afterlife 7) essential condition for the good life on earth is freeing ‘men’s’ minds from ignorance and superstition - variations in human nature – climate, accidents, etc. - institutions made for men rather than humans - institutions to be valued to promote human personality - men born free but everyway they are held down in chains - campaigning for freedom of speech and freedom to realize everyone’s talent - these thinkers looked for the freedom of social thought Campaigning for Basic Freedoms - intellectual of the Enlightenment operated largely outside the universities – primarily from the upper-middle-class - sought to destroy the Old Regime … all would be equal before the law o four philosophers we will talk about (Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rosseau…) - France was bristling with problems o Stimulated them to create new society, happy society o Abstract principles of the philosophes rose out of the problems of the day. Therefore they harmonized with the concrete interests with the new forces in society. Philosophers got support from the rising bourgeoisie. - The philosophes were selected from the middle-class - If they were good writers, they were welcomed - Readers were selected from the middle-class – many people at this time were illiterate - Those who are literate read philosophers idea – they read ALL the time –
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