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The Royal Society
Modern History Sourcebook:
Dr. John Wallis:
The Origin of The Royal Society, 1645-1662
From Account of Some Passages of his Life, 1700
We would by no means be thought to slight or undervalue the philosophy of Aristotle, which has for many
ages obtained in the schools. But have (as we ought) a great esteem for him, and judge him to have been a
very great man, and think those who do most to slight him, to be such as are less acquainted with him. He
was a great enquirer into the history of nature, but we do not think (nor did he think), that he had so
exhausted the stock of knowledge of that kind as that there would be nothing left for the enquiry of
aftertimes, as neither can we of this age hope to find out so much, but that there will be much left for those
that come after us.....
From A Defence of the Royal Society, 1678
Our meetings there were very numerous and very considerable. For, besides the diligence of persons
studiously inquisitive, the novelty of the design made many to resort there; who, when it ceased to be new,
began to grow more remiss, or did pursue such inquiries at home.
Immanuel Kant, ‘What is Enlightenment?’
IMMANUEL KANT An Answer to the Question: "What is Enlightenment?" Konigsberg in Prussia, 30th
September, 1784. Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the
inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another.
This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage
to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have
courage to use your own understanding! Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large
proportion of men, even when nature has long emancipated them from alien guidance (naturaliter
maiorennes), nevertheless gladly remain immature for life. For the same reasons, it is all too easy for others
to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so convenient to be immature!
If I have a book to have understanding in place of me, a spiritual adviser to have a conscience for me, a
doctor to judge my diet for me, and so on, I need not make any efforts at all. I need not think, so long as I
can pay; others will soon enough take the tiresome job over for me. The guardians who have kindly taken
upon themselves the work of supervision will soon see to it that by far the largest part of mankind
(including the entire fair sex) should consider the step forward to maturity not only as difficult but also as
highly dangerous. Having first infatuated their domesticated animals, and carefully prevented the docile
creatures from daring to take a single step without the leading-strings to which they are tied, they next show
them the danger which threatens them if they try to walk unaided. Now this danger is not in fact so very
great, for they would certainly learn to walk eventually after a few falls. But an example of this kind is
intimidating, and usually frightens them off from further attempts. Thus it is difficult for each separate
individual to work his way out of the immaturity which has become almost second nature to him
Thus only a few, by cultivating the;r own minds, have succeeded in freeing themselves from immaturity and
in continuing boldly on their way.
A revolution may well put an end to autocratic despotism and to rapacious or power-seeking oppression, but
it will never produce a true reform in ways of thinking. Instead, new prejudices, like the ones they replaced,
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will serve as a leash to control the great unthinking mass. For enlightenment of this kind, all that is needed
is freedom. And the freedom in question is the most innocuous form of allÑfreedom to make public use of
one's reason in all matters.
He must simply obey. But he cannot reasonably be banned from making observations as a man of learning
on the errors in the military service, and from submitting these to his public for judgement. The citizen
cannot refuse to pay the taxes imposed upon him; presumptuous criticisms of such taxes, where someone is
called upon to pay them, may be punished as an outrage which could lead to general insubordination.
Nonetheless, the same citizen does not contravene his civil obligations if, as a learned individual, he
publicly voices his thoughts on the impropriety or even injustice of such fiscal measures. In the same way, a
clergyman is bound to instruct his pupils and his congregation in accordance with the doctrines of the
church he serves, for he was employed by it on that condition. But as a scholar, he is completely free as well
as obliged to impart to the public all his carefully considered, well-intentioned thoughts on the mistaken
aspects of those doctrines, and to offer suggestions for a better arrangement of religious and ecclesiastical
affairs. And there is nothing in this which need trouble the conscience
But it is absolutely impermissible to agree, even for a single lifetime, to a permanent religious constitution
which no-one might publicly question. For this would virtually nullify a phase in man's upward progress,
thus making it fruitless and even detrimental to subsequent generations.
A man may for his own person, and even then only for a limited period, postpone enlightening himself in
matters he ought to know about. But to renounce such enlightenment completely, whether for his own
person or even more so for later generations, means violating and trampling underfoot the sacred rights of
If it is now asked whether we at present live in an enlightened age, the answer is: No, but we do live in an
age of enlightenment. As things are at present, we still have a long way to go before men as a whole can be
in a position (or can ever be put into a position) of using their own understanding confidently and well in
religious matters, without outside guidance. But we do have distinct indications that the way is now being
cleared for them to work freely in this direction, and that the obstacles to universal enlightenment, to man's
emergence from his self-incurred immaturity, are gradually becoming fewer. In this respect our age is the
age of enlightenment, the century of Frederick. A prince who does not regard it as beneath him to say that
he considers it his duty, in religious matters, not to prescribe anything to his people, but to allow them
complete freedom, a prince who thus even declines to accept the presumptuous title of tolerant, is himself
enlightened. He deserves to be praised by a grateful present and posterity as the man who first liberated
mankind from immaturity (as far as government is concerned), and who left all men free to use their own
reason in all matters of conscience. Under his rule, ecclesiastical dignitaries, notwithstanding their official
duties, may in their capacity as scholars freely and publicly submit to the judgement of the world their
verdicts and opinions, even if these deviate here Ind there from orthodox doctrine.
Men will of their own accord gradually work their way out of barbarism so long as artificial measures are
not deliberately adopted to keep them in it.
I have portrayed matters of religion as the focal point of enlightenment, i.e. of man's emergence from his
self-incurred immaturity. This is firstly because our rulers have no interest in assuming the role of guardians
over their subjects so fir as the arts and sciences are concerned, and secondly, because religious immaturity
is the most pernicious and dishonourable variety of all
But the attitude of mind of a head of state who favours freedom in the arts and sciences extends even
further, for he realises that there is no danger even to his legislation if he allows his subjects to make public
use of their own reason and to put before the public their thoughts on better ways of drawing up laws, even
if this entails forthright criticism of the current legislation. We have before us a brilliant example of this
kind, in which no monarch has yet surpassed the one to whom we now pay tribute.
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Montesquieu, The Spirit of the laws (1748)
Modern History Sourcebook:
The Spirit of the Laws, 1748
Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (16891755), was a nobleman, a judge in a French court, and
one of the most influential political thinkers. Based on his research he developed a number of political
theories presented in The Spirit of the Laws (1748).
This treatise presented numerous theories - among the most important was respect for the role of history
and climate in shaping a nation's political structure.
It was for his views on the English Constitution, which he saw in an overly idealized way, that he is perhaps
In every government there are three sorts of power; the legislative; the executive, in respect to things
dependent on the law of nations; and the executive, in regard to things that depend on the civil law
By virtue of the first, the prince or magistrate enacts temporary or perpetual laws, and amends or abrogates
those that have been already enacted. By the second, he makes peace or war, sends or receives embassies;
establishes the public security, and provides against invasions. By the third, he punishes criminals, or
determines the disputes that arise between individuals. The latter we shall call the judiciary power, and the
other simply the executive power of the state.
When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of
magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehensions may anse, lest the same monarch or senate
should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner.
Again, there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive
powers. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary
control, for the judge would then be the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might
behave with all the violence of an oppressor.
There would be an end of every thing were the same man, or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the
people to exercise those three powers that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and that
of judging the crimes or differences of individuals.
Most kingdoms in Europe enjoy a moderate government, because the prince, who is invested with the two
first powers, leaves the third to his subjects. In Turkey, where these three powers are united in the sultan's
person the subjects groan under the weight of a most frightful oppression
The executive power ought to be in the hands of a monarch; because this branch of government, which has
always need of expedition, is better administered by one than by many: Whereas, whatever depends on the
legislative power, is oftentimes better regulated by many than by a single person.
But if there was no monarch, and the executive power was committed to a certain number of persons
selected from the legislative body, there would be an end then of liberty; by reason the two powers would be
united, as the same persons would actually sometimes have, and would moreover be always able to have, a
share in both.
To prevent the executive power from being able to oppress, it is requisite, that the armies, with which it is
intrusted, should consist of` the people, and have the same spirit as the people, as was the case at Rome, till
the time of Marius. To obtain this end, there are only two ways, either that the persons employed in the
army, should have sufficient property to answer for their conduct to their fellow subjects, and be enlisted
only for a year, as customary at Rome: Or if there should be a standing army, composed chiefly of the most
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