Western Civilizations: p. 516 - 535
& Vol. 2: p. 216 - 238, 244 - 258
& Seminar 8 - The Enlightenment
November 19th & November 21st/2012
Perspectives From the Past: p. 216 - 238, 244 - 258
A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans
Abbe Guillaume-Thomas Raynal
- anyone who justifies slavery might as well be the one who tortures the negro
- this person would be the enemy of the human race
- society is divided into two societies: oppressed and the oppressors
- the light of reason and simplistic nature should replace the blind ferocity of our
- banning slavery doesn’t mean that we need to give up luxuries and conveniences;
these productions can be cultivated by the hands of free men
- until this revolution takes place, negroes will still be oppressed
1) Raynal condemns slavery on humanitarian grounds. He also argues that it does not
exist in nature therefore the enlightenment revolution towards a simpler society
should also be a revolution against slavery.
2) Slavery results in abuses against liberty and cruelty.
3) Even if someone willingly sacrifices their liberty for slavery, their children should not
be tied to that same decision. The nature of slavery is such that individuality and
liberty which are the cornerstones of the enlightenment cannot exist simultaneously.
4) The economic consequences of emancipation would not be terrible since slaves
could be replaced by paid labourers.
Letters Concerning the English Nation
-> considered English thought and institutions to be the best in human history and
devoted himself to their introduction to France on his return
- letter 13 speaks of the works of John Locke and the importance of the human soul
- letter 14 compares the British philosopher Newton with the French philosopher
- the main themes are religious tolerance, political moderation (approves of the English
constitution), and experiential philosophy (Voltaire prefers Newton’s ideas on
knowledge rather than Descartes observations which speculate far beyond the abilities
of his sense) A Treatise of Human Nature
-> he introduced his notion of skepticism which restricted human knowledge to the
experience of ideas and impressions and denied the ability to verify their ultimate truth
- all sciences are related to human nature including mathematics, natural philosophy,
and natural religion
- since they lie under the cognizance of man and are judged by their powers of
- the sole end of logic is to explain the principles of our reasoning and the nature of our
- when experiments in all these fields are judiciously collected and compared, they
results will be superior to any human observations
1) Hume believes that the disputes within the sciences are the fault of human
observation and our limited understanding.
2) The science of man is the foundation for all fields of science and is how we observe
and understand things.
3) When studying the science of man, one must understand human reason since how
we analyze empirical evidence is relevant to the conclusions we draw.
The Spirit of Laws
Baron de Montesquieu
-> explored the role of law in shaping political society and sought theoretical and
practical responses to the problem of despotism
-> he saw a political system where power was balanced as ideal (ie. the English system
where power was split between the monarch and parliament)
- it is the both the constitution and the fundamental laws of a nation which provide liberty
to its people
- the basis of political liberty is security
- it is therefore on the goodness of criminal laws that the liberty of the subject principally
- ie. a law which condemns a man to death on the testimony of a single witness is fatal
- liberty is in perfection when criminal laws derive each punishment from the particular
nature of the crime; decisions cannot be arbitrary
- there are four types of crimes: ones prejudicial to religion, prejudicial to morals,
prejudicial to public tranquility and finally crimes that are compromise the security of
the subject - it is an abuse of the law to give a crime of treason to those individuals who don;t
deserve it (ie. declaring people guilty based upon indiscreet speeches but no actions)
1) Montesquieu says that there are two types of liberty: political and philosophic.
2) Political liberty exists when we have security, philosophic liberty exists when one can
exercise free will.
3) Liberty and reason are related since in order for the fundamental laws of a nation to
allow political and philosophic liberty, it must follow logic and be responsive to the
issues of the state based upon empirical evidence.
4) Nature is an important element when analyzing the types of crimes since the type of
crime has a corresponding punishment. This simplifies the legal system and is
reflective of the enlightenment.
The Social Contract
-> sought to balance the freedom of the individual against the needs of the collective
-> under his “social contract” people voluntarily relinquished certain rights and submitted
to the general will
-> these laws had absolute authority and would preserve equality between people
- man is born free and this liberty is a sacred right resulting from the nature of man
- the family unit is the first model of political societies: the ruler is the father and the
people are the children. They are all born free and equal and only alienate their liberty
only for their own advantage
- no man has a natural authority over his fellow man
- to renounce liberty is to renounce being a man
- in man’s natural state, the human race would perish unless it changed its manner of
- to solve this, each person puts all his power under the supreme direction of the
- the passage from the state of nature to a civil state marks a change in man where
justice is substituted for instinct
- he deprives himself of some advantages which he got from nature; in return he gains
mental stimulation and an uplifted soul
- the general will is always right and tends to public advantage but it does not