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History of Modern Philosophy
The French Illumination
by Falckenberg, Richard


In the last decade of the seventeenth century France had yielded the leadership in philosophy to England. Whereas Hobbes had in Paris imbibed the spirit of the Galilean and Cartesian inquiry, while Bacon, Locke, and even Hume had also visited France with advantage, now French thinkers take the watchword from the English. Montesquieu and Voltaire, returning from England in the same year (1729), acquaint their countrymen with the ideas of Locke and his contemporaries. These are eagerly caught up; are, step by step, and with the logical courage characteristic of the French mind, developed to their extreme conclusions; and, at the same time, spread abroad in this heightened form among the people beyond the circles of the learned, nay, even beyond the educated classes. The English temperament is favorable neither to this advance to extreme revolutionary inferences nor to this propagandist tendency. Locke combines a rationalistic ethics with his semi-sensational theory of knowledge; Newton is far from finding in his mechanical physics a danger for religious beliefs; the deists treat the additions of positive religion rather as superfluous ballast than as hateful unreason; Bolingbroke wishes at least to conceal from the people the illuminating principles which he offers to the higher classes. Such halting where farther progress threatens to become dangerous to moral interests does more honor to the moral, than to the logical, character of the philosopher. But with the transfer of these ideas to France, the wall of separation is broken down between the theory of knowledge and the theory of ethics, between natural philosophy and the philosophy of religion; sensationalism forces its way from the region of theory into the sphere of practice, and the mechanical theory is transformed from a principal of physical interpretation into a metaphysical view of the world of an atheistical character. Naturalism is everywhere determined to have its own: if knowledge comes from the senses, then morality must be rooted in self-interest; whoever confines natural science to the search for mechanical causes must not postulate an intelligent Power working from design, even to explain the origin of things and the beginning of motion--has no right to speak of a free will, an immortal soul, and a deity who has created the world. Further, as Bayle's proof that the dogmas of the Church were in all points contradictory to reason had, contrary to its author's own wishes, exerted an influence hostile to religion, and as, moreover, the political and social conditions of the time incited to revolt and to a break with all existing institutions, the philosophical ideas from over the Channel and the condition of things at home alike pressed toward a revolutionary intensification of modern principles, which found comprehensive expression in the atheists' Bible, the System of Nature of Baron Holbach, 1770. The movement begins in the middle of the thirties, when Montesquieu commences to naturalize Locke's political views in France, and Voltaire does the same service for Locke's theory of knowledge, and Newton's natural philosophy, which had already been commended by Maupertuis. The year 1748, the year also of Hume's Essay brings Montesquieu's chief work and La Mettrie's Man a Machine While the Encyclopedia the herald of the Illumination, begun in 1751, is advancing to its completion (1772, or rather 1780), Condillac (1754) and Bonnet (1755) develop theoretical sensationalism, and Helvetius (On Mind 1758; in the same year, D'Alembert's Elements of Philosophy practical sensationalism. Rousseau, engaged in authorship from 1751 and a contributor to the Encyclopediauntil 1757 comes into prominence, 1762, with his two chief works, Emile And the Social Contract Parallel with these we find interesting phenomena in the field of political economy: Morelly's communistic Code of Nature(1755), the works of Quesnay (1758), the leader of the physiocrats, and those of Turgot, 1774.

Our discussion takes up, first, the introduction and popularization of English ideas; then, the further development of these into a consistent sensationalism, into the morality of interest, and into materialism; finally, the reaction against the illumination of the understanding in Rousseau's philosophy of feeling.[1]

[Footnote 1: On the whole chapter cf. Damiron, Mémoires pour Servir à l'Histoire de la Philosophie au XVIII. Siécle 3 vols., 1858-64; and John Morley's Voltaire 1872 [1886], Rousseau 1873 [1886], and Diderot and the Encyclopedists 1878 [new ed., 1886].]

The Entrance of English Doctrines
Theoretical and Practical Sensationalism
Skepticism and Materialism
Rousseau's Conflict with the Illumination
Personae

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