In the essay “What is Enlightenment?” Emmanual Kant argued that “there are only a few who have pursued a firm path and have succeeded in escaping from immaturity by their own cultivation of the mind.”
Francois-Marie Arouet (pen name: Voltaire) once wrote: “If there were only one religion in England there would be danger of despotism, if there were two they would cut each other’s throats, but there are thirty, and they live in peace and happiness.”
What are the implications of these statements and what paths became open because of this way of thinking during the Age of Reason/the Age of Enlightenment? Do you find that the ideas, aspirations, and skepticism of the philosophes have something in common with the modern world? Why did France play a leading role in Europe for Enlightenment thinking? What is Voltaire’s role in the Enlightenment movement [state what the novel Candide tells us about his thinking; be sure to watch my powerpoint film “The Best of All Possible Worlds” in the resources section of this unit]? In what ways were Jean-Jacques Rousseu’s writings mainstream for the Enlightenment, but also moving away from it in radical directions? Finally, devote a couple of paragraphs in your essay to the concept of the “Republic of Letters”. What is the significance of books and reading culture in the 18th century? Give examples of how Enlightenment ideas in this public sphere were expounded, disseminated, and suppressed.
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