This breezy and impressionistic account stops short of properly confronting the internal contradictions of Enlightenment thoughtYou wouldn’t know it from the sublime confidence with which “Enlightenment values” have been invoked in recent years by the self-proclaimed descendants of Voltaire (Dawkins, Hitchens et al), but today there reigns among scholars something close to a consensus that there was not one “Enlightenment” but several. As John V Fleming observes at the beginning of this engaging, if rather eccentric, book, the “very term ‘Enlightenment’ … is elastic if not protean”. There were political and scientific Enlightenments, he notes, and “local Enlightenments galore” – in Scotland and in France, by the Baltic Sea and deep in Bavaria too.In any serious account of “the” Enlightenment, therefore, the definitional question – what are we talking about when we talk about the Enlightenment? – will always take centre stage. Another recent book on the topic, Anthony Pagden’s The Enlightenment and Why It Still Matters, is a case in point. Pagden argues that contemporary debates over the legacy of the Enlightenment have been focused in the wrong place: in his view, the great achievement of the Enlightenment thinkers of the 18th century was not simply to replace the …read more

Via: The Guardian | Books