History of Literature, Fhilosophy and Religions

(contents)


Part III

A Brief History of Western Philosophy

Introduction Phylosophy

The nature of Western philosophy

Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy
 

Medieval philosophy
 

Renaissance philosophy

Modern philosophy

Contemporary philosophy


 

Western Philosophy
 

 

 




 

 
 

 

 


Western philosophy

Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 
 


Western philosophy


History of Western philosophy from its development among the ancient Greeks to the present.

 




Modern philosophy




Modern philosophy » The Enlightenment » Nonepistemological movements in the Enlightenment

Although the school of British empiricism represented the mainstream of Enlightenment philosophy until the time of Kant, it was by no means the only type of philosophy that the 18th century produced. The Enlightenment, which was based upon a few great fundamental ideas—such as the dedication to reason, the belief in intellectual progress, the confidence in nature as a source of inspiration and value, and the search for tolerance and freedom in political and social institutions—generated many crosscurrents of intellectual and philosophical expression.


 

Modern philosophy » The Enlightenment » Nonepistemological movements in the Enlightenment » Materialism and scientific discovery

The profound influence of Locke spread to France, where it not only resulted in the skeptical empiricism of Voltaire (1694–1778) but also united with mechanistic aspects of Cartesianism to produce an entire school of sensationalistic materialism. Representative works included Man a Machine (1747) by Julien Offroy de La Mettrie (1709–51), Treatise on the Sensations (1754) by Étienne Bonnot de Condillac (1715–80), and The System of Nature (1770) by Paul-Henri Dietrich, baron d’Holbach (1723–89). This position even found its way into many of the articles of the great French Encyclopédie, edited by Denis Diderot (1713–84) and Jean d’Alembert (1717–83), which was almost a complete compendium of the scientific and humanistic accomplishments of the 18th century.

Although the terms Middle Ages and Renaissance were not invented until well after the historical periods they designate, scholars of the 18th century called their age “the Enlightenment” with self-conscious enthusiasm and pride. It was an age of optimism and expectations of new beginnings. Great strides were made in chemistry and biological science. Jean-Baptiste de Monet, chevalier de Lamarck (1744–1829), Georges, Baron Cuvier (1769–1832), and Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707–88), introduced a new system of animal classification. In the eight years between 1766 and 1774, three chemical elements—hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen—were discovered. Foundations were being laid in psychology and the social sciences and in ethics and aesthetics. The work of Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, baron de L’Aulne (1727–81), and Montesquieu (1689–1755) in France, Giambattista Vico (1668–1744) in Italy, and Adam Smith (1723–90) in Scotland marked the beginning of economics, politics, history, sociology, and jurisprudence as sciences. Hume, the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), and the British “moral sense” theorists were turning ethics into a specialized field of philosophical inquiry. And Anthony Ashley, 3rd earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713), Edmund Burke (1729–97), Johann Gottsched (1700–66), and Alexander Baumgarten (1714–62) were laying the foundations for a systematic aesthetics.

 



Voltaire
French philosopher and author
pseudonym of François-Marie Arouet

born Nov. 21, 1694, Paris, France
died May 30, 1778, Paris

Main
one of the greatest of all French writers. Although only a few of his works are still read, he continues to be held in worldwide repute as a courageous crusader against tyranny, bigotry, and cruelty. Through its critical capacity, wit, and satire, Voltaire’s work vigorously propagates an ideal of progress to which people of all nations have remained responsive. His long life spanned the last years of classicism and the eve of the revolutionary era, and during this age of transition his works and activities influenced the direction taken by European civilization.

Heritage and youth
Voltaire’s background was middle class. According to his birth certificate he was born on November 21, 1694, but the hypothesis that his birth was kept secret cannot be dismissed, for he stated on several occasions that in fact it took place on February 20. He believed that he was the son of an officer named Rochebrune, who was also a songwriter. He had no love for either his putative father, François Arouet, a onetime notary who later became receiver in the Cour des Comptes (audit office), or his elder brother Armand. Almost nothing is known about his mother of whom he hardly said anything. Having lost her when he was seven, he seems to have become an early rebel against family authority. He attached himself to his godfather, the Abbé de Châteauneuf, a freethinker and epicurean who presented the boy to the famous courtesan Ninon de Lenclos when she was in her 84th year. It is doubtless that he owed his positive outlook and his sense of reality to his bourgeois origins.

He attended the Jesuit college of Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where he learned to love literature, the theatre, and social life. While he appreciated the classical taste the college instilled in him, the religious instruction of the fathers served only to arouse his skepticism and mockery. He witnessed the last sad years of Louis XIV and was never to forget the distress and the military disasters of 1709 nor the horrors of religious persecution. He retained, however, a degree of admiration for the sovereign, and he remained convinced that the enlightened kings are the indispensable agents of progress.

He decided against the study of law after he left college. Employed as secretary at the French embassy in The Hague, he became infatuated with the daughter of an adventurer. Fearing scandal, the French ambassador sent him back to Paris. Despite his father’s wishes, he wanted to devote himself wholly to literature, and he frequented the Temple, then the centre of free-thinking society. After the death of Louis XIV, under the morally relaxed Regency, Voltaire became the wit of Parisian society, and his epigrams were widely quoted. But when he dared to mock the dissolute regent, the Duc d’Orléans, he was banished from Paris and then imprisoned in the Bastille for nearly a year (1717). Behind his cheerful facade, he was fundamentally serious and set himself to learn the accepted literary forms. In 1718, after the success of Oedipe, the first of his tragedies, he was acclaimed as the successor of the great classical dramatist Jean Racine and thenceforward adopted the name of Voltaire. The origin of this pen name remains doubtful. It is not certain that it is the anagram of Arouet le jeune (i.e., the younger). Above all he desired to be the Virgil that France had never known. He worked at an epic poem whose hero was Henry IV, the king beloved by the French people for having put an end to the wars of religion. This Henriade is spoiled by its pedantic imitation of Virgil’s Aeneid, but his contemporaries saw only the generous ideal of tolerance that inspired the poem. These literary triumphs earned him a pension from the regent and the warm approval of the young queen, Marie. He thus began his career of court poet.

United with other thinkers of his day—literary men and scientists—in the belief in the efficacy of reason, Voltaire was a Philosophe, as the 18th century termed it. In the salons he professed an aggressive Deism, which scandalized the devout. He became interested in England, the country that tolerated freedom of thought; he visited the Tory leader Viscount Bolingbroke, exiled in France—a politician, an orator, and a philosopher whom Voltaire admired to the point of comparing him to Cicero. On Bolingbroke’s advice he learned English in order to read the philosophical works of John Locke. His intellectual development was furthered by an accident: as the result of a quarrel with a member of one of the leading French families, the Chevalier de Rohan, who had made fun of his adopted name, he was beaten up, taken to the Bastille, and then conducted to Calais on May 5, 1726, from where he set out for London. His destiny was now exile and opposition.


Exile to England
During a stay that lasted more than two years he succeeded in learning the English language; he wrote his notebooks in English and to the end of his life he was able to speak and write it fluently. He met such English men of letters as Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and William Congreve, the philosopher George Berkeley, and Samuel Clarke, the theologian. He was presented at court, and he dedicated his Henriade to Queen Caroline. Though at first he was patronized by Bolingbroke, who had returned from exile, it appears that he quarrelled with the Tory leader and turned to Sir Robert Walpole and the liberal Whigs. He admired the liberalism of English institutions, though he was shocked by the partisan violence. He envied English intrepidity in the discussion of religious and philosophic questions and was particularly interested in the Quakers. He was convinced that it was because of their personal liberty that the English, notably Sir Isaac Newton and John Locke, were in the forefront of scientific thought. He believed that this nation of merchants and sailors owed its victories over Louis XIV to its economic advantages. He concluded that even in literature France had something to learn from England; his experience of Shakespearean theatre was overwhelming, and, however much he was shocked by the “barbarism” of the productions, he was struck by the energy of the characters and the dramatic force of the plots.


Return to France
He returned to France at the end of 1728 or the beginning of 1729 and decided to present England as a model to his compatriots. His social position was consolidated. By judicious speculation he began to build up the vast fortune that guaranteed his independence. He attempted to revive tragedy by discreetly imitating Shakespeare. Brutus, begun in London and accompanied by a Discours à milord Bolingbroke, was scarcely a success in 1730; La Mort de César was played only in a college (1735); in Eriphyle (1732) the apparition of a ghost, as in Hamlet, was booed by the audience. Zaïre, however, was a resounding success. The play, in which the sultan Orosmane, deceived by an ambiguous letter, stabs his prisoner, the devoted Christian-born Zaïre, in a fit of jealousy, captivated the public with its exotic subject.

At the same time, Voltaire had turned to a new literary genre: history. In London he had made the acquaintance of Fabrice, a former companion of the Swedish king Charles XII. The interest he felt for the extraordinary character of this great soldier impelled him to write his life, Histoire de Charles XII (1731), a carefully documented historical narrative that reads like a novel. Philosophic ideas began to impose themselves as he wrote: the King of Sweden’s exploits brought desolation, whereas his rival Peter the Great brought Russia into being, bequeathing a vast, civilized empire. Great men are not warmongers; they further civilization—a conclusion that tallied with the example of England. It was this line of thought that Voltaire brought to fruition, after prolonged meditation, in a work of incisive brevity: the Lettres philosophiques (1734). These fictitious letters are primarily a demonstration of the benign effects of religious toleration. They contrast the wise Empiricist psychology of Locke with the conjectural lucubrations of René Descartes. A philosopher worthy of the name, such as Newton, disdains empty, a priori speculations; he observes the facts and reasons from them. After elucidating the English political system, its commerce, its literature, and the Shakespeare almost unknown to France, Voltaire concludes with an attack on the French mathematician and religious philosopher Pascal: the purpose of life is not to reach heaven through penitence but to assure happiness to all men by progress in the sciences and the arts, a fulfillment for which their nature is destined. This small, brilliant book is a landmark in the history of thought: not only does it embody the philosophy of the 18th century, but it also defines the essential direction of the modern mind.


Life with Mme du Châtelet
Scandal followed publication of this work that spoke out so frankly against the religious and political establishment. When a warrant of arrest was issued in May of 1734, Voltaire took refuge in the château of Mme du Châtelet at Cirey in Champagne and thus began his liaison with this young, remarkably intelligent woman. He lived with her in the château he had renovated at his own expense. This period of retreat was interrupted only by a journey to the Low Countries in December 1736—an exile of a few weeks became advisable after the circulation of a short, daringly epicurean poem called “Le Mondain.”

The life these two lived together was both luxurious and studious. After Adélaïde du Guesclin (1734), a play about a national tragedy, he brought Alzire to the stage in 1736 with great success. The action of Alzire-in Lima, Peru, at the time of the Spanish conquest—brings out the moral superiority of a humanitarian civilization over methods of brute force. Despite the conventional portrayal of “noble savages,” the tragedy kept its place in the repertory of the Comédie-Française for almost a century. Mme du Châtelet was passionately drawn to the sciences and metaphysics and influenced Voltaire’s work in that direction. A “gallery” or laboratory of the physical sciences was installed at the château, and they composed a memorandum on the nature of fire for a meeting of the Académie des Sciences. While Mme du Châtelet was learning English in order to translate Newton and The Fable of the Bees of Bernard de Mandeville, Voltaire popularized, in his Éléments de la philosophie de Newton (1738), those discoveries of English science that were familiar only to a few advanced minds in France, such as the astronomer and mathematician Pierre-Louis de Maupertuis. At the same time, he continued to pursue his historical studies. He began Le Siècle de Louis XIV, sketched out a universal history of kings, wars, civilization and manners that became the Essai sur les moeurs, and plunged into biblical exegesis. Mme du Châtelet herself wrote an Examen, highly critical of the two Testaments. It was at Cirey that Voltaire, rounding out his scientific knowledge, acquired the encyclopaedic culture that was one of the outstanding facets of his genius.

Because of a lawsuit, he followed Mme du Châtelet to Brussels in May 1739, and thereafter they were constantly on the move between Belgium, Cirey, and Paris. Voltaire corresponded with the crown prince of Prussia, who, rebelling against his father’s rigid system of military training and education, had taken refuge in French culture. When the prince acceded to the throne as Frederick II (the Great), Voltaire visited his disciple first at Cleves (Kleve, Germany), then at Berlin. When the War of the Austrian Succession broke out, Voltaire was sent to Berlin (1742–43) on a secret mission to rally the King of Prussia—who was proving himself a faithless ally—to the assistance of the French Army. Such services—as well as his introduction of his friends the brothers d’Argenson, who became ministers of war and foreign affairs, respectively, to the protection of Mme de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV—brought him into favour again at Versailles. After his poem celebrating the victory of Fontenoy (1745), he was appointed historiographer, gentleman of the king’s chamber, and academician. His tragedy Mérope, about the mythical Greek queen, won public acclaim on the first night (1743). The performance of Mahomet, in which Voltaire presented the founder of Islām as an imposter, was forbidden, however, after its successful production in 1742. He amassed a vast fortune through the manipulations of Joseph Pâris Duverney, the financier in charge of military supplies, who was favoured by Mme de Pompadour. In this ambience of well-being, he began a liaison with his niece Mme Denis, a charming widow, without breaking off his relationship with Mme du Châtelet.

Yet he was not spared disappointments. Louis XV disliked him, and the pious Catholic faction at court remained acutely hostile. He was guilty of indiscretions. When Mme du Châtelet lost large sums at the Queen’s gaming table, he said to her in English: “You are playing with card-sharpers”; the phrase was understood, and he was forced to go into hiding at the country mansion as the guest of the Duchesse du Maine in 1747. Ill and exhausted by his restless existence, he at last discovered the literary form that ideally fitted his lively and disillusioned temper: he wrote his first contes (stories). Micromégas (1752) measures the littleness of man in the cosmic scale; Vision de Babouc (1748) and Memnon (1749) dispute the philosophic optimism of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Alexander Pope. Zadig (1747) is a kind of allegorical autobiography: like Voltaire, the Babylonian sage Zadig suffers persecution, is pursued by ill fortune, and ends by doubting the tender care of Providence for human beings.

The great crisis of his life was drawing near. In 1748 at Commercy, where he had joined the court of Stanisław (the former king of Poland), he detected the love affair of Mme du Châtelet and the poet Saint-Lambert, a slightly ludicrous passion that ended tragically. On September 10, 1749, he witnessed the death in childbirth of this uncommonly intelligent woman who for 15 years had been his guide and counsellor. He returned in despair to the house in Paris where they had lived together; he rose in the night and wandered in the darkness, calling her name.


Later travels
The failure of some of his plays aggravated his sense of defeat. He had attempted the comédie larmoyante, or “sentimental comedy,” that was then fashionable: after L’Enfant prodigue (1736), a variation of the prodigal son theme, he adapted William Wycherley’s satiric Restoration drama The Plain-Dealer to his purpose, entitling it La Prude; he based Nanine (1749) on a situation taken from Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela, but all without success. The court spectacles he directed gave him a taste for scenic effects, and he contrived a sumptuous decor, as well as the apparition of a ghost, for Sémiramis (1748), but his public was not captivated. His enemies compared him with Prosper Jolyot, sieur de Crébillon, who was pre-eminent among French writers of tragedy at this time. Though Voltaire used the same subjects as his rival (Oreste, Sémiramis), the Parisian audience preferred the plays of Crébillon. Exasperated and disappointed, he yielded to the pressing invitation of Frederick II and set out for Berlin on June 28, 1750.

At the moment of his departure a new literary generation, reacting against the ideas and tastes to which he remained faithful, was coming to the fore in France. Disseminators of the philosophical ideas of the time, such as Denis Diderot, Baron d’Holbach, and their friends, were protagonists of a thoroughgoing Materialism and regarded Voltaire’s Deism as too timid. Others had rediscovered with Jean-Jacques Rousseau the poetry of Christianity. All in fact preferred the charm of sentiment and passion to the enlightenment of reason. As the years passed, Voltaire became increasingly more isolated in his glory.

At first he was enchanted by his sojourn in Berlin and Potsdam, but soon difficulties arose. After a lawsuit with a moneylender, and quarrels with prominent noblemen, he started a controversy with Maupertuis (the president of Frederick’s academy of science, the Berlin Academy) on scientific matters. In a pamphlet entitled “Diatribe du docteur Akakia” (1752), he covered him with ridicule. The King, enraged, consigned “Akakia” to the flames and gave its author a thorough dressing down. Voltaire left Prussia on March 26, 1753, leaving Frederick exasperated and determined to punish him. On the journey he was held under house arrest at an inn at Frankfurt, by order of the Prussian resident. Louis XV forbade him to approach Paris. Not knowing where to turn, he stayed at Colmar for more than a year. At length he found asylum at Geneva, where he purchased a house called Les Délices, at the same time securing winter quarters at Lausanne.

He now completed his two major historical studies. Le Siècle de Louis XIV (1751), a book on the century of Louis XIV, had been prepared after an exhaustive 20-year interrogation of the survivors of le grand siècle. Voltaire was particularly concerned to establish the truth by collecting evidence from as many witnesses as possible, evidence that he submitted to exacting criticism. His desire was to write the nation’s history by means of an examination of its arts and sciences and of its social life, but military events and politics still occupy a large place in his survey. The Essai sur les moeurs, the study on customs and morals that he had begun in 1740 (first complete edition, 1756), traced the course of world history since the end of the Roman Empire and gave an important place to the Eastern and Far Eastern countries. Voltaire’s object was to show humanity slowly developing beyond barbarism. He supplemented these two works with one on Russian history during the reign of Peter the Great, Histoire de l’empire de Russie sous Pierre le Grand (1759–63), the Philosophie de l’histoire (1765), and the Précis du siècle de Louis XV (1768).

At Geneva, he had at first been welcomed and honoured as the champion of tolerance. But soon he made those around him feel uneasy. At Les Délices his presentation of plays was stopped, in accordance with the law of the republic of Geneva, which forbade both public and private theatre performances. Then there was his mock-heroic poem “La Pucelle” (1755), a most improper presentation of Joan of Arc (La Pucelle d’Orléans), which the booksellers printed in spite of his protests.

Attracted by his volatile intelligence, Calvinist pastors as well as women and young people thronged to his salon. Yet he soon provoked the hostility of important Swiss intellectuals. The storm broke in November 1757, when volume seven of Diderot’s Encyclopédie was published. Voltaire had inspired the article on Geneva that his fellow philosopher Jean d’Alembert had written after a visit to Les Délices; not only was the city of Calvin asked to build a theatre within its walls but also certain of its pastors were praised for their doubts of Christ’s divinity. The scandal sparked a quick response: the Encyclopédie was forced to interrupt publication, and Rousseau attacked the rational philosophy of the Philosophes in general in a polemical treatise on the question of the morality of theatrical performances, Lettre à d’Alembert sur les spectacles (1758). Rousseau’s view that drama might well be abolished marked a final break between the two writers.

Voltaire no longer felt safe in Geneva, and he longed to retire from these quarrels. In 1758 he wrote what was to be his most famous work, Candide. In this philosophical fantasy, the youth Candide, disciple of Doctor Pangloss (himself a disciple of the philosophical optimism of Leibniz), saw and suffered such misfortune that he was unable to believe that this was “the best of all possible worlds.” Having retired with his companions to the shores of the Propontis, he discovered that the secret of happiness was “to cultivate one’s garden,” a practical philosophy excluding excessive idealism and nebulous metaphysics. Voltaire’s own garden became Ferney, a property he bought at the end of 1758, together with Tourney in France, on the Swiss border. By crossing the frontier he could thus safeguard himself against police incursion from either country.


Achievements at Ferney
At Ferney, Voltaire entered on one of the most active periods of his life. Both patriarch and lord of the manor, he developed a modern estate, sharing in the movement of agricultural reform in which the aristocracy was interested at the time. He could not be true to himself, however, without stirring up village feuds and went before the magistrates on a question of tithes, as well as about the beating of one of his workmen. He renovated the church and had Deo erexit Voltaire (“Voltaire erected this to God”) carved on the facade. At Easter Communion, 1762, he delivered a sermon on stealing and drunkenness and repeated this sacrilegious offense in the following year, flouting the prohibition by the bishop of Annecy, in whose jurisdiction Ferney lay. He meddled in Genevan politics, taking the side of the workers (or natifs, those without civil rights), and installed a stocking factory and watchworks on his estate in order to help them. He called for the liberation of serfs in the Jura, but without success, though he did succeed in suppressing the customs barrier on the road between Gex in the Jura and Geneva, the natural outlet for the produce of Gex. Such generous interventions in local politics earned him enormous popularity. In 1777 he received a popular acclamation from the people of Ferney. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna halted the annexation of Ferney to Switzerland in his honour.

His fame was now worldwide. “Innkeeper of Europe”—as he was called—he welcomed such literary figures as James Boswell, Giovanni Casanova, Edward Gibbon, the Prince de Ligne, and the fashionable philosophers of Paris. He kept up an enormous correspondence—with the Philosophes, with his actresses and actors, and with those high in court circles, such as the Duc de Richelieu (grandnephew of the Cardinal de Richelieu), the Duc de Choiseul, and Mme du Barry, Louis XV’s favourite. He renewed his correspondence with Frederick II and exchanged letters with Catherine II of Russia.

There was scarcely a subject of importance on which he did not speak. In his political ideas, he was basically a liberal, though he also admired the authority of those kings who imposed progressive measures on their people. On the question of fossils, he entered into foolhardy controversy with the famous French naturalist Comte de Buffon. On the other hand, he declared himself a partisan of the Italian scientist Abbé Lazzaro Spallanzani against the hypothesis of spontaneous generation, according to which microscopic organisms are generated spontaneously in organic substances. He busied himself with political economy and revived his interest in metaphysics by absorbing the ideas of 17th-century philosophers Benedict de Spinoza and Nicolas Malebranche.

His main interest at this time, however, was his opposition to l’infâme, a word he used to designate the church, especially when it was identified with intolerance. For mankind’s future he envisaged a simple theism, reinforcing the civil power of the state. He believed this end was being achieved when, about 1770, the courts of Paris, Vienna, and Madrid came into conflict with the pope; but this was to misjudge the solidarity of ecclesiastical institutions and the people’s loyalty to the traditional faith. Voltaire’s beliefs prompted a prodigious number of polemical writings. He multiplied his personal attacks, often stooping to low cunning; in his sentimental comedy L’Écossaise (1760), he mimicked the eminent critic Élie Fréron, who had attacked him in reviews, by portraying his adversary as a rascally journalist who intervenes in a quarrel between two Scottish families. He directed Le Sentiment des Citoyens (1764) against Rousseau. In this anonymous pamphlet, which supposedly expressed the opinion of the Genevese, Voltaire, who was well informed, revealed to the public that Rousseau had abandoned his children. As author he used all kinds of pseudonyms: Rabbi Akib, Pastor Bourn, Lord Bolingbroke, M. Mamaki “interpreter of Oriental languages to the king of England,” Clocpitre, Cubstorf, Jean Plokof—a nonstop performance of puppets. As a part-time scholar he constructed a personal Encyclopédie, the Dictionnaire philosophique (1764), enlarged after 1770 by Questions sur l’Encyclopédie. Among the mass of writings of this period are Le Blanc et le noir (“The White and the Black”), a philosophical tale in which Oriental fantasy contrasts with the realism of Jeannot et Colin; Princesse de Babylone, a panorama of European philosophies in the fairyland of The Thousand and One Nights; and Le Taureau blanc, a biblical tale.

Again and again Voltaire returned to his chosen themes: the establishment of religious tolerance, the growth of material prosperity, respect for the rights of man by the abolition of torture and useless punishments. These principles were brought into play when he intervened in some of the notorious public scandals of these years. For instance, when the Protestant Jean Calas, a merchant of Toulouse accused of having murdered his son in order to prevent his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church, was broken on the wheel while protesting his innocence (March 10, 1762), Voltaire, livid with anger, took up the case and by his vigorous intervention obtained the vindication of the unfortunate Calas and the indemnification of the family. But he was less successful in a dramatic affair concerning the 19-year-old Chevalier de La Barre, who was beheaded for having insulted a religious procession and damaging a crucifix (July 1, 1766). Public opinion was distressed by such barbarity, but it was Voltaire who protested actively, suggesting that the Philosophes should leave French territory and settle in the town of Cleves offered them by Frederick II. Although he failed to obtain even a review of this scandalous trial, he was able to reverse other judicial errors.

By such means he retained leadership of the philosophic movement. On the other hand, as a writer, he wanted to halt a development he deplored—that which led to Romanticism. He tried to save theatrical tragedy by making concessions to a public that adored scenes of violence and exoticism. For instance, in L’Orphelin de la Chine (1755), Lekain (Henri-Louis Cain), who played the part of Genghis Khan, was clad in a sensational Mongol costume. Lekain, whom Voltaire considered the greatest tragedian of his time, also played the title role of Tancrède, which was produced with a sumptuous decor (1760) and which proved to be Voltaire’s last triumph. Subsequent tragedies, arid and ill-constructed and overweighted with philosophic propaganda, were either booed off the stage or not produced at all. He became alarmed at the increasing influence of Shakespeare; when he gave a home to a grandniece of the great 17th-century classical dramatist Pierre Corneille and on her behalf published an annotated edition of the famous tragic author, he inserted, after Cinna, a translation of Julius Caesar, convinced that such a confrontation would demonstrate the superiority of the French dramatist. He was infuriated by the Shakespearean translations of Pierre Le Tourneur in 1776, which stimulated French appreciation of this more robust, nonclassical dramatist, and dispatched an abusive Lettre à l’Académie. He never ceased to acknowledge a degree of genius in Shakespeare, yet spoke of him as “a drunken savage.” He returned to a strict classicism in his last plays, but in vain, for the audacities of his own previous tragedies, timid as they were, had paved the way for Romantic drama.

It was the theatre that brought him back to Paris in 1778. Wishing to direct the rehearsals of Irène, he made his triumphal return to the city he had not seen for 28 years on February 10. More than 300 persons called on him the day after his arrival. On March 30 he went to the Académie amid acclamations, and, when Irène was played before a delirious audience, he was crowned in his box. His health was profoundly impaired by all this excitement. On May 18 he was stricken with uremia. He suffered much pain on his deathbed, about which absurd legends were quickly fabricated; on May 30 he died, peacefully it seems. His nephew, the Abbé Mignot, had his body, clothed just as it was, swiftly transported to the Abbey of Scellières, where he was given Christian burial by the local clergy; the prohibition of such burial arrived after the ceremony. His remains were transferred to the Panthéon during the Revolution in July 1791.


Assessment
Voltaire’s name has always evoked vivid reactions. Toward the end of his life he was attacked by the followers of Rousseau, and after 1800 he was held responsible for the Revolution. But the excesses of clerical reactionaries under the Restoration and the Second Empire rallied the middle and working classes to his memory. At the end of the 19th century, though conservative critics remained hostile, scientific research into his life and works was given impetus by Gustave Lanson. Voltaire himself did not hope that all his vast quantity of writings would be remembered by posterity. His epic poems and lyrical verse are virtually dead, as are his plays. But his contes are continually republished, and his letters are regarded as one of the great monuments of French literature. He bequeathed a lesson to humanity, which has lost nothing of its value. He taught his readers to think clearly; his was a mind at once precise and generous. “He is the necessary philosopher,” wrote Lanson, “in a world of bureaucrats, engineers, and producers.”

René Henry Pomeau

 





 
 



Julien Offroy de La Mettrie
French physician and philosopher

born Dec. 25, 1709, Saint-Malo, Fr.
died Nov. 11, 1751, Berlin

Main
French physician and philosopher whose Materialistic interpretation of psychic phenomena laid the groundwork for future developments of behaviourism and played an important part in the history of modern Materialism.

La Mettrie obtained a medical degree at Reims, studied medicine in Leiden under Hermann Boerhaave (some of whose works he translated into French), and served as surgeon to the French military. A personal illness convinced him that psychic phenomena were directly related to organic changes in the brain and nervous system. The outcry following publication of these views in Histoire naturelle de l’âme (1745; “Natural History of the Soul”) forced his departure from Paris. The book was burned by the public hangman. In Holland La Mettrie published L’Homme-machine (1747; L’Homme Machine: A Study in the Origins of an Idea, 1960), developing more boldly and completely, and with great originality, his Materialistic and atheistic views. The ethics of these principles were worked out in Discours sur le bonheur ou l’anti-Sénèque (“Discourse on Happiness, or the Anti-Seneca”). He was then forced to leave Holland but was welcomed in Berlin (1748) by Frederick the Great, made court reader, and appointed to the academy of science. In accord with his belief that atheism was the sole road to happiness and the pleasure of the senses the purpose of life (Le Petit Homme à longue queue, 1751; “The Small Man in a Long Queue”), he was a carefree hedonist to the end, finally dying of ptomaine poisoning. His collected works, Oeuvres philosophiques, were published in 1751, and selections were edited by Marcelle Tisserand in 1954.

 





 
 



Etienne Bonnot de Condillac
French philosopher

born Sept. 30, 1715, Grenoble, Fr.
died Aug. 2/3, 1780, Flux

Main
philosopher, psychologist, logician, economist, and the leading advocate in France of the ideas of John Locke (1632–1704).

Ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1740, Condillac began a lifelong friendship in the same year with the philosopher J.-J. Rousseau, employed by Condillac’s elder brother, Jean, as a tutor. Moving to Paris, Condillac became acquainted with the Encyclopaedists, a group of writers led by Denis Diderot. There his position was established in the literary salons by his first book, Essai sur l’origine des connaissances humaines (1746; “Essay on the Origin of Human Knowledge”), and by his second, Traité des systèmes (1749; “Treatise on Systems”). In 1752 he was elected to the Berlin Academy. His Traité des sensations (1754; “Treatise on Sensations”) and Traité des animaux (1755; “Treatise on Animals”) followed, and in 1758 he was appointed tutor to the young prince Ferdinand of Parma. He was elected to the Académie Française in 1768 and later published Le Commerce et le gouvernement considérés relativement l’un à l’autre (1776; “Commerce and Government Considered in Relation to One Another”). Finding the irreligious climate of Parisian intellectual society offensive, he retired to spend his last years at Flux, near Beaugency.

In his works La Logique (1780) and La Langue des calculs (1798; “The Language of Calculation”), Condillac emphasized the importance of language in logical reasoning, stressing the need for a scientifically designed language and for mathematical calculation as its basis. His economic views, which were presented in Le Commerce et le gouvernement, were based on the notion that value depends not on labour but rather on utility. The need for something useful, he argued, gives rise to value, while prices result from the exchange of valued items.

As a philosopher, Condillac gave systematic expression to the views of Locke, previously made fashionable in France by Voltaire. Like Locke, Condillac maintained an empirical sensationalism based on the principle that observations made by sense perception are the foundation for human knowledge. The ideas of the Essai are close to those of Locke, though on certain points Condillac modified Locke’s position. In his most significant work, the Traité des sensations, Condillac questioned Locke’s doctrine that the senses provide intuitive knowledge. He doubted, for example, that the human eye makes naturally correct judgments about the shapes, sizes, positions, and distances of objects. Examining the knowledge gained by each sense separately, he concluded that all human knowledge is transformed sensation, to the exclusion of any other principle, such as Locke’s additional principle of reflection.

Despite Condillac’s naturalistic psychology, his statements concerning the nature of religion are consistent with his priestly vocation. He maintained a belief in the reality of the soul, which did not conflict, in his view, with the opening words of the Essai: “Whether we rise to heaven, or descend to the abyss, we never get outside ourselves—it is always our own thoughts that we perceive.” This doctrine became the foundation of the French philosophical movement known as Idéologie and was taught for more than 50 years in French schools.

 





 
 



Paul-Henri Dietrich, baron d’Holbach
French philosopher

born December 1723, Edesheim, near Landau, Rhenish Palatinate
died June 21, 1789, Paris

Main
French encyclopaedist and philosopher, a celebrated exponent of atheism and Materialism, whose inherited wealth allowed him to entertain many of the noted philosophers of the day, some of whom (Comte de Buffon, J.-J. Rousseau, d’Alembert) reportedly withdrew from his gatherings, frightened by the audacity of their speculations.

In deference to his uncle (F.A. d’Holbach, a naturalized French citizen to whom he owed his wealth), he added the surname d’Holbach to that of Dietrich (sometimes rendered in French as Thiry). He himself became a naturalized French citizen in 1749.

D’Holbach contributed to Diderot’s Encyclopédie 376 articles (translations from German texts), mostly on chemistry and allied scientific topics. His most popular book, Système de la nature (1770; “The System of Nature”), published under the name of J.B. Mirabaud, caustically derided religion and espoused an atheistic, deterministic Materialism: causality became simply relationships of motion, man became a machine devoid of free will, and religion was excoriated as harmful and untrue. In Le Christianisme dévoilé (1761; “Christianity Unveiled”), published under the name of a deceased friend, N.A. Boulanger, he attacked Christianity as contrary to reason and nature. Système social (1773; “Social System”) placed morality and politics in a utilitarian framework wherein duty became prudent self-interest. His writings, considered mere echoes of opinions expressed by those who shared his table, were illogical and inconsistent. Voltaire felt the need to reply, but J.W. von Goethe and Percy Bysshe Shelley fell under their sway. Benevolent by nature, d’Holbach set aside his personal dislikes by offering his home to exiled Jesuits in 1762.

 





 
 



Denis Diderot
French philosopher

born October 5, 1713, Langres, France
died July 31, 1784, Paris

Main
French man of letters and philosopher who, from 1745 to 1772, served as chief editor of the Encyclopédie, one of the principal works of the Age of Enlightenment.

Youth and marriage
Diderot was the son of a widely respected master cutler. He was tonsured in 1726, though he did not in fact enter the church, and was first educated by the Jesuits at Langres. From 1729 to 1732 he studied in Paris at the Collège d’Harcourt or at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand or possibly at both these institutions, and he was awarded the degree of master of arts in the University of Paris on Sept. 2, 1732. He then studied law as an articled clerk in the office of Clément de Ris but was more interested in languages, literature, philosophy, and higher mathematics. Of his life in the period 1734 to 1744 comparatively little is known. He dropped an early ambition to enter the theatre and, instead, taught for a living, led a penurious existence as a publisher’s hack, and wrote sermons for missionaries at 50 écus each. At one time he seems to have entertained the idea of taking up an ecclesiastical career, but it is most unlikely that he entered a seminary. Yet his work testifies to his having gone through a religious crisis, and he progressed relatively slowly from Roman Catholicism to deism and then to atheism and philosophical materialism. That he led a disordered and bohemian existence at this time is made clear in his posthumously published novel, Le Neveu de Rameau (Rameau’s Nephew). He frequented the coffeehouses, particularly the Régence and the Procope, where he met the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in 1741 and established a friendship with him that was to last for 15 years, until it was broken by a quarrel.

In 1741 he also met Antoinette Champion, daughter of a linendraper, and in 1743 he married her—secretly, because of his father’s disapproval. The relationship was based on romantic love, but the marriage was not a happy one owing to incompatible interests. The bond held, however, partly through a common affection for their daughter, Angélique, sole survivor of three children, who was born in 1753 and whom Diderot eventually married to Albert de Vandeul, a man of some standing at Langres. Diderot lavished care over her education, and she eventually wrote a short account of his life and classified his manuscripts.


Mature career
In order to earn a living, Diderot undertook translation work and in 1745 published a free translation of the Inquiry Concerning Virtue by the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, whose fame and influence he spread in France. Diderot’s own Pensées philosophiques (1746; Philosophic Thoughts), an original work with new and explosive anti-Christian ideas couched in a vivid prose, contains many passages directly translated from or inspired by Shaftesbury. The proceeds of this publication, as of his allegedly indecent novel Les Bijoux indiscrets (1748), were used to meet the demands of his mistress, Madeleine de Puisieux, with whom he broke a few years later. In 1755 he met Sophie Volland, with whom he formed an attachment that was to last more than 20 years. The liaison was founded on common interests, natural sympathy, and a deepening friendship. His correspondence with Sophie, together with his other letters, forms one of the most fascinating documents on Diderot’s personality, enthusiasms, and ideas and on the intellectual society of Louise d’Épinay, F.M. Grimm, the Baron d’Holbach, Ferdinando Galiani, and other deistic writers and thinkers (Philosophes) with whom he felt most at home. Through Rousseau, Diderot met Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, the philosopher, and for a time the three friends dined together at the Panier Fleuri.


The Encyclopédie
In 1745 the publisher André Le Breton approached Diderot with a view to bringing out a French translation of Ephraim Chambers’ Cyclopaedia, after two other translators had withdrawn from the project. Diderot undertook the task with the distinguished mathematician Jean Le Rond d’Alembert as coeditor but soon profoundly changed the nature of the publication, broadening its scope and turning it into an important organ of radical and revolutionary opinion. He gathered around him a team of dedicated litterateurs, scientists, and even priests, many of whom, as yet unknown, were to make their mark in later life. All were fired with a common purpose: to further knowledge and, by so doing, strike a resounding blow against reactionary forces in church and state. As a dictionnaire raisonné (“rational dictionary”), the Encyclopédie was to bring out the essential principles and applications of every art and science. The underlying philosophy was rationalism and a qualified faith in the progress of the human mind.

In 1749 Diderot published the Lettre sur les aveugles (An Essay on Blindness), remarkable for its proposal to teach the blind to read through the sense of touch, along lines that Louis Braille was to follow in the 19th century, and for the presentation of the first step in his evolutionary theory of survival by superior adaptation. This daring exposition of the doctrine of materialist atheism, with its emphasis on human dependence on sense impression, led to Diderot’s arrest and incarceration in the prison of Vincennes for three months. Diderot’s work on the Encyclopédie, however, was not interrupted for long, and in 1750 he outlined his program for it in a Prospectus, which d’Alembert expanded into the momentous Discours préliminaire (1751). The history of the Encyclopédie, from the publication of the first volume in 1751 to the distribution of the final volumes of plates in 1772, was checkered, but ultimate success was never in doubt. Diderot was undaunted by the government’s censorship of the work and by the criticism of conservatives and reactionaries. A critical moment occurred in 1758, on the publication of the seventh volume, when d’Alembert resigned on receiving warning of trouble and after reading Rousseau’s attack on his article “Genève.” Another serious blow came when the philosopher Helvétius’ book De l’esprit (“On the Mind”), said to be a summary of the Encyclopédie, was condemned to be burned by the Parlement of Paris, and the Encyclopédie itself was formally suppressed. Untempted by Voltaire’s offer to have the publication continued outside France, Diderot held on in Paris with great tenacity and published the Encyclopédie’s later volumes surreptitiously. He was deeply wounded, however, by the discovery in 1764 that Le Breton had secretly removed compromising material from the corrected proof sheets of about 10 folio volumes. The censored passages, though of considerable interest, would not have made an appreciable difference on the impact of the work. To the 17 volumes of text and 11 volumes of plates (1751–72), Diderot contributed innumerable articles partly original, partly derived from varied sources, especially on the history of philosophy (“Eclectisme” [“Eclecticism”]), social theory (“Droit naturel” [“Natural Law”]), aesthetics (“Beau” [“The Beautiful”]), and the crafts and industries of France. He was moreover an energetic general director and supervised the illustrations for 3,000 to 4,000 plates of exceptional quality, which are still prized by historians today. Philosophical and scientific works. While editing the Encyclopédie, Diderot managed to compose most of his own important works as well. In 1751 he published his Lettre sur les sourds et muets (“Letter on the Deaf and Dumb”), which studies the function of language and deals with points of aesthetics, and in 1754 he published the Pensées sur l’interprétation de la nature (“Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature”), an influential short treatise on the new experimental methods in science. Diderot published few other works in his lifetime, however. His writings, in manuscript form, were known only to his friends and the privileged correspondents of the Correspondance littéraire, a sort of private newspaper edited by Baron Grimm that was circulated in manuscript form. The posthumous publication of these manuscripts, among which are several bold and original works in the sciences, philosophy, and literature, have made Diderot more highly appreciated in the 20th century than he was in France during his lifetime.

Among his philosophical works, special mention may be made of L’Entretien entre d’Alembert et Diderot (written 1769, published 1830; “Conversation Between d’Alembert and Diderot”), Le Rêve de d’Alembert (written 1769, published 1830; “D’Alembert’s Dream”), and the Eléments de physiologie (1774–80). In these works Diderot developed his materialist philosophy and arrived at startling intuitive insights into biology and chemistry; in speculating on the origins of life without divine intervention, for instance, he foreshadowed the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin and put forth a strikingly prophetic picture of the cellular structure of matter. Though Diderot’s speculations in the field of science are of great interest, it is the dialectical brilliance of their presentation that is exceptional. His ideas, often propounded in the form of paradox, and invariably in dialogue, stem from a sense of life’s ambiguities and a profound understanding of the complexities and contradictions inherent in human nature.


Novels, dialogues, and plays
Four works of prose fiction by Diderot were published posthumously: the novel La Religieuse (written 1760, published 1796; The Nun); the novel Jacques le fataliste et son maître (written 1773, published 1796; Jacques the Fatalist); Le Neveu de Rameau (written between 1761 and 1774, published in German 1805; Rameau’s Nephew), a character sketch in dialogue form; and Supplément au voyage de Bougainville (written 1772, published 1796; “Supplement to Bougainville’s Voyage”).

La Religieuse describes the distressing and ultimately tragic experiences of a girl who is forced to become a nun against her will. In Jacques le fataliste, Jacques, who believes in fate, is involved in an endless argument with his master, who does not, as they journey along retelling the story of their lives and loves. Diderot’s philosophical standpoint in this work is ambivalent, as is his ethical standpoint in Le Neveu de Rameau. The latter work is a dialogue between Diderot and a bohemian musician who is based partly on the nephew of the French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. This work may properly be called a satire, since it challenges the cant of contemporary society and the hypocrisy of its morality. Rameau’s nephew is depicted as a shamelessly selfish parasite, an eccentric, and a musician who is gifted yet unable to make his mark through insufficient talent. His dialogue with Diderot is spontaneous and witty, and there are digressions, a lengthy disquisition on contemporary musical controversies, and diatribes against Diderot’s own enemies. This brilliantly conceived, highly original and entertaining divertissement reveals the complexity of Diderot’s personality and of his philosophical ideas. In the Supplément au voyage de Bougainville Diderot, in discussing the mores of the South Pacific islanders, emphasizes his conception of a free society based on tolerance and develops his views on sexual freedom.

Diderot’s major plays, Le Fils naturel (1757; “The Illegitimate Son”) and Le Père de famille (1758; “The Father of the Family”), make tedious reading today. His theories on drama, however, expounded in Entretiens sur le fils naturel (1757; “Discussion on the Illegitimate Son”) and Discours sur la poésie dramatique (“Discourse on Dramatic Poetry”), were to exercise a determining influence on the German dramatist Gotthold Lessing. Taking as his starting point the comédie larmoyante, Diderot stressed the need for greater realism on the stage and favoured the serious bourgeois drama of real life. Characters should be presented against their milieu and belong to specific professions, so that the moral and social implications of the play, which he considered to be of primary importance, should have greater impact. In his Paradoxe sur le comédien (written 1773, published 1830), Diderot argued that great actors must possess judgment and penetration without “sensibility”—i.e., without actually experiencing the emotions they are portraying as characters on the stage. Although Diderot wrote literary criticism, it is as the first great art critic, covering the Paris Salons, or annual art exhibitions, for the Correspondance littéraire, that he is best remembered. His analysis of art, artists, and the technique of painting, together with the excellence of his taste and his style, have won him posthumous fame; his Essai sur la peinture (written 1765, published 1796; “Essay on Painting”), especially, was admired by Goethe and later by the 19th-century poet and critic Charles Baudelaire.


Late life and works
The completion of the Encyclopédie in 1772 left Diderot without a source of income. To relieve him of financial worry, Catherine the Great of Russia first bought his library through an agent in Paris, requesting him to retain the books until she required them, and then appointed him librarian on an annual salary for the duration of his life. Diderot went to St. Petersburg in 1773 to thank her for her financial support and was received with great honour and warmth. He wrote for her the Plan d’une université pour le gouvernement de Russie (“Plan of a University for the Government of Russia”). He stayed five months, long enough to become disillusioned with enlightened despotism as a solution to social ills.

In 1774 Diderot, now old and ill, worked on a refutation of Helvétius’ work De l’homme (1772; “On Man”), which was an amplification of the destroyed De l’esprit. He wrote Entretien d’un philosophe avec la Maréchale (“Conversation with the Maréchale”) and published in 1778 Essai sur les règnes de Claude et de Néron (“Essay on the Reigns of Claudius and Nero”). Usually known as Essai sur la vie de Sénèque (“Essay on the Life of Seneca”), the work may be regarded as an apologia for that Roman satirist and philosopher. Diderot’s intimate circle was dwindling. Mme d’Épinay and d’Alembert died, leaving only Grimm and Baron d’Holbach. Slowly Diderot retired into the shell of his own personal and family life. The death of Sophie Volland in February 1784 was a great grief to him; he survived her by a few months, dying of coronary thrombosis in the house in the rue de Richelieu that Catherine the Great had put at his disposal. Apocryphally, his last words were: “Le premier pas vers la philosophie, c’est l’incré” (“The first step toward philosophy is incredulity”). Through the intervention of his son-in-law, he was buried in consecrated ground at Saint-Roch.

Robert Niklaus

 





 
 



Jean Le Rond d’Alembert
French mathematician and philosopher

born , Nov. 17, 1717, Paris, France
died Oct. 29, 1783, Paris

Main
French mathematician, philosopher, and writer, who achieved fame as a mathematician and scientist before acquiring a considerable reputation as a contributor to and editor of the famous Encyclopédie.

Early life
The illegitimate son of a famous hostess, Mme de Tencin, and one of her lovers, the chevalier Destouches-Canon, d’Alembert was abandoned on the steps of the Parisian church of Saint-Jean-le-Rond, from which he derived his Christian name. Although Mme de Tencin never recognized her son, Destouches eventually sought out the child and entrusted him to a glazier’s wife, whom d’Alembert always treated as his mother. Through his father’s influence, he was admitted to a prestigious Jansenist school, enrolling first as Jean-Baptiste Daremberg and subsequently changing his name, perhaps for reasons of euphony, to d’Alembert. Although Destouches never disclosed his identity as father of the child, he left his son an annuity of 1,200 livres. D’Alembert’s teachers at first hoped to train him for theology, being perhaps encouraged by a commentary he wrote on St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, but they inspired in him only a lifelong aversion to the subject. He spent two years studying law and became an advocate in 1738, although he never practiced. After taking up medicine for a year, he finally devoted himself to mathematics—“the only occupation,” he said later, “which really interested me.” Apart from some private lessons, d’Alembert was almost entirely self-taught.


Mathematics
In 1739 he read his first paper to the Academy of Sciences, of which he became a member in 1741. In 1743, at the age of 26, he published his important Traité de dynamique, a fundamental treatise on dynamics containing the famous “d’Alembert’s principle,” which states that Newton’s third law of motion (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) is true for bodies that are free to move as well as for bodies rigidly fixed. Other mathematical works followed very rapidly; in 1744 he applied his principle to the theory of equilibrium and motion of fluids, in his Traité de l’équilibre et du mouvement des fluides. This discovery was followed by the development of partial differential equations, a branch of the theory of calculus, the first papers on which were published in his Réflexions sur la cause générale des vents (1747). It won him a prize at the Berlin Academy, to which he was elected the same year. In 1747 he applied his new calculus to the problem of vibrating strings, in his Recherches sur les cordes vibrantes; in 1749 he furnished a method of applying his principles to the motion of any body of a given shape; and in 1749 he found an explanation of the precession of the equinoxes (a gradual change in the position of the Earth’s orbit), determined its characteristics, and explained the phenomenon of the nutation (nodding) of the Earth’s axis, in Recherches sur la précession des équinoxes et sur la nutation de l’axe de la terre. In 1752 he published Essai d’une nouvelle théorie de la résistance des fluides, an essay containing various original ideas and new observations. In it he considered air as an incompressible elastic fluid composed of small particles and, carrying over from the principles of solid body mechanics the view that resistance is related to loss of momentum on impact of moving bodies, he produced the surprising result that the resistance of the particles was zero. D’Alembert was himself dissatisfied with the result; the conclusion is known as “d’Alembert’s paradox” and is not accepted by modern physicists. In the Memoirs of the Berlin Academy he published findings of his research on integral calculus—which devises relationships of variables by means of rates of change of their numerical value—a branch of mathematical science that is greatly indebted to him. In his Recherches sur différents points importants du système du monde (1754–56) he perfected the solution of the problem of the perturbations (variations of orbit) of the planets that he had presented to the academy some years before. From 1761 to 1780 he published eight volumes of his Opuscules mathématiques.


The Encyclopédie
Meanwhile, d’Alembert began an active social life and frequented well-known salons, where he acquired a considerable reputation as a witty conversationalist and mimic. Like his fellow Philosophes—those thinkers, writers, and scientists who believed in the sovereignty of reason and nature (as opposed to authority and revelation) and rebelled against old dogmas and institutions—he turned to the improvement of society. A rationalist thinker in the free-thinking tradition, he opposed religion and stood for tolerance and free discussion; in politics the Philosophes sought a liberal monarchy with an “enlightened” king who would supplant the old aristocracy with a new, intellectual aristocracy. Believing in man’s need to rely on his own powers, they promulgated a new social morality to replace Christian ethics. Science, the only real source of knowledge, had to be popularized for the benefit of the people, and it was in this tradition that he became associated with the Encyclopédie about 1746. When the original idea of a translation into French of Ephraim Chambers’ English Cyclopædia was replaced by that of a new work under the general editorship of the Philosophe Denis Diderot, d’Alembert was made editor of the mathematical and scientific articles. In fact, he not only helped with the general editorship and contributed articles on other subjects but also tried to secure support for the enterprise in influential circles. He wrote the Discours préliminaire that introduced the first volume of the work in 1751. This was a remarkable attempt to present a unified view of contemporary knowledge, tracing the development and interrelationship of its various branches and showing how they formed coherent parts of a single structure; the second section of the Discours was devoted to the intellectual history of Europe from the time of the Renaissance. In 1752 d’Alembert wrote a preface to Volume III, which was a vigorous rejoinder to the Encyclopédie’s critics, while an Éloge de Montesquieu, which served as the preface to Volume V (1755), skillfully but somewhat disingenuously presented Montesquieu as one of the Encyclopédie’s supporters. Montesquieu had, in fact, refused an invitation to write the articles “Democracy” and “Despotism,” and the promised article on “Taste” remained unfinished at his death in 1755.

In 1756 d’Alembert went to stay with Voltaire at Geneva, where he also collected information for an Encyclopédie article, “Genève,” which praised the doctrines and practices of the Genevan pastors. When it appeared in 1757, it aroused angry protests in Geneva because it affirmed that many of the ministers no longer believed in Christ’s divinity and also advocated (probably at Voltaire’s instigation) the establishment of a theatre. This article prompted Rousseau, who had contributed the articles on music to the Encyclopédie, to argue in his Lettre à d’Alembert sur les spectacles (1758) that the theatre is invariably a corrupting influence. D’Alembert himself replied with an incisive but not unfriendly Lettre à J.-J. Rousseau, citoyen de Genève. Gradually discouraged by the growing difficulties of the enterprise, d’Alembert gave up his share of the editorship at the beginning of 1758, thereafter limiting his commitment to the production of mathematical and scientific articles.


Later literary, scientific, and philosophical work
His earlier literary and philosophical activity, however, led to the publication of his Mélanges de littérature, d’histoire et de philosophie (1753). This work contained the impressive Essai sur les gens de lettres, which exhorted writers to pursue “liberty, truth and poverty” and also urged aristocratic patrons to respect the talents and independence of such writers.

Largely as a result of the persistent campaigning of Mme du Deffand, a prominent hostess to writers and scientists, d’Alembert was elected to the French Academy in 1754; he proved himself to be a zealous member, working hard to enhance the dignity of the institution in the eyes of the public and striving steadfastly for the election of members sympathetic to the cause of the Philosophes. His personal position became even more influential in 1772 when he was made permanent secretary. One of his functions was the continuation of the Histoire des membres de l’Académie; this involved writing the biographies of all the members who had died between 1700 and 1772. He paid tribute to his predecessors by means of Éloges that were delivered at public sessions of the academy. Though of limited literary value, they throw interesting light on his attitude toward many contemporary problems and also reveal his desire to establish a link between the Academy and the public.

From 1752 onward, Frederick II of Prussia repeatedly tried to persuade d’Alembert to become president of the Berlin Academy, but the philosopher contented himself with a brief visit to the King at the Rhine village of Wesel in 1755 and a longer stay at Potsdam in 1763. For many years he gave the King advice on the running of the academy and the appointment of new members. In 1762 another monarch, the empress Catherine II of Russia, invited d’Alembert to become tutor to her son, the grand duke Paul; this offer also was refused. Apart from fearing the harmful effects of foreign residence upon his health and personal position, d’Alembert did not wish to be separated from the intellectual life of Paris.

Although as a skeptic, d’Alembert willingly supported the Philosophes’ hostility to Christianity, he was too cautious to become openly aggressive. The expulsion of the Jesuits from France, however, prompted him to publish “by a disinterested author,” at first anonymously, and then in his own name, Sur la destruction des Jésuites en France (1765; An Account of the Destruction of the Jesuits in France, 1766). He there tried to show that the Jesuits, in spite of their qualities as scholars and educators, had destroyed themselves through their inordinate love of power.

During these years d’Alembert’s interests included musical theory. His Éléments de musique of 1752 was an attempt to expound the principles of the composer Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764), who had consolidated contemporary musical development into a harmonic system that dominated Western music until about 1900. In 1754 d’Alembert published an essay expressing his thoughts on music in general—and French music in particular—entitled Réflexions sur la musique en général et sur la musique française en particulier. He also published in his mathematical opuscules treatises on acoustics, the physics of sound, and he contributed several articles on music to the Encyclopédie. In 1765 a serious illness compelled him to leave his foster-mother’s house, and he eventually went to live in the house of Julie de Lespinasse, with whom he fell in love. He was the leading intellectual figure in her salon, which became an important recruiting centre for the French Academy. Although they may have been intimate for a short time, d’Alembert soon had to be satisfied with the role of steadfast friend. He discovered the extent of her passionate involvement with other men only after Julie’s death in 1776. He transferred his home to an apartment at the Louvre—to which he was entitled as secretary to the Academy—where he died.


Assessment
Posterity has not confirmed the judgment of those contemporaries who placed d’Alembert’s reputation next to Voltaire’s. In spite of his original contributions to the mathematical sciences, intellectual timidity prevented his literary and philosophical work from attaining true greatness. Nevertheless, his scientific background enabled him to elaborate a philosophy of science that, inspired by the rationalist ideal of the ultimate unity of all knowledge, established “principles” making possible the interconnection of the various branches of science. Moreover, d’Alembert was a typical 18th-century Philosophe, for in both his life and his work he tried to invest the name with dignity and serious meaning. In his personal life he was simple and frugal, never seeking wealth and dispensing charity whenever possible, always watchful of his integrity and independence, and constantly using his influence, both at home and abroad, to encourage the advance of “enlightenment.”

Ronald Grimsley

 





 
 



Jean-Baptiste Lamarck
French biologist
in full Jean-Baptiste-Pierre-Antoine de Monet, chevalier de Lamarck

born Aug. 1, 1744, Bazentin-le-Petit, Picardy, France
died Dec. 18, 1829, Paris

Main
pioneer French biologist who is best known for his idea that acquired characters are inheritable, an idea known as Lamarckism, which is controverted by modern genetics and evolutionary theory.

Early life and career
Lamarck was the youngest of 11 children in a family of the lesser nobility. His family intended him for the priesthood, but, after the death of his father and the expulsion of the Jesuits from France, Lamarck embarked on a military career in 1761. As a soldier garrisoned in the south of France, he became interested in collecting plants. An injury forced him to resign in 1768, but his fascination for botany endured, and it was as a botanist that he first built his scientific reputation.

Lamarck gained attention among the naturalists in Paris at the Jardin et Cabinet du Roi (the king’s garden and natural history collection, known informally as the Jardin du Roi) by claiming he could create a system for identifying the plants of France that would be more efficient than any system currently in existence, including that of the great Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus. This project appealed to Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, who was the director of the Jardin du Roi and Linnaeus’s greatest rival. Buffon arranged to have Lamarck’s work published at government expense, and Lamarck received the proceeds from the sales. The work appeared in three volumes under the title Flore française (1778; “French Flora”). Lamarck designed the Flore française specifically for the task of plant identification and used dichotomous keys, which are classification tools that allow the user to choose between opposing pairs of morphological characters (see taxonomy: the objectives of biological classification) to achieve this end.

With Buffon’s support, Lamarck was elected to the Academy of Sciences in 1779. Two years later, Buffon named Lamarck “correspondent” of the Jardin du Roi, evidently to give Lamarck additional status while he escorted Buffon’s son on a scientific tour of Europe. This provided Lamarck with his first official connection, albeit an unsalaried one, with the Jardin du Roi. Shortly after Buffon’s death in 1788, his successor, Flahault de la Billarderie, created a salaried position for Lamarck with the title of “botanist of the King and keeper of the King’s herbaria.”

Between 1783 and 1792 Lamarck published three large botanical volumes for the Encyclopédie méthodique (“Methodical Encyclopaedia”), a massive publishing enterprise begun by French publisher Charles-Joseph Panckoucke in the late 18th century. Lamarck also published botanical papers in the Mémoires of the Academy of Sciences. In 1792 he cofounded and coedited a short-lived journal of natural history, the Journal d’histoire naturelle.


Professorship at the National Museum of Natural History
Lamarck’s career changed dramatically in 1793 when the former Jardin du Roi was transformed into the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (“National Museum of Natural History”). In the changeover, all 12 of the scientists who had been officers of the previous establishment were named as professors and coadministrators of the new institution; however, only two professorships of botany were created. The botanists Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu and René Desfontaines held greater claims to these positions, and Lamarck, in a striking shift of responsibilities, was made professor of the “insects, worms, and microscopic animals.” Although this change of focus was remarkable, it was not wholly unjustified, as Lamarck was an ardent shell collector. Lamarck then set out to classify this large and poorly analyzed expanse of the animal kingdom. Later he would name this group “animals without vertebrae” and invent the term invertebrate. By 1802 Lamarck had also introduced the term biology.

This challenge would have been enough to occupy the energies of most naturalists; however, Lamarck’s intellectual aspirations ran well beyond that of reforming invertebrate classification. In the 1790s he began promoting the broad theories of physics, chemistry, and meteorology that he had been nurturing for almost two decades. He also began thinking about Earth’s geologic history and developed notions that he would eventually publish under the title of Hydrogéologie (1802). In his physico-chemical writings, he advanced an old-fashioned, four-element theory that was self-consciously at odds with the revolutionary advances of the emerging pneumatic chemistry of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier. His colleagues at the Institute of France (the successor to the Academy of Sciences) saw Lamarck’s broad theorizing as unscientific “system building.” Lamarck in turn became increasingly scornful of scientists who preferred “small facts” to “larger,” more important ones. He began to characterize himself as a “naturalist-philosopher,” a person more concerned with the broader processes of nature than the details of the chemist’s laboratory or naturalist’s closet.


The inheritance of acquired characters
In 1800 Lamarck first set forth the revolutionary notion of species mutability during a lecture to students in his invertebrate zoology class at the National Museum of Natural History. By 1802 the general outlines of his broad theory of organic transformation had taken shape. He presented the theory successively in his Recherches sur l’organisation des corps vivans (1802; “Research on the Organization of Living Bodies”), his Philosophie zoologique (1809; “Zoological Philosophy”), and the introduction to his great multivolume work on invertebrate classification, Histoire naturelle des animaux sans vertèbres (1815–22; “Natural History of Invertebrate Animals”). Lamarck’s theory of organic development included the idea that the very simplest forms of plant and animal life were the result of spontaneous generation. Life became successively diversified, he claimed, as the result of two very different sorts of causes. He called the first “the power of life,” or the “cause that tends to make organization increasingly complex,” whereas he classified the second as the modifying influence of particular circumstances (that is, the effects of the environment). He explained this in his Philosophie zoologique: “The state in which we now see all the animals is on the one hand the product of the increasing composition of organization, which tends to form a regular gradation, and on the other hand that of the influences of a multitude of very different circumstances that continually tend to destroy the regularity in the gradation of the increasing composition of organization.”

With this theory, Lamarck offered much more than an account of how species change. He also explained what he understood to be the shape of a truly “natural” system of classification of the animal kingdom. The primary feature of this system was a single scale of increasing complexity composed of all the different classes of animals, starting with the simplest microscopic organisms, or “infusorians,” and rising up to the mammals. The species, however, could not be arranged in a simple series. Lamarck described them as forming “lateral ramifications” with respect to the general “masses” of organization represented by the classes. Lateral ramifications in species resulted when they underwent transformations that reflected the diverse, particular environments to which they had been exposed.

By Lamarck’s account, animals, in responding to different environments, adopted new habits. Their new habits caused them to use some organs more and some organs less, which resulted in the strengthening of the former and the weakening of the latter. New characters thus acquired by organisms over the course of their lives were passed on to the next generation (provided, in the case of sexual reproduction, that both of the parents of the offspring had undergone the same changes). Small changes that accumulated over great periods of time produced major differences. Lamarck thus explained how the shapes of giraffes, snakes, storks, swans, and numerous other creatures were a consequence of long-maintained habits. The basic idea of “the inheritance of acquired characters” had originated with Anaxagoras, Hippocrates, and others, but Lamarck was essentially the first naturalist to argue at length that the long-term operation of this process could result in species change.

Later in the century, after English naturalist Charles Darwin advanced his theory of evolution by natural selection, the idea of the inheritance of acquired characters came to be identified as a distinctively “Lamarckian” view of organic change (though Darwin himself also believed that acquired characters could be inherited). The idea was not seriously challenged in biology until the German biologist August Weismann did so in the 1880s. In the 20th century, since Lamarck’s idea failed to be confirmed experimentally and the evidence commonly cited in its favour was given different interpretations, it became thoroughly discredited.

Lamarck made his most important contributions to science as a botanical and zoological systematist, as a founder of invertebrate paleontology, and as an evolutionary theorist. In his own day, his theory of evolution was generally rejected as implausible, unsubstantiated, or heretical. Today he is primarily remembered for his notion of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Nonetheless, Lamarck stands out in the history of biology as the first writer to set forth—both systematically and in detail—a comprehensive theory of organic evolution that accounted for the successive production of all the different forms of life on Earth.

Richard W. Burkhardt, Jr.

 





 
 



Georges-Louis Leclerc, count de Buffon
French naturalist
original name (until c. 1725) Georges-Louis Leclerc, or (c. 1725–73) Georges-Louis Leclerc De Buffon

born September 7, 1707, Montbard, France
died April 16, 1788, Paris

Main
French naturalist, remembered for his comprehensive work on natural history, Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière (begun in 1749). He was created a count in 1773.

Buffon’s father, Benjamin Leclerc, was a state official in Burgundy; his mother was a woman of spirit and learning, and he was fond of saying that he got his intelligence from her. The name Buffon came from an estate that he inherited from his mother at about the age of 25.

Beginning his studies at the College of Godrans in Dijon, which was run by the Jesuits, he seems now to have been only an average student, but one with a marked taste for mathematics. His father wanted him to have a legal career, and in 1723 he began the study of law. In 1728, however, he went to Angers, where he seems to have studied medicine and botany as well as mathematics.

He was forced to leave Angers after a duel and took refuge at Nantes, where he lived with a young Englishman, the duke of Kingston. The two young men traveled to Italy, arriving in Rome at the beginning of 1732. They also visited England, and while there Buffon was elected a member of the Royal Society.

The death of his mother called him back to France. He settled down on the family estate at Montbard, where he undertook his first research in the calculus of probability and in the physical sciences. Buffon at that time was particularly interested in questions of plant physiology. In 1735 he published a translation of Stephen Hales’s Vegetable Staticks, in the preface of which he developed his conception of scientific method. Maintaining an interest in mathematics, he published a translation of Sir Isaac Newton’s Fluxions in 1740. In his preface to this work he discussed the history of the differences between Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz over the discovery of the infinitesimal calculus. He also made researches on the properties of timbers and their improvement in his forests in Burgundy.

In 1739, at the age of 32, he was appointed keeper of the Jardin du Roi (the royal botanical garden, now the Jardin des Plantes) and of the museum that formed part of it through the patronage of the minister of marine, J.-F.-P. de Maurepas, who realized the importance of science and was anxious to use Buffon’s knowledge of timber for the shipbuilding projects of the French government. Maurepas also charged Buffon to undertake a catalog of the royal collections in natural history, which the ambitious Buffon transformed into an undertaking to produce an account of the whole of nature. This became his great work, Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière (1749–1804), which was the first modern attempt to systematically present all existing knowledge in the fields of natural history, geology, and anthropology in a single publication.

Buffon’s Histoire naturelle was translated into various languages and widely read throughout Europe. The first edition is still highly prized by collectors for the beauty of its illustrations. Although Buffon laboured arduously on it—he spent eight months of the year on his estate at Montbard, working up to 12 hours a day—he was able to publish only 36 of the proposed 50 volumes before his death. In the preparation of the first 15 volumes, which appeared in 1749–67, he was assisted by Louis J.M. Daubenton and several other associates. The next seven volumes formed a supplement to the preceding and appeared in 1774–89, the most famous section, Époques de la nature (1778), being contained in the fifth of them. They were succeeded by nine volumes on birds (1770–83), and these again by five volumes on minerals (1783–88). The remaining eight volumes, which complete the first edition, were done by the count de Lacépède after Buffon’s death; they covered reptiles, fishes, and cetaceans. To keep the descriptions of the animals from becoming monotonous, Buffon interspersed them with philosophic discussions on nature, the degeneration of animals, the nature of birds, and other topics.

He was elected to the French Academy, where, on August 25, 1753, he delivered his celebrated Discours sur le style (“Discourse on Style”), containing the line, “Le style c’est l’homme même” (“The style is the man himself”). He was also treasurer to the Academy of Sciences. During the brief trips he made each year to Paris, he frequented the literary and philosophical salons. Although he was a friend of Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d’Alembert, he did not collaborate on their Encyclopédie. He enjoyed his life at Montbard, living in contact with nature and the peasants and managing his properties himself. He built a menagerie and a large aviary there and transformed one of his outbuildings into a laboratory.

Buffon’s wife died in 1769, leaving him with a five-year-old son. The boy showed signs of brilliance, and when he was 17 Buffon asked the naturalist J.-B. Lamarck to take him along on his botanical travels across Europe. However, the younger Buffon was not interested in study. He developed into a spendthrift, and his imprudences eventually led him to the guillotine during the French Revolution (1794).

In 1785 Buffon’s health began to decline. At the beginning of 1788, feeling his end near, he returned to Paris. Unable to leave his room, he was visited each day by his friend Mme Necker, the wife of the finance minister Jacques Necker. Mme Necker, who was with him to the very end, is said to have understood him to murmur, “I declare that I die in the religion in which I was born. . . . I declare publicly that I believe in it.”

Buffon’s position among his contemporaries was by no means assured. Though the public was nearly unanimous in its admiration of him, he met with numerous detractors among the learned. The theologians were aroused by his conceptions of geological history; others criticized his views on biological classification; the philosopher Étienne de Condillac disputed his views on the mental faculties of animals; and many took from his work only some general philosophical ideas about nature that were not faithful to what he had written. Voltaire did not appreciate his style, and d’Alembert called him “the great phrasemonger.” According to the writer J.-F. Marmontel, Buffon had to put up with snubs from the mathematicians, chemists, and astronomers, while the naturalists themselves gave him little support and some even reproached him for writing ostentatiously in a subject that required a simple and natural style. He was even accused of plagiarism but made no reply to his detractors, writing to a friend that “I shall keep absolute silence . . . and let their attacks fall upon themselves.”

In some areas of natural science Buffon had a lasting influence. He was the first to reconstruct geological history in a series of stages, in Époques de la nature (1778). With his notion of lost species he opened the way to the development of paleontology. He was the first to propose the theory that the planets had been created in a collision between the Sun and a comet. While his great project opened up vast areas of knowledge that were beyond his powers to encompass, his Histoire naturelle was the first work to present the previously isolated and apparently disconnected facts of natural history in a generally intelligible form. Buffon’s writings are collected in Oeuvres complètes de Buffon, 12 vol. (1853–55), revised and annotated by Pierre Flourens.

Jean Piveteau

 





 
 



Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu
French political philosopher

born January 18, 1689, Château La Brède, near Bordeaux, France
died February 10, 1755, Paris

Main
French political philosopher whose major work, The Spirit of Laws, was a major contribution to political theory.

Early life and career.
His father, Jacques de Secondat, belonged to an old military family of modest wealth that had been ennobled in the 16th century for services to the crown, while his mother, Marie-Françoise de Pesnel, was a pious lady of partial English extraction. She brought to her husband a great increase in wealth in the valuable wine-producing property of La Brède. When she died in 1696, the barony of La Brède passed to Charles-Louis, who was her eldest child, then aged seven. Educated first at home and then in the village, he was sent away to school in 1700. The school was the Collège de Juilly, close to Paris and in the diocese of Meaux. It was much patronized by the prominent families of Bordeaux, and the priests of the Oratory, to whom it belonged, provided a sound education on enlightened and modern lines.

Charles-Louis left Juilly in 1705, continued his studies at the faculty of law at the University of Bordeaux, was graduated, and became an advocate in 1708; soon after he appears to have moved to Paris in order to obtain practical experience in law. He was called back to Bordeaux by the death of his father in 1713. Two years later he married Jeanne de Lartigue, a wealthy Protestant, who brought him a respectable dowry of 100,000 livres and in due course presented him with two daughters and a son, Jean-Baptiste. Charles-Louis admired and exploited his wife’s business skill and readily left her in charge of the property on his visits to Paris. But he does not appear to have been either faithful or greatly devoted to her. In 1716 his uncle, Jean-Baptiste, baron de Montesquieu, died and left to his nephew his estates, with the barony of Montesquieu, near Agen, and the office of deputy president in the Parlement of Bordeaux. His position was one of some dignity. It carried a stipend but was no sinecure.

The young Montesquieu, at 27, was now socially and financially secure. He settled down to exercise his judicial function (engaging to this end in the minute study of Roman law), to administer his property, and to advance his knowledge of the sciences—especially of geology, biology, and physics—which he studied in the newly formed academy of Bordeaux.

In 1721 he surprised all but a few close friends by publishing his Lettres persanes (Persian Letters, 1722), in which he gave a brilliant satirical portrait of French and particularly Parisian civilization, supposedly seen through the eyes of two Persian travellers. This exceedingly successful work mocks the reign of Louis XIV, which had only recently ended; pokes fun at all social classes; discusses, in its allegorical story of the Troglodytes, the theories of Thomas Hobbes relating to the state of nature. It also makes an original, if naive, contribution to the new science of demography; continually compares Islām and Christianity; reflects the controversy about the papal bull Unigenitus, which was directed against the dissident Catholic group known as the Jansenists; satirizes Roman Catholic doctrine; and is infused throughout with a new spirit of vigorous, disrespectful, and iconoclastic criticism. The work’s anonymity was soon penetrated, and Montesquieu became famous. The new ideas fermenting in Paris had received their most scintillating expression.

Montesquieu now sought to reinforce his literary achievement with social success. Going to Paris in 1722, he was assisted in entering court circles by the Duke of Berwick, the exiled Stuart prince whom he had known when Berwick was military governor at Bordeaux. The tone of life at court was set by the rakish regent, the Duc d’Orléans, and Montesquieu did not disdain its dissipations. It was during this period that he made the acquaintance of the English politician Viscount Bolingbroke, whose political views were later to be reflected in Montesquieu’s analysis of the English constitution.

In Paris his interest in the routine activities of the Parlement in Bordeaux, however, had dwindled. He resented seeing that his intellectual inferiors were more successful than he in court. His office was marketable, and in 1726 he sold it, a move that served both to reestablish his fortunes, depleted by life in the capital, and to assist him, by lending colour to his claim to be resident in Paris, in his attempt to enter the Académie Française. A vacancy there arose in October 1727. Montesquieu had powerful supporters, with Madame de Lambert’s salon firmly pressing his claims, and he was elected, taking his seat on Jan. 24, 1728.

This official recognition of his talent might have caused him to remain in Paris to enjoy it. On the contrary, though older than most noblemen starting on the grand tour, he resolved to complete his education by foreign travel. Leaving his wife at La Brède with full powers over the estate, he set off for Vienna in April 1728, with Lord Waldegrave, nephew of Berwick and lately British ambassador in Paris, as travelling companion. He wrote an account of his travels as interesting as any other of the 18th century. In Vienna he met the soldier and statesman Prince Eugene of Savoy and discussed French politics with him. He made a surprising detour into Hungary to examine the mines. He entered Italy, and, after tasting the pleasures of Venice, proceeded to visit most of the other cities. Conscientiously examining the galleries of Florence, notebook in hand, he developed his aesthetic sense. In Rome he heard the French minister Cardinal Polignac and read his unpublished Latin poem Anti-Lucretius. In Naples he skeptically witnessed the liquefaction of the blood of the city’s patron saint. From Italy he moved through Germany to Holland and thence (at the end of October 1729), in the company of the statesman and wit Lord Chesterfield, to England, where he remained until the spring of 1731.

Montesquieu had a wide circle of acquaintances in England. He was presented at court, and he was received by the Prince of Wales, at whose request he later made an anthology of French songs. He became a close friend of the dukes of Richmond and Montagu. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He attended parliamentary debates and read the political journals of the day. He became a Freemason. He bought extensively for his library. His stay in England was one of the most formative periods of his life.


Major works.
During his travels Montesquieu did not avoid the social pleasures that he had sought in Paris, but his serious ambitions were strengthened. He thought for a time of a diplomatic career but on his return to France decided to devote himself to literature. He hastened to La Brède and remained there, working for two years. Apart from a tiny but controversial treatise on La Monarchie universelle, printed in 1734 but at once withdrawn (so that only his own copy is extant), he was occupied with an essay on the English constitution (not published until 1748, when it became part of his major work) and with his Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence (1734; Reflections on the Causes of the Grandeur and Declension of the Romans, 1734). He had thought of publishing the two together, thus following an English tradition, for, as Voltaire said, the English delighted in comparing themselves with the Romans.

Montesquieu’s literary ambitions were far from exhausted. He had for some time been meditating the project of a major work on law and politics. After the publication of the Considérations, he rested for a short time and then, undismayed by failing eyesight, applied himself to this new and immense task. He undertook an extensive program of reading in law, history, economics, geography, and political theory, filling with his notes a large number of volumes, of which only one survives, Geographica, tome II. He employed a succession of secretaries, sometimes as many as six simultaneously, using them as readers and as amanuenses, but not as précis writers. An effort of this magnitude was entirely foreign to what was publicly known of his character, for he was generally looked on as brilliant, rapid, and superficial. He did not seek to disabuse the world at large. Only a small number of friends knew what he was engaged in. He worked much at La Brède, devoting himself also to the administration of his estates and to the maintenance of his privileges as a landed proprietor. But he continued to visit Paris and to enjoy its social life. He kept there a second library and also made use of the Bibliothèque du Roi. He attended the Académie, visited the salons, and enjoyed meeting Italian and English visitors. At the same time he persistently, unostentatiously pressed on with the preparation of the book that he knew would be a masterpiece. By 1740 its main lines were established and a great part of it was written. By 1743 the text was virtually complete, and he began the first of two thorough and detailed revisions, which occupied him until December 1746. The actual preparation for the press was at hand. A Geneva publisher, J. Barrillot, was selected, further corrections were made, several new chapters were written and in November 1748 the work appeared under the title De l’esprit des loix, ou du rapport que les loix doivent avoir avec la constitution de chaque gouvernement, les moeurs, le climat, la religion, le commerce, etc. (The Spirit of Laws, 1750). It consisted of two quarto volumes, comprising 31 books in 1,086 pages.

L’Esprit des lois is one of the great works in the history of political theory and in the history of jurisprudence. Its author had acquainted himself with all previous schools of thought but identified himself with none. Of the multiplicity of subjects treated by Montesquieu, none remained unadorned. His treatment of three was particularly memorable.

The first of these is his classification of governments, a subject that was de rigueur for a political theorist. Abandoning the classical divisions of his predecessors into monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, Montesquieu produced his own analysis and assigned to each form of government an animating principle: the republic, based on virtue; the monarchy, based on honour; and despotism, based on fear. His definitions show that this classification rests not on the location of political power but on the government’s manner of conducting policy; it involves a historical and not a narrow descriptive approach.

The second of his most noted arguments, the theory of the separation of powers, is treated differently. Dividing political authority into the legislative, executive, and judicial powers, he asserted that, in the state that most effectively promotes liberty, these three powers must be confided to different individuals or bodies, acting independently. His model of such a state was England, which he saw from the point of view of the Tory opposition to the Whig leader, Robert Walpole, as expressed in Bolingbroke’s polemical writings. The chapter in which he expressed this doctrine—book xi, chapter 6, the most famous of the entire book—had lain in his drawers, save for revision or correction, since it was penned in 1734. It at once became perhaps the most important piece of political writing of the 18th century. Though its accuracy has in more recent times been disputed, in its own century it was admired and held authoritative, even in England; it inspired the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Constitution of the United States.

The third of Montesquieu’s most celebrated doctrines is that of the political influence of climate. Basing himself on doctrines met in his reading, on the experience of his travels, and on experiments—admittedly somewhat naive—conducted at Bordeaux, he stressed the effect of climate, primarily thinking of heat and cold, on the physical frame of the individual, and, as a consequence, on the intellectual outlook of society. This influence, he claims, is not, save in primitive societies, insuperable. It is the legislator’s duty to counteract it. Montesquieu took care (as his critics have not always realized) to insist that climate is but one of many factors in an assembly of secondary causes that he called the “general spirit.” The other factors (laws, religion, and maxims of government being the most important) are of a nonphysical nature, and their influence, compared with that of climate, grows as civilization advances.

Society for Montesquieu must be considered as a whole. Religion itself is a social phenomenon, whether considered as a cause or as an effect, and the utility or harmfulness of any faith can be discussed in complete independence of the truth of its doctrines. Here and elsewhere, undogmatic observation was Montesquieu’s preferred method. Sometimes the reader is beguiled by this into the belief that Montesquieu maintains that whatever exists, though it may indeed stand in need of improvement, cannot be wholly bad. Although with a bold parenthesis or a rapid summing-up the reader is reminded that for Montesquieu certain things are intrinsically evil: despotism, slavery, intolerance. Though he never attempted an enumeration of the rights of man and would probably have disapproved of such an attempt, he maintained a firm belief in human dignity.

In the final books of L’Esprit des lois, added at the last moment and imperfectly assimilated to the rest, he addressed himself to the history of law, seeking to explain the division of France into the two zones of written and customary law, and made his contribution to the much discussed controversy about the origins of the French aristocracy. Here he displays not only prudence and common sense, but also a real scholarly capacity, which he had not shown before, for the philological handling of textual evidence.

After the book was published, praise came to Montesquieu from the most varied headquarters. The Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote from London that the work would win the admiration of all the ages; an Italian friend spoke of reading it in an ecstasy of admiration; the Swiss scientist Charles Bonnet said that Montesquieu had discovered the laws of the intellectual world as Newton had those of the physical world. The philosophers of the Enlightenment accepted him as one of their own, as indeed he was. The work was controversial, however, and a variety of denunciatory articles amd pamphlets appeared. Attacks made in the Sorbonne and in the general assembly of the French clergy were deflected, but in Rome, in spite of the intervention of the French ambassador and of several liberal-minded high ecclesiastics and notwithstanding the favourable disposition of the Pope himself, Montesquieu’s enemies were successful, and the work was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1751. This, though it dismayed Montesquieu, was but a momentary setback. He had already published his Défense de L’Esprit des lois (1750). Subtle and good-humoured, but forceful and incisive, this was the most brilliantly written of all his works. His fame was now worldwide.


Last years.
Renown lay lightly on his shoulders. His affability and modesty are commented on by all who met him. He was a faithful friend, kind and helpful to young and unestablished men of letters, witty, though absent-minded, in society. It was to be expected that the editors of the Encyclopédie should wish to have his collaboration, and d’Alembert asked him to write on democracy and despotism. Montesquieu declined, saying that he had already had his say on those themes but would like to write on taste. The resultant Essai sur le goût (Essay on Taste), first drafted about 25 years earlier, was his last work.

Robert Shackleton
 

 





 
 



Giambattista Vico
Italian philosopher

born June 23, 1668, Naples [Italy]
died Jan. 23, 1744, Naples

Main
Italian philosopher of cultural history and law, who is recognized today as a forerunner of cultural anthropology, or ethnology. He attempted, especially in his major work, the Scienza nuova (1725; “New Science”), to bring about the convergence of history, from the one side, and the more systematic social sciences, from the other, so that their interpenetration could form a single science of humanity.

Early life and career.
Vico was the son of a poor bookseller. In his family’s home everyone was miserably huddled together in a mud-floored, ground-level room used simultaneously as a bookshop, living room, and kitchen. When he was scarcely seven, Vico injured his head falling from the ladder that led to the small second-floor attic that served as the sleeping room. The injury appeared so serious that the doctor predicted that it would lead to death or imbecility. Although the injury healed, he became stern and melancholy in nature. Vico later acknowledged this in his autobiography and observed: “such a nature do men with profound and active spirits possess.”

He attended various schools, including a Jesuit college, for short periods but was largely self-taught. He had to study by candlelight in a miserable room crowded with a large family. He often skipped his classes, because his mediocre teachers could offer him nothing more than an arid Scholasticism, the system of Western Christian philosophy that flourished from the 11th to the 15th century but had declined greatly by the time of Vico. Despite his life of poverty, he was able to escape occasionally to the countryside; these excursions opened immense horizons beyond his limited early environment. In fact, personal experience, rather than reading, was the primary source of Vico’s unique genius, although his reading was extensive, varied, and always distinguished by a personal interpretation.

In the course of his reading Vico encountered his first master, the Greek philosopher Plato. A critical spirit quickly intervened, and he turned to Tacitus, a Roman historian, and to Machiavelli, an Italian statesman and political philosopher, who portrayed men not as they should be but as they unfortunately are. Thus, contrasts soon became an important element in his thought: between nature and spirit; between the body, as “this sombre prison,” and the soul; between the high aspirations of the imprisoned soul and the fall that awaits it when it yields to the desires of the senses.

Vico’s thought became increasingly independent, and he preferred to meditate in solitude; but, at the same time, he frequented the fashionable salons, where he met several scholars of the time, such as Thomas Corneille, a French dramatist, and Giovanni Mario Crescimbeni, a literary historian, with whom he debated. Gradually, this circle of scholars became attracted by the ideas of René Descartes, Benedict de Spinoza, and John Locke, which were penetrating Naples at the end of the 17th century. Although Vico was distantly involved in the controversies, he continued to depend more upon the course of his own self-instruction.

Following an attack of typhus, Vico left Naples and accepted a tutoring position in the home of the Duca della Rocca at Vatolla, south of Salerno, where he wrote his most authentic, and most despondent, poetry. There, secretly infatuated with his pupil, the young Giulia della Rocca, he discovered the pain of “social barriers”—barriers that were insuperable, because they were the vestige of entrenched ancient structures. Giulia, who admired Vico, died at the age of 22, shortly after her marriage to a young man “of her sphere.” Although Vico always had a longing for a peaceful world, he felt that the discord that governs the individual spreads and that history itself only partially obeys the designs of Providence.

After his return to Naples, Vico found the next few years less difficult. He recovered from his ill-fated passion and in December 1699 married a childhood friend, Teresa Destito, who was well intentioned but almost illiterate and incapable of understanding him. In the same year he obtained a chair of rhetoric at the University of Naples. One of the duties of the professor of rhetoric was to open the academic year with a Latin oration, and Vico carried out this responsibility by giving the introductory lectures between 1699 and 1708. The last one, printed in 1709 under the title De Nostri Temporis Studiorum Ratione (“On the Method of the Studies of Our Time”), is rich with his reflections about pedagogical methods. This work was followed almost immediately by the publication of Vico’s great metaphysical essay De Antiquissima Italorum Sapientia (“On the Ancient Wisdom of the Italians”), which was a refutation of the Rationalistic system of Descartes.

This tranquil interval, during which he brought his aging father to live with him, did not last. Three of his eight children died at an early age, and another, Ignazio, caused his parents grave anxiety and was even imprisoned for his debts. Vico was also disappointed in his own career, which had initially appeared promising. He failed to obtain the more prestigious and better paid chair of law that he actively sought. When a notice contemptuous of his work appeared in one of the scholarly publications, his fiery temper was sparked, and he wrote his pamphlet “Vici Vindiciae” (“The Vindications of Vico”) in reply. It was distressing for him to see so many mediocre thinkers favoured and to be unable to ensure publication of his most important work.

Period of the “Scienza Nuova.” The outline of the work that he planned to call Scienza nuova first appeared in 1720–21 in a two-volume legal treatise on the “Universal Law.” The outline was written in Latin and appeared in a chapter entitled “Nova Scientia Tentatur” (“The New Science Is Attempted”). The ideas outlined here were to be fully developed in a version that the powerful cardinal Corsini, the future pope Clement XII, agreed to sponsor. According to contemporary practice, this meant that he would assume the costs of publication. At the last moment the Cardinal withdrew, pleading financial difficulties. It is probable, however, that the Cardinal was alarmed by certain of Vico’s propositions, which were bold for that period, such as the notion that human society went through a “bestial” stage and that it is possible for society to revert to this primitive barbarism in which men possess only an obscure form of reason.

According to his autobiography, since he lacked money to publish the full text of his work, Vico sold the only jewel he possessed—a family ring—and reduced his book by two-thirds. It appeared in 1725 under the title Scienza nuova but was unsuccessful. Vico complained bitterly of the virtually universal indifference that his masterpiece evoked. He quickly regained his confidence, however, and returned to his work with energy. His mind was crowded with ideas, but ordering and systematizing them was a trying task for him. He thought as a poet, not as a dialectician. Nevertheless, he began a total revision and restructuring of his work.

In his autobiography Vico revealed that a vain hope had been born in him when Jean Leclerc, an encyclopaedist and one of the greatest scholars of the time, had written to him from Amsterdam in 1722 asking for information about him. Vico had sent his two-volume legal treatise to him, and Leclerc had devoted 17 two-column pages in the 1722 edition of his Bibliothèque ancienne et moderne (“Ancient and Modern Library”) to Vico. This, however, was a trifle in comparison with the 70 pages devoted to Paola Mattia Doria, a friend of Vico from the salons of Naples. His hope was further betrayed when the Scienza nuova was not mentioned in subsequent volumes of the celebrated Bibliothèque.

Vico’s effort to restructure his masterpiece was completed as the second edition of the Scienza nuova. It was actually the fourth edition, if the outline contained in the legal treatise and the “fragments” written between 1729 and 1732 are taken into account. The definitive edition that appeared posthumously in 1744, however, was marked terza impressione (“third edition”) and was conceived according to a very different and greatly revised plan.

Vico’s contemporaries portray him, in his old age, awakening intermittently from his exhaustion to dash off prophetic lines or to comment on a text from some classical author for the few pupils remaining to him. He found satisfaction in the fact that his eldest son, Gennaro, succeeded him in his chair at the university. Surrounded by the three survivors of his once numerous family (Ignazio had died shortly after his release from prison), Vico died. Since the stairway of his house was too narrow to permit passage of his coffin, it had to be lowered through a window, and then it was unceremoniously borne to the church of the Oratorian priests, where his remains are still kept.


Vico’s vision.
Vico had his own vision of man and the universe, and, in a time when the deductive method brought into fashion by Descartes was much employed, he posed the modern problem of sense: the sense of life and of history. He discovered the irrational, the small flame that at certain times grows imperceptibly in the heart of reason. His philosophy recognized the aspirations of humanity, its obsessions and dreams, its precarious achievements, and its frustrations and defeats. He described human societies as passing through stages of growth and decay. The first is a “bestial” condition, from which emerges “the age of the gods,” in which man is ruled by fear of the supernatural. “The age of heroes” is the consequence of alliances formed by family leaders to protect against internal dissent and external attack; in this stage, society is rigidly divided into patricians and plebeians. “The age of men” follows, as the result of class conflict in which the plebeians achieve equal rights, but this stage encounters the problems of corruption, dissolution, and a possible reversion to primitive barbarism. Vico affirmed that Providence must right the course of history so that humanity is not engulfed in successive cataclysms.

According to Vico, the origin of unequal social classes, which often retain the rigidity of primitive castes, must be attributed to imperfect forms of religion, not to technological progress. All of Vico’s anthropology is based on the affirmation of the absolute primacy of religion, which was no doubt suggested to him by the thought of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, an Italian Renaissance philosopher. Vico observed that three principles are dominant in the birth and regeneration of nations: “All the people have a religion; official marriages are celebrated among them; and the burial of the dead is a properly human and universal custom.” Modesty and piety are the basic moral sentiments, the pillars on which the family is built. When they crumble, the descent toward the bestial state of man accelerates. Without expressly saying so, Vico thought that the degeneration that struck down the idolatrous religions of ancient times could even overtake what for him was the true religion—Christianity, which had established monasteries as refuges from the world and had secured the purity of sentiments and morals.

A second basic notion of Vico is that man has a mixed nature: he remains closer to the beast than to the angel. For Vico the second stage of barbarism, which closes the age of men, arises from an excess of reflection or from the predominance of technology. This stage heralds an imminent new beginning of history. The fundamental perversity of the second stage of barbarism makes it, in fact, more dangerous than the first, which in its excess of strength contains noble impulses that need only to be brought under control. Man becomes a coward, an unbeliever, and an informer, hiding his evil intentions behind “flattery and hypocritical wheedling.” Families live huddled together in tentacled cities, veritable “deserts of souls.” These degenerate peoples do not hesitate to rush into the worst of slaveries to find shelter and protection. Money becomes the only value. This dissolution from the age of men to the bestial state exposes humanity to a fate far worse than arrests or regressions of civilizations. Vico hoped to serve warning to men of the evils that could overtake them if they became worshippers of a materialist ideology or the servants of a science uninformed by conscience.


Influence.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the great German writer, received a copy of the second edition of Scienza nuova from an enthusiastic student of Vico whom he visited in Naples in 1787. In an article published that same year, Goethe spoke of the dead writer whose “wisdom is now endlessly praised by Italian legal writers.” He said that the work had been handed to him “as though it were a sacred thing” and that it contained “prophetic insights on the subject of the good and the just that we shall or must attain in the future, insights based on sober meditation about life and about the future.” Convinced by the strength of Vico’s demonstration, Goethe henceforth believed that the evolution of humanity should be represented not by a continually ascending line but by a spiral. Nevertheless, it appears that Vico’s work was not widely read during the 18th century.

In the 19th century, Jules Michelet, a great nationalist and romantic historian of France, called Vico “his own Prometheus,” his intellectual forerunner. Michelet eventually abandoned the idea of recourse to Providence but continued to cite Virgil and Vico as his authorities. Auguste Comte, the French Positivist philosopher, hailed Vico as an influence in the formulation of his law of the three states, or ages, of mankind. Karl Marx, who developed an economic interpretation of history, owed a great deal more to Vico than he himself acknowledged; in fact, there was a close relationship of dependence. They were separated, however, by their major difference over religion. Today, many scholars see in Vico the forerunner of the sciences of anthropology and ethnology. In fact, in recent times, despite the obscurity of his style, Vico has been increasingly recognized as one of the important figures in European intellectual history, and Scienza nuova has been accepted as one of the landmark works in that history.

Jules-Marie Chaix-Ruy

 





 
 



Adam Smith
Scottish philosopher

baptized June 5, 1723, Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scot.
died July 17, 1790, Edinburgh

Main
Scottish social philosopher and political economist. After two centuries, Adam Smith remains a towering figure in the history of economic thought. Known primarily for a single work—An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), the first comprehensive system of political economy—Smith is more properly regarded as a social philosopher whose economic writings constitute only the capstone to an overarching view of political and social evolution. If his masterwork is viewed in relation to his earlier lectures on moral philosophy and government, as well as to allusions in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) to a work he hoped to write on “the general principles of law and government, and of the different revolutions they have undergone in the different ages and periods of society,” then The Wealth of Nations may be seen not merely as a treatise on economics but also as a partial exposition of a much larger scheme of historical evolution.

Early life
Much more is known about Adam Smith’s thought than about his life. He was the son by second marriage of Adam Smith, comptroller of customs at Kirkcaldy, a small (population 1,500) but thriving fishing village near Edinburgh, and Margaret Douglas, daughter of a substantial landowner. Of Smith’s childhood nothing is known other than that he received his elementary schooling in Kirkcaldy and that at the age of four years he was said to have been carried off by gypsies. Pursuit was mounted, and young Adam was abandoned by his captors. “He would have made, I fear, a poor gypsy,” commented his principal biographer.

At the age of 14, in 1737, Smith entered the University of Glasgow, already remarkable as a centre of what was to become known as the Scottish Enlightenment. There he was deeply influenced by Francis Hutcheson, a famous professor of moral philosophy from whose economic and philosophical views he was later to diverge but whose magnetic character seems to have been a main shaping force in Smith’s development. Graduating in 1740, Smith won a scholarship (the Snell Exhibition) and traveled on horseback to Oxford, where he stayed at Balliol College. Compared with the stimulating atmosphere of Glasgow, Oxford was an educational desert. His years there were spent largely in self-education, from which Smith obtained a firm grasp of both classical and contemporary philosophy.

Returning to his home after an absence of six years, Smith cast about for suitable employment. The connections of his mother’s family, together with the support of the jurist and philosopher Lord Henry Kames, resulted in an opportunity to give a series of public lectures in Edinburgh—a form of education then much in vogue in the prevailing spirit of “improvement.” The lectures, which ranged over a wide variety of subjects from rhetoric to history and economics, made a deep impression on some of Smith’s notable contemporaries. They also had a marked influence on Smith’s own career, for in 1751, at the age of 27, he was appointed professor of logic at Glasgow, from which post he transferred in 1752 to the more remunerative professorship of moral philosophy, a subject that embraced the related fields of natural theology, ethics, jurisprudence, and political economy.


Glasgow
Smith then entered upon a period of extraordinary creativity, combined with a social and intellectual life that he afterward described as “by far the happiest, and most honourable period of my life.” During the week he lectured daily from 7:30 to 8:30 am and again thrice weekly from 11 am to noon, to classes of up to 90 students, aged 14 to 16. (Although his lectures were presented in English rather than in Latin, following the precedent of Hutcheson, the level of sophistication for so young an audience strikes one today as extraordinarily demanding.) Afternoons were occupied with university affairs in which Smith played an active role, being elected dean of faculty in 1758; his evenings were spent in the stimulating company of Glasgow society.

Among his wide circle of acquaintances were not only members of the aristocracy, many connected with the government, but also a range of intellectual and scientific figures that included Joseph Black, a pioneer in the field of chemistry; James Watt, later of steam-engine fame; Robert Foulis, a distinguished printer and publisher and subsequent founder of the first British Academy of Design; and, not least, the philosopher David Hume, a lifelong friend whom Smith had met in Edinburgh. Smith was also introduced during these years to the company of the great merchants who were carrying on the colonial trade that had opened to Scotland following its union with England in 1707. One of them, Andrew Cochrane, had been a provost of Glasgow and had founded the famous Political Economy Club. From Cochrane and his fellow merchants Smith undoubtedly acquired the detailed information concerning trade and business that was to give such a sense of the real world to The Wealth of Nations.


The Theory of Moral Sentiments
In 1759 Smith published his first work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Didactic, exhortative, and analytic by turns, it lays the psychological foundation on which The Wealth of Nations was later to be built. In it Smith described the principles of “human nature,” which, together with Hume and the other leading philosophers of his time, he took as a universal and unchanging datum from which social institutions, as well as social behaviour, could be deduced.

One question in particular interested Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. This was a problem that had attracted Smith’s teacher Hutcheson and a number of Scottish philosophers before him. The question was the source of the ability to form moral judgments, including judgments on one’s own behaviour, in the face of the seemingly overriding passions for self-preservation and self-interest. Smith’s answer, at considerable length, is the presence within each of us of an “inner man” who plays the role of the “impartial spectator,” approving or condemning our own and others’ actions with a voice impossible to disregard. (The theory may sound less naive if the question is reformulated to ask how instinctual drives are socialized through the superego.)

The thesis of the impartial spectator, however, conceals a more important aspect of the book. Smith saw humans as creatures driven by passions and at the same time self-regulated by their ability to reason and—no less important—by their capacity for sympathy. This duality serves both to pit individuals against one another and to provide them with the rational and moral faculties to create institutions by which the internecine struggle can be mitigated and even turned to the common good. He wrote in his Moral Sentiments the famous observation that he was to repeat later in The Wealth of Nations: that self-seeking men are often “led by an invisible hand…without knowing it, without intending it, [to] advance the interest of the society.”

It should be noted that scholars have long debated whether Moral Sentiments complemented or was in conflict with The Wealth of Nations. At one level there is a seeming clash between the theme of social morality contained in the first and the largely amoral explication of the economic system in the second. On the other hand, the first book can also be seen as an explanation of the manner in which individuals are socialized to become the market-oriented and class-bound actors that set the economic system into motion.


Travels on the Continent
The Theory quickly brought Smith wide esteem and in particular attracted the attention of Charles Townshend, himself something of an amateur economist, a considerable wit, and somewhat less of a statesman, whose fate it was to be the chancellor of the Exchequer responsible for the measures of taxation that ultimately provoked the American Revolution. Townshend had recently married and was searching for a tutor for his stepson and ward, the young duke of Buccleuch. Influenced by the strong recommendations of Hume and his own admiration for The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he approached Smith to take the charge.

The terms of employment were lucrative (an annual salary of £300 plus traveling expenses and a pension of £300 a year thereafter), considerably more than Smith had earned as a professor. Accordingly, Smith resigned his Glasgow post in 1763 and set off for France the next year as the tutor of the young duke. They stayed mainly in Toulouse, where Smith began working on a book (eventually to be The Wealth of Nations) as an antidote to the excruciating boredom of the provinces. After 18 months of ennui he was rewarded with a two-month sojourn in Geneva, where he met Voltaire, for whom he had the profoundest respect, thence to Paris, where Hume, then secretary to the British embassy, introduced Smith to the great literary salons of the French Enlightenment. There he met a group of social reformers and theorists headed by François Quesnay, who called themselves les économistes but are known in history as the physiocrats. There is some controversy as to the precise degree of influence the physiocrats exerted on Smith, but it is known that he thought sufficiently well of Quesnay to have considered dedicating The Wealth of Nations to him, had not the French economist died before publication.

The stay in Paris was cut short by a shocking event. The younger brother of the duke of Buccleuch, who had joined them in Toulouse, took ill and perished despite Smith’s frantic ministrations. Smith and his charge immediately returned to London. Smith worked in London until the spring of 1767 with Lord Townshend, a period during which he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and broadened still further his intellectual circle to include Edmund Burke, Samuel Johnson, Edward Gibbon, and perhaps Benjamin Franklin. Late that year he returned to Kirkcaldy, where the next six years were spent dictating and reworking The Wealth of Nations, followed by another stay of three years in London, where the work was finally completed and published in 1776.


The Wealth of Nations
Despite its renown as the first great work in political economy, The Wealth of Nations is in fact a continuation of the philosophical theme begun in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. The ultimate problem to which Smith addresses himself is how the inner struggle between the passions and the “impartial spectator”—explicated in Moral Sentiments in terms of the single individual—works its effects in the larger arena of history itself, both in the long-run evolution of society and in terms of the immediate characteristics of the stage of history typical of Smith’s own day.

The answer to this problem enters in Book V, in which Smith outlines the four main stages of organization through which society is impelled, unless blocked by wars, deficiencies of resources, or bad policies of government: the original “rude” state of hunters, a second stage of nomadic agriculture, a third stage of feudal, or manorial, “farming,” and a fourth and final stage of commercial interdependence.

It should be noted that each of these stages is accompanied by institutions suited to its needs. For example, in the age of the huntsman, “there is scarce any property…; so there is seldom any established magistrate or any regular administration of justice.” With the advent of flocks there emerges a more complex form of social organization, comprising not only “formidable” armies but the central institution of private property with its indispensable buttress of law and order as well. It is the very essence of Smith’s thought that he recognized this institution, whose social usefulness he never doubted, as an instrument for the protection of privilege, rather than one to be justified in terms of natural law: “Civil government,” he wrote, “so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.” Finally, Smith describes the evolution through feudalism into a stage of society requiring new institutions, such as market-determined rather than guild-determined wages and free rather than government-constrained enterprise. This later became known as laissez-faire capitalism; Smith called it the system of perfect liberty.

There is an obvious resemblance between this succession of changes in the material basis of production, each bringing its requisite alterations in the superstructure of laws and civil institutions, and the Marxian conception of history. Though the resemblance is indeed remarkable, there is also a crucial difference: in the Marxian scheme the engine of evolution is ultimately the struggle between contending classes, whereas in Smith’s philosophical history the primal moving agency is “human nature” driven by the desire for self-betterment and guided (or misguided) by the faculties of reason.


Society and the “invisible hand”
The theory of historical evolution, although it is perhaps the binding conception of The Wealth of Nations, is subordinated within the work itself to a detailed description of how the “invisible hand” actually operates within the commercial, or final, stage of society. This becomes the focus of Books I and II, in which Smith undertakes to elucidate two questions. The first is how a system of perfect liberty, operating under the drives and constraints of human nature and intelligently designed institutions, will give rise to an orderly society. The question, which had already been considerably elucidated by earlier writers, required both an explanation of the underlying orderliness in the pricing of individual commodities and an explanation of the “laws” that regulated the division of the entire “wealth” of the nation (which Smith saw as its annual production of goods and services) among the three great claimant classes—labourers, landlords, and manufacturers.

This orderliness, as would be expected, was produced by the interaction of the two aspects of human nature, its response to its passions and its susceptibility to reason and sympathy. But whereas The Theory of Moral Sentiments had relied mainly on the presence of the “inner man” to provide the necessary restraints to private action, in The Wealth of Nations one finds an institutional mechanism that acts to reconcile the disruptive possibilities inherent in a blind obedience to the passions alone. This protective mechanism is competition, an arrangement by which the passionate desire for bettering one’s condition—“a desire that comes with us from the womb, and never leaves us until we go into the grave”—is turned into a socially beneficial agency by pitting one person’s drive for self-betterment against another’s.

It is in the unintended outcome of this competitive struggle for self-betterment that the invisible hand regulating the economy shows itself, for Smith explains how mutual vying forces the prices of commodities down to their “natural” levels, which correspond to their costs of production. Moreover, by inducing labour and capital to move from less to more profitable occupations or areas, the competitive mechanism constantly restores prices to these “natural” levels despite short-run aberrations. Finally, by explaining that wages and rents and profits (the constituent parts of the costs of production) are themselves subject to this same discipline of self-interest and competition, Smith not only provided an ultimate rationale for these “natural” prices but also revealed an underlying orderliness in the distribution of income itself among workers, whose recompense was their wages; landlords, whose income was their rents; and manufacturers, whose reward was their profits.


Economic growth
Smith’s analysis of the market as a self-correcting mechanism was impressive. But his purpose was more ambitious than to demonstrate the self-adjusting properties of the system. Rather, it was to show that, under the impetus of the acquisitive drive, the annual flow of national wealth could be seen to grow steadily.

Smith’s explanation of economic growth, although not neatly assembled in one part of The Wealth of Nations, is quite clear. The core of it lies in his emphasis on the division of labour (itself an outgrowth of the “natural” propensity to trade) as the source of society’s capacity to increase its productivity. The Wealth of Nations opens with a famous passage describing a pin factory in which 10 persons, by specializing in various tasks, turn out 48,000 pins a day, compared with the few pins, perhaps only 1, that each could have produced alone. But this all-important division of labour does not take place unaided. It can occur only after the prior accumulation of capital (or stock, as Smith calls it), which is used to pay the additional workers and to buy tools and machines.

The drive for accumulation, however, brings problems. The manufacturer who accumulates stock needs more labourers (since labour-saving technology has no place in Smith’s scheme), and, in attempting to hire them, he bids up their wages above their “natural” price. Consequently, his profits begin to fall, and the process of accumulation is in danger of ceasing. But now there enters an ingenious mechanism for continuing the advance: in bidding up the price of labour, the manufacturer inadvertently sets into motion a process that increases the supply of labour, for “the demand for men, like that for any other commodity, necessarily regulates the production of men.” Specifically, Smith had in mind the effect of higher wages in lessening child mortality. Under the influence of a larger labour supply, the wage rise is moderated and profits are maintained; the new supply of labourers offers a continuing opportunity for the manufacturer to introduce a further division of labour and thereby add to the system’s growth.

Here then was a “machine” for growth—a machine that operated with all the reliability of the Newtonian system with which Smith was quite familiar. Unlike the Newtonian system, however, Smith’s growth machine did not depend for its operation on the laws of nature alone. Human nature drove it, and human nature was a complex rather than a simple force. Thus, the wealth of nations would grow only if individuals, through their governments, did not inhibit this growth by catering to the pleas for special privilege that would prevent the competitive system from exerting its benign effect. Consequently, much of The Wealth of Nations, especially Book IV, is a polemic against the restrictive measures of the “mercantile system” that favoured monopolies at home and abroad. Smith’s system of “natural liberty,” he is careful to point out, accords with the best interests of all but will not be put into practice if government is entrusted to, or heeds, “the mean rapacity, the monopolizing spirit of merchants and manufacturers, who neither are, nor ought to be, the rulers of mankind.”

The Wealth of Nations is therefore far from the ideological tract it is often supposed to be. Although Smith preached laissez-faire (with important exceptions), his argument was directed as much against monopoly as against government; and although he extolled the social results of the acquisitive process, he almost invariably treated the manners and maneuvers of businessmen with contempt. Nor did he see the commercial system itself as wholly admirable. He wrote with discernment about the intellectual degradation of the worker in a society in which the division of labour has proceeded very far; by comparison with the alert intelligence of the husbandman, the specialized worker “generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human being to become.”

In all of this, it is notable that Smith was writing in an age of preindustrial capitalism. He seems to have had no real presentiment of the gathering Industrial Revolution, harbingers of which were visible in the great ironworks only a few miles from Edinburgh. He had nothing to say about large-scale industrial enterprise, and the few remarks in The Wealth of Nations concerning the future of joint-stock companies (corporations) are disparaging. Finally, one should bear in mind that, if growth is the great theme of The Wealth of Nations, it is not unending growth. Here and there in the treatise are glimpses of a secularly declining rate of profit; and Smith mentions as well the prospect that when the system eventually accumulates its “full complement of riches”—all the pin factories, so to speak, whose output could be absorbed—economic decline would begin, ending in an impoverished stagnation.

The Wealth of Nations was received with admiration by Smith’s wide circle of friends and admirers, although it was by no means an immediate popular success. The work finished, Smith went into semiretirement. The year following its publication he was appointed commissioner both of customs and of salt duties for Scotland, posts that brought him £600 a year. He thereupon informed his former charge that he no longer required his pension, to which Buccleuch replied that his sense of honour would never allow him to stop paying it. Smith was therefore quite well off in the final years of his life, which were spent mainly in Edinburgh with occasional trips to London or Glasgow (which appointed him a rector of the university). The years passed quietly, with several revisions of both major books but with no further publications. He died at the age of 67, full of honours and recognition, and was buried in the churchyard at Canongate with a simple monument stating that Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, lay there.


Assessment
Beyond the few facts of his life, which can be embroidered only in detail, exasperatingly little is known about the man. Smith never married, and almost nothing is known of his personal side. Moreover, it was the custom of his time to destroy rather than to preserve the private files of illustrious men, with the unhappy result that much of Smith’s unfinished work, as well as his personal papers, was destroyed (some as late as 1942). Only one portrait of Smith survives, a profile medallion by James Tassie; it gives a glimpse of the older man with his somewhat heavy-lidded eyes, aquiline nose, and a hint of a protrusive lower lip. “I am a beau in nothing but my books,” Smith once told a friend to whom he was showing his library of some 3,000 volumes.

From various accounts, he was also a man of many peculiarities, which included a stumbling manner of speech (until he had warmed to his subject), a gait described as “vermicular,” and above all an extraordinary and even comic absence of mind. On the other hand, contemporaries wrote of a smile of “inexpressible benignity” and of his political tact and dispatch in managing the sometimes acerbic business of the Glasgow faculty.

Certainly, he enjoyed a high measure of contemporary fame; even in his early days at Glasgow his reputation attracted students from nations as distant as Russia, and his later years were crowned not only with expressions of admiration from many European thinkers but by a growing recognition among British governing circles that his work provided a rationale of inestimable importance for practical economic policy.

Over the years, Smith’s lustre as a social philosopher has escaped much of the weathering that has affected the reputations of other first-rate political economists. Although he was writing for his generation, the breadth of his knowledge, the cutting edge of his generalizations, and the boldness of his vision have never ceased to attract the admiration of all social scientists, economists in particular. Couched in the spacious, cadenced prose of his period, rich in imagery and crowded with life, The Wealth of Nations projects a sanguine but never sentimental image of society. Never so finely analytic as David Ricardo nor so stern and profound as Karl Marx, Smith is the very epitome of the Enlightenment: hopeful but realistic, speculative but practical, always respectful of the classical past but ultimately dedicated to the great discovery of his age—progress.

Robert L. Heilbroner

 





 
 



Jeremy Bentham
British philosopher and economist

born Feb. 15, 1748, London
died June 6, 1832, London

Main
English philosopher, economist, and theoretical jurist, the earliest and chief expounder of Utilitarianism.

Early life and works.
At the age of four, Bentham, the son of an attorney, is said to have read eagerly and to have begun the study of Latin. Much of his childhood was spent happily at his two grandmothers’ country houses. At Westminster School he won a reputation for Greek and Latin verse writing. In 1760 he went to Queen’s College, Oxford, and took his degree in 1763. In November he entered Lincoln’s Inn to study law and took his seat as a student in the King’s Bench division of the High Court, where he listened with rapture to the judgments of Chief Justice Lord Mansfield. In December 1763 he managed to hear Sir William Blackstone lecture at Oxford but said that he immediately detected fallacies that underlay the grandiloquent language of the future judge. He spent his time performing chemical experiments and speculating upon the more theoretical aspects of legal abuses rather than in reading law books. On being called to the bar, he “found a cause or two at nurse for him, which he did his best to put to death,” to the bitter disappointment of his father, who had confidently looked forward to seeing him become lord chancellor.

Bentham’s first book, A Fragment on Government, appeared in 1776. The subtitle, “being an examination of what is delivered, on the subject of government in general, in the introduction to Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries,” indicates the nature of the work. Bentham found the “grand and fundamental” fault of the Commentaries to be Blackstone’s “antipathy to reform.” Bentham’s book, written in a clear and concise style different from that of his later works, may be said to mark the beginning of philosophic radicalism. It is also a very good essay on sovereignty. Lord Shelburne (afterward 1st Marquess of Lansdowne), the statesman, read the book and called upon its author in 1781. Bentham became a frequent guest at Shelburne’s home. At this period Bentham’s mind was much-occupied with writing the work that was later published in French in 1811 by his admirer Étienne Dumont and entitled Théorie des peines et des récompenses. This work eventually appeared in English as The Rationale of Reward (1825) and The Rationale of Punishment (1830). In 1785 Bentham started, by way of Italy and Constantinople, on a visit to his brother, Samuel Bentham, an engineer in the Russian armed forces; and it was in Russia that he wrote his Defence of Usury (published 1787). This, his first essay in economics, presented in the form of a series of letters from Russia, shows him as a disciple of the economist Adam Smith but one who argued that Smith did not follow the logic of his own principles. Bentham held that every man was the best judge of his own advantage, that it was desirable from the public point of view that he should seek it without hindrance, and that there was no reason to limit the application of this doctrine in the matter of lending money at interest. His later works on political economy followed the laissez-faire principle, though with modifications. In the “Manual of Political Economy” he gives a list of what the state should and should not do, the second list being much longer than the first.


Mature works.
Disappointed, after his return to England in 1788, in the hope of making a political career, he settled down to discovering the principles of legislation. The great work on which he had been engaged for many years, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, was published in 1789. In this book he defined the principle of utility as “that property in any object whereby it tends to produce pleasure, good or happiness, or to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil or unhappiness to the party whose interest is considered.” Mankind, he said, was governed by two sovereign motives, pain and pleasure; and the principle of utility recognized this state of affairs. The object of all legislation must be the “greatest happiness of the greatest number.” He deduced from the principle of utility that, since all punishment involves pain and is therefore evil, it ought only to be used “so far as it promises to exclude some greater evil.”

The fame of his writings spread widely and rapidly. Bentham was made a French citizen in 1792, and in later life his advice was respectfully received in several of the states of Europe and America. With many of the leading men of these countries Bentham maintained an active correspondence. The codification of law was one of Bentham’s chief preoccupations, and it was his ambition to be allowed to prepare a code of laws for his own or some foreign country. He was accused of having underestimated both the intrinsic difficulties of the task and the need for diversity of institutions adapted to the tradition and civilization of different countries. Even so, Bentham must be reckoned among the pioneers of prison reform. It is true that the particular scheme that he worked out was bizarre and spoiled by the elaborate detail that he loved. “Morals reformed, health preserved, industry invigorated, instruction diffused” and other similar desiderata would, he thought, be the result if his scheme for a model prison, the “Panopticon,” were to be adopted; and for many years he tried to induce the government to adopt it. His endeavours, however, came to nothing; and though he received £23,000 in compensation in 1813, he lost all faith in the reforming zeal of politicians and officials.

In 1823 he helped to found the Westminster Review to spread the principles of philosophic radicalism. Bentham had been brought up a Tory, but the influence of the political theory of the Enlightenment served to make a democrat of him. As far back as 1809 he had written a tract, A Catechism of Parliamentary Reform, advocating annual elections, equal electoral districts, a wide suffrage, and the secret ballot, which was, however, not published until 1817. He drafted a series of resolutions based on this tract that were introduced in the House of Commons in 1818. A volume of his Constitutional Code, which he did not live to complete, was published in 1830.

After Bentham’s death, in accordance with his directions, his body was dissected in the presence of his friends. The skeleton was then reconstructed, supplied with a wax head to replace the original (which had been mummified), dressed in Bentham’s own clothes and set upright in a glass-fronted case. Both this effigy and the head are preserved in University College, London.

Bentham’s life was a happy one. He gathered around him a group of congenial friends and pupils, such as the philosopher James Mill, father of John Stuart Mill, with whom he could discuss the problems upon which he was engaged. His friends, too, practically rewrote several of his books from the mass of rough though orderly memoranda that Bentham himself prepared. Thus the Rationale of Judicial Evidence, 5 vol. (1827), was put in its finished state by J.S. Mill and the Book of Fallacies (1824) by Peregrine Bingham. The services of Étienne Dumont in recasting as well as translating the works of Bentham were still more important.


Assessment.
Bentham was less a philosopher than a critic of law and of judicial and political institutions. Unfortunately, he was not aware of his limitations. He tried to define what he thought were the basic concepts of ethics, but the majority of his definitions are oversimple or ambiguous or both, and his “felicific calculus,” a method for calculating amounts of happiness, as even his warmest admirers have admitted, cannot be used. As a moralist and psychologist, Bentham has similarly appeared to be inadequate; his arguments, though sometimes elaborate, rest too often on insufficient and ambiguous premises. His analyses of the concepts that men use to describe and explain human behaviour are too simple. He seems to have believed both that man is completely selfish and that everyone ought to promote the greatest happiness, no matter whose. Not even the formula of which he made so much, “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” possesses a definite meaning.

Given all this, it should be noted that the publication since World War II of Bentham’s previously unknown manuscripts has done much to enhance his reputation as a philosopher of law. His Victorian editor, Sir John Bowring, cut out from Bentham’s work much that was both original and well-argued. The more up-to-date scholarship of such Bentham specialists as Herbert L.A. Hart, J.H. Burns, Frederick Rosen, and Lea Campos-Boralevi has revealed a more rigorous and systematic thinker than the legendary muddled Utilitarian that Bentham appeared to be to earlier generations.

As a critic of institutions Bentham was admirable. In his Rationale of Judicial Evidence he describes the methods that a court should use to get at the truth as quickly as possible; and in the Essay on Political Tactics he describes what he considers the most effective forms of debate for a legislative assembly—an account largely based on the procedure of the House of Commons. In these works and in others Bentham is concerned to discover what makes for efficiency. Though he defines efficiency in terms of happiness, his reader need not do so; or, if he does, he need not think of happiness as Bentham did. Bentham’s assumptions about what makes for happiness are often quite ordinary and sensible; the reader can accept them and still insist that happiness is not to be defined in terms of pleasure and is not to be measured. Whatever is excellent, ingenious, and original in Bentham—and there is a great deal of it—need not depend on the “felicific calculus” and “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.”

John P. Plamenatz

 





 
 



Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury
English politician and philososopher [1671-1713]

born Feb. 26, 1671, London, Eng.
died Feb. 15, 1713, Naples [Italy]

Main
English politician and philosopher, grandson of the famous 1st earl and one of the principal English Deists.

His early education was directed by John Locke, and he attended Winchester College. He entered Parliament in 1695 and, succeeding as 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury in 1699, attended Parliament regularly in the House of Lords for the remainder of William III’s reign. He pursued an independent policy in the House of Lords as well as in the House of Commons. In July 1702 he retired from public life.

Shaftesbury’s philosophy owed something to the Cambridge Platonists, who had stressed the existence in man of a natural moral sense. Shaftesbury advanced this concept against both the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Fall and against the premise that the state of nature was a state of unavoidable warfare.

Shaftesbury’s Neoplatonism, his contention that what man sees of beauty or truth is only a shadow of absolute beauty or truth, dominated his attitude to religion and to the arts. During his lifetime his fame as a writer was comparatively slight, for he published little before 1711; in that year appeared his Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, in which his chief works were assembled. The effect of this book was immediate and was felt on the European continent as well as in England; indeed, English Deism was transmitted to Germany almost entirely through translations of his writings. Alexander Pope, Joseph Butler, Francis Hutcheson, Mark Akenside, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Immanuel Kant were among those who were to some degree affected by Shaftesbury.

 





 
 



Edmund Burke
British philosopher and statesman

born January 12?, [January 1, Old Style], 1729, Dublin, Ire.
died July 9, 1797, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, Eng.

Main
British statesman, parliamentary orator, and political thinker prominent in public life from 1765 to about 1795 and important in the history of political theory. He championed conservatism in opposition to Jacobinism in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).

Early life
Burke, the son of a solicitor, entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1744 and moved to London in 1750 to begin his studies at the Middle Temple. There follows an obscure period in which Burke lost interest in his legal studies, was estranged from his father, and spent some time wandering about England and France. In 1756 he published anonymously A Vindication of Natural Society…, a satirical imitation of the style of Viscount Bolingbroke that was aimed at both the destructive criticism of revealed religion and the contemporary vogue for a “return to Nature.” A contribution to aesthetic theory, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, which appeared in 1757, gave him some reputation in England and was noticed abroad, among others by Denis Diderot, Immanuel Kant, and G.E. Lessing. In agreement with the publisher Robert Dodsley, Burke initiated The Annual Register as a yearly survey of world affairs; the first volume appeared in 1758 under his (unacknowledged) editorship, and he retained this connection for about 30 years.

In 1757 Burke married Jane Nugent. From this period also date his numerous literary and artistic friendships, including those with Dr. Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and David Garrick.


Political life
After an unsuccessful first venture into politics, Burke was appointed secretary in 1765 to the Marquess of Rockingham, leader of one of the Whig groups, the largely liberal faction in Parliament, and he entered the House of Commons that year. Burke remained Rockingham’s secretary until the latter’s death in 1782. Burke worked to unify the group of Whigs that had formed around Rockingham; this faction was to be the vehicle of Burke’s parliamentary career.

Burke soon took an active part in the domestic constitutional controversy of George III’s reign. The main problem during the 18th century was whether king or Parliament controlled the executive. The king was seeking to reassert a more active role for the crown—which had lost some influence in the reigns of the first two Georges—without infringing on the limitations of the royal prerogative set by the revolution settlement of 1689. Burke’s chief comment on this issue is his pamphlet “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents” (1770). He argued that George’s actions were against not the letter but the spirit of the constitution. The choice of ministers purely on personal grounds was favouritism; public approbation by the people through Parliament should determine their selection. This pamphlet includes Burke’s famous, and new, justification of party, defined as a body of men united on public principle, which could act as a constitutional link between king and Parliament, providing consistency and strength in administration, or principled criticism in opposition.

In 1774 Burke was elected a member of Parliament for Bristol, then the second city of the kingdom and an open constituency requiring a genuine election contest. He held this seat for six years but failed to retain the confidence of his constituents. For the rest of his parliamentary career he was member for Malton, a pocket borough of Lord Rockingham’s. It was at Bristol that Burke made the well-known statement on the role of the member of Parliament. The elected member should be a representative, not a mere delegate pledged to obey undeviatingly the wishes of his constituents. The electors are capable of judging his integrity, and he should attend to their local interests; but, more importantly, he must address himself to the general good of the entire nation, acting according to his own judgment and conscience, unfettered by mandates or prior instructions from those he represents.

Burke gave only qualified support to movements for parliamentary reform; though he accepted the possibility of widening political participation, he rejected any doctrine of mere rule of numbers. Burke’s main concern, rather, was the curtailment of the crown’s powers. He made a practical attempt to reduce this influence as one of the leaders of the movement that pressed for parliamentary control of royal patronage and expenditure. When the Rockingham Whigs took office in 1782, bills were passed reducing pensions and emoluments of offices. Burke was specifically connected with an act regulating the civil list, the amount voted by Parliament for the personal and household expenses of the sovereign.

A second great issue that confronted Burke in 1765 was the quarrel with the American colonies. Britain’s imposition of the Stamp Act there in 1765, along with other measures, provoked unrest and opposition, which soon swelled into disobedience, conflict, and secession. British policy was vacillating; determination to maintain imperial control ended in coercion, repression, and unsuccessful war. Opposed to the tactics of coercion, the Rockingham group in their short administration of 1765–66 repealed the Stamp Act but asserted the imperial right to impose taxation by the Declaratory Act.

Burke’s best-known statements on this issue are two parliamentary speeches, “On American Taxation” (1774) and “On Moving His Resolutions for Conciliation with the Colonies” (1775), and “A Letter to…the Sheriffs of Bristol, on the Affairs of America” (1777). British policy, he argued, had been both imprudent and inconsistent, but above all legalistic and intransigent, in the assertion of imperial rights. Authority must be exercised with respect for the temper of those subject to it, if there was not to be collision of power and opinion. This truth was being ignored in the imperial quarrel; it was absurd to treat universal disobedience as criminal: the revolt of a whole people argued serious misgovernment. Burke made a wide historical survey of the growth of the colonies and of their present economic problems. In the place of narrow legalism he called for a more pragmatic policy on Britain’s part that would admit the claims of circumstance, utility, and moral principle in addition to those of precedent. Burke suggested that a conciliatory attitude be shown by Britain’s Parliament, along with a readiness to meet American complaints and to undertake measures that would restore the colonies’ confidence in imperial authority.

In view of the magnitude of the problem, the adequacy of Burke’s specific remedies is questionable, but the principles on which he was basing his argument were the same as those underlying his “Present Discontents”: government should ideally be a cooperative, mutually restraining relation of rulers and subjects; there must be attachment to tradition and the ways of the past, wherever possible, but, equally, recognition of the fact of change and the need to respond to it, reaffirming the values embodied in tradition under new circumstances.

Ireland was a special problem in imperial regulation. It was in strict political dependency on England and internally subject to the ascendancy of an Anglo-Irish Protestant minority that owned the bulk of the agricultural land. Roman Catholics were excluded by a penal code from political participation and public office. To these oppressions were added widespread rural poverty and a backward economic life aggravated by commercial restrictions resulting from English commercial jealousy. Burke was always concerned to ease the burdens of his native country. He consistently advocated relaxation of the economic and penal regulations, and steps toward legislative independence, at the cost of alienating his Bristol constituents and of incurring suspicions of Roman Catholicism and charges of partiality.

The remaining imperial issue, to which he devoted many years, and which he ranked as the most worthy of his labours, was that of India. The commercial activities of a chartered trading concern, the British East India Company, had created an extensive empire there. Burke in the 1760s and ’70s opposed interference by the English government in the company’s affairs as a violation of chartered rights. However, he learned a great deal about the state of the company’s government as the most active member of a select committee that was appointed in 1781 to investigate the administration of justice in India but which soon widened its field to that of a general inquiry. Burke concluded that the corrupt state of Indian government could be remedied only if the vast patronage it was bound to dispose of was in the hands neither of a company nor of the crown. He drafted the East India Bill of 1783 (of which the Whig statesman Charles James Fox was the nominal author), which proposed that India be governed by a board of independent commissioners in London. After the defeat of the bill, Burke’s indignation came to centre on Warren Hastings, governor-general of Bengal from 1772 to 1785. It was at Burke’s instigation that Hastings was impeached in 1787, and he challenged Hastings’ claim that it was impossible to apply Western standards of authority and legality to government in the East. He appealed to the concept of the Law of Nature, the moral principles rooted in the universal order of things, to which all conditions and races of men were subject.

The impeachment, which is now generally regarded as an injustice to Hastings (who was ultimately acquitted), is the most conspicuous illustration of the failings to which Burke was liable throughout his public life, including his brief periods in office as paymaster general of the forces in 1782 and 1783. His political positions were sometimes marred by gross distortions and errors of judgment. His Indian speeches fell at times into violent emotion and abuse, lacking restraint and proportion, and his parliamentary activities were at times irresponsible or factious.

The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 was initially greeted in England with much enthusiasm. Burke, after a brief suspension of judgment, was both hostile to it and alarmed by this favourable English reaction. He was provoked into writing his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) by a sermon of the Protestant dissenter Richard Price welcoming the Revolution. Burke’s deeply felt antagonism to the new movement propelled him to the plane of general political thought; it provoked a host of English replies, of which the best known is Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man (1791–92).

In the first instance Burke discussed the actual course of the Revolution, examining the personalities, motives, and policies of its leaders. More profoundly, he attempted to analyze the fundamental ideas animating the movement and, fastening on the Revolutionary concepts of “the rights of man” and popular sovereignty, emphasized the dangers of democracy in the abstract and the mere rule of numbers when unrestrained and unguided by the responsible leadership of a hereditary aristocracy. Further, he challenged the whole rationalist and idealist temper of the movement. It was not merely that the old social order was being pulled down. He argued, further, that the moral fervour of the Revolution, and its vast speculative schemes of political reconstruction, were causing a devaluation of tradition and inherited values and a thoughtless destruction of the painfully acquired material and spiritual resources of society. Against all this, he appealed to the example and the virtues of the English constitution: its concern for continuity and unorganized growth; its respect for traditional wisdom and usage rather than speculative innovation, for prescriptive, rather than abstract, rights; its acceptance of a hierarchy of rank and property; its religious consecration of secular authority and recognition of the radical imperfection of all human contrivances.

As an analysis and prediction of the course of the Revolution, Burke’s French writings, though frequently intemperate and uncontrolled, were in some ways strikingly acute; but his lack of sympathy with its positive ideals concealed from him its more fruitful and permanent potentialities. It is for the criticism and affirmation of fundamental political attitudes that the Reflections and An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791) retain their freshness, relevance, and force.

Burke opposed the French Revolution to the end of his life, demanding war against the new state and gaining a European reputation and influence. But his hostility to the Revolution went beyond that of most of his party and in particular was challenged by Fox. Burke’s long friendship with Fox came to a dramatic end in a parliamentary debate (May 1791). Ultimately the majority of the party passed with Burke into support of William Pitt’s government. In 1794, at the conclusion of Hastings’ impeachment, Burke retired from Parliament. His last years were clouded by the death of his only son, on whom his political ambitions had come to centre. He continued to write, defending himself from his critics, deploring the condition of Ireland, and opposing any recognition of the French government (notably in “Three Letters Addressed to a Member of the Present Parliament on the Proposals for Peace, with the Regicide Directory of France” [1796–97]).


Burke’s thought and influence
Burke’s writings on France, though the most profound of his works, cannot be read as a complete statement of his views on politics. Burke, in fact, never gave a systematic exposition of his fundamental beliefs but appealed to them always in relation to specific issues. But it is possible to regard his writings as an integrated whole in terms of the constant principles underlying his practical positions.

These principles are, in essence, an exploration of the concept of “nature,” or “natural law.” Burke conceives the emotional and spiritual life of man as a harmony within the larger order of the universe. Natural impulse, that is, contains within itself self-restraint and self-criticism; the moral and spiritual life is continuous with it, generated from it and essentially sympathetic to it. It follows that society and state make possible the full realization of human potentiality, embody a common good, and represent a tacit or explicit agreement on norms and ends. The political community acts ideally as a unity.

This interpretation of nature and the natural order implies deep respect for the historical process and the usages and social achievements built up over time. Therefore, social change is not merely possible but also inevitable and desirable. But the scope and the role of thought operating as a reforming instrument on society as a whole is limited. It should act under the promptings of specific tensions or specific possibilities, in close union with the detailed process of change, rather than in large speculative schemes involving extensive interference with the stable, habitual life of society. Also, it ought not to place excessive emphasis on some ends at the expense of others; in particular, it should not give rein to a moral idealism (as in the French Revolution) that sets itself in radical opposition to the existing order. Such attempts cut across the natural processes of social development, initiating uncontrollable forces or provoking a dialectical reaction of excluded factors. Burke’s hope, in effect, is not a realization of particular ends, such as the “liberty” and “equality” of the French Revolution, but an intensification and reconciliation of the multifarious elements of the good life that community exists to forward.

In his own day, Burke’s writings on France were an important inspiration to German and French counterrevolutionary thought. His influence in England has been more diffuse, more balanced, and more durable. He stands as the original exponent of long-lived constitutional conventions, the idea of party, and the role of the member of Parliament as free representative, not delegate. More generally, his remains the most persuasive statement of certain inarticulate political and social principles long and widely held in England: the validity of status and hierarchy and the limited role of politics in the life of society.

Charles William Parkin

 





 
 



Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten
German philosopher

born July 17, 1714, Berlin, Prussia [Germany]
died May 26, 1762, Frankfurt an der Oder

Main
German philosopher and educator who coined the term aesthetics and established this discipline as a distinct field of philosophical inquiry.

As a student at Halle, Baumgarten was strongly influenced by the works of G.W. Leibniz and by Christian Wolff, a professor and systematic philosopher. He was appointed extraordinary professor at Halle in 1737 and advanced to ordinary professor at Frankfurt an der Oder in 1740.

Baumgarten’s most significant work, written in Latin, was Aesthetica, 2 vol. (1750–58). The problems of aesthetics had been treated by others before Baumgarten, but he both advanced the discussion of such topics as art and beauty and set the discipline off from the rest of philosophy. His student G.F. Meier (1718–77), however, assisted him to such an extent that credit for certain contributions is difficult to assess. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), who used Baumgarten’s Metaphysica (1739) as a text for lecturing, borrowed Baumgarten’s term aesthetics but applied it to the entire field of sensory experience. Only later was the term restricted to the discussion of beauty and of the nature of the fine arts.

In Baumgarten’s theory, with its characteristic emphasis on the importance of feeling, much attention was concentrated on the creative act. For him it was necessary to modify the traditional claim that “art imitates nature” by asserting that artists must deliberately alter nature by adding elements of feeling to perceived reality. In this way, the creative process of the world is mirrored in their own activity.

Baumgarten wrote Ethica Philosophica (1740; “Philosophic Ethic”), Acroasis Logica (1761; “Discourse on Logic”), Jus Naturae (1763; “Natural Law”), Philosophia Generalis (1770; “General Philosophy”), and Praelectiones Theologicae (1773; “Lectures on Theology”). His brother, Siegmund Jakob Baumgarten, was an influential Wolffian theologian.

 

 

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