Chapter_12 - GS 1003 World Civilization Chapter 12 THE...

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Unformatted text preview: GS 1003 World Civilization Chapter 12 THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION AND ENLIGHTENMENT This is the age wherein philosophy comes in with a spring—tide. . . . Methinks I see how all the old rubbish must be thrown away, and the rotten buildings be overthrown, and carried away with so powerful an inundation. —Henry Power, Experimental Philosophy ([663) Enlightenment is humanity’s departure from is self-imposed immatu- rity. lmmaturity is the inability to use one’s intellect without the guidance of others. This immaturity is self—imposed when its cause is not a lack of intelligence but a failure of determination and courage to think without the guidance of someone else. Dare to know! This then is the slogan of the Enlightenment. -—lmmanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment? (r784) the prevalence of absolutism in western Europe, witnessed as well the most important mutation in all of European intellec- tual and cultural history to occur between the Middle Ages and the present. Just as the sweep of fresh winds can greatly change the weather, so in the last few decades of the seventeenth century the sweep of new ideas led to a bracing change in Europe’s “climate of opinion." For purposes of analysis it is convenient to refer to two phases within the larger period: the triumph of the scientific revolu- tion in the second half of the seventeenth century and the age of “Enlightenment” which followed for most of the eighteenth century. But without any doubt the same intellectual winds that swept into Europe during the later seventeenth century prevailed for well over a_ hundred years. Indeed, their influence is still felt today. How did the new intellectual climate differ from the old? Concen— trating on essentials, three points may be stressed. First, whereas medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation thinkers all assumed that past The years between roughly 1660 and 1789, which witnessed New ideas: 1660-1 78o The Scientific Revolutit‘m and Enlightenment Changes in intellectual environment Causes qf change knowledge was the most reliable source of wisdom, the greatest thinkers from the seventeenth century onward rejected any obeisance to ancient authority and resolved to rely on their own intellects to see where knowledge would lead them. Making their motto “dare to know,” they stressed the autonomy of science and the free play of the mind in ways unheard of in the West since the golden age of Greece. Second, the new breed of thinkers believed strongly that knowledge was valueless if it could not be put to use. For a Plato, an Aristotle, or a St. Thomas Aquinas alike, the greatest wisdom was the most abstract wisdom since such wisdom helped to turn the human mind away from all earthly “corruptibility” and supposedly brought happiness by its sheer resemblance to timeless divinity. But after the change in Europe’s climate of Opinion in the late seventeenth century, all knowl- edge without practical value was belittled and thinkers from every realm of intellectual endeavor aimed directly or indirectly at achieving “the relief of man’s estate.” Finally, the new climate of opinion was characterized by the demystification of the universe. Up until the mid— seventeenth century, most people, learned and unlearned, assumed that the universe was driven and inhabited by occult forces that humans “could barely understand and surely never control unless they were ~ magicians. But around 1660 a mechanistic worldview swept away occultism, and pixies became consigned to the realm of children’s sto— rybooks. Thereafter nature was believed to work like the finest mechanical clock—consummately predictable and fiilly open to human understanding. Why such a dramatic change in basic patterns of thought took place when it did will long remain a subject for speculation. Certainly the prior Scholastic stress on human rationality and the Renaissance reac- quisition of classical Greek texts helped to bring European thought to a scientific threshold. Probably the most direct causes of the intellec- tual mutations, however, were the twin challenges to conventional assumptions introduced in the sixteenth century by the discovery of the New World and the realization that the earth revolves around the sun" rather than vice versa, for neither the Bible nor ancient SCichC allowed room for what one bewildered contemporary called “new islands, new lands, new seas, new peoples, and what is more, a new sky and new stars.” At first many thinkers, daunted by all this nov— elty, experienced a sense of intellectual crisis. Some took refiJge in skepticism, others in relativism, and others in a return to blind faith. Speaking for several generations, the poet john Donne lamented in 1611 that “new phil050phy calls all in doubt, the element of fire is quite put out, the sun is lost, and the earth, and no man’s wit can {well direct him where to look for it. . . . ’tis all in pieces, all coherence gone.” But just as Europe surmounted its early-modern political crisis around 1660, so did it surmount its intellectual one, above all because the last stages of a profound scientific revolution gave a new, com- pletely convincing “coherence” to things. As Alexander Pope wrote in the early eighteenth century, almost as if in response to Donne: “Nature and Nature’s Law’s lay hid in night] God said, Let Newton Be! and all was light.” I. THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION Even though Europe did not begin to resolve its intellectual crisis until about 1660, the groundwork for that resolution was prepared earlier in the seventeenth century by four great individuals—Kepler, Galileo, Bacon, and Descartes. Kepler and Galileo—both practicing scien— tists—have been discussed earlier; suffice it here to say that they removed all doubts about the Copernican heliocentric theory of the solar system and helped lead the way to Sir Isaac Newton’s theory of universal gravitation. As for Bacon and Descartes, their main achieve- ments were not in the realm of original scientific discovery but rather in propagating new attitudes toward learning and the nature of the universe. h Sir Francis Bacon (1561—1626), lord chancellor of England, was also an extremely influential philosopher of science. In Bacon’s view, expressed most fully in his Novum Organum (New Instrument) of 1620, science could not advance unless it departed entirely from the inher- ited errors of the past and established “progressive stages of cer- tainty.” For Bacon this meant proceeding strictly on the basis of empirical knowledge (knowledge gained solely by the senses) and by means of the “inductive method,” meaning the arrival at truth by proceeding upward from particular observations to generalizations. Insisting that “the corruption of philosophy by superStition and an admixture of theology . . . does the greatest harm,” and that think- ing people thus should be “sober-minded, and give to faith that only which is faith’s,” Bacon advocated the advancement of learning as a cooperative venture proceeding by means of meticulously recorded empirical experiments. Unlike the arid speculations of the past, col- lective scientific research and observation would produce useful knowledge and result in bettering the human lot. Much of Bacon’s ideology is vividly evoked in the cover illustration of his Novum Organum, wherein intrepid ships venture out beyond the Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar) onto a fathomless sea in pursuit of unknown but great things to come. Bacon’s later contemporary, the French philosopher René Descartes (1596—1650), agreed with him on two points: that all past knowledge should be discarded, and that the worth of any idea depended on its usefulness. Yet Descartes otherwise proposed some very different approaches to science, for unlike the empiricist Bacon, Descartes was a rationalist and an apostle of mathematics. In his Discourse on Method (1637), Descartes explained how, during a period of solitude, he resolved to submit all inherited doctrines to a process of systematic The Scientific Revolution Title Page of Bacon’s Novum Organum. Underneath the ship sailing out into the ocean is a quotation from the Book of Daniel: “Many shall venture forth and science shall be increased.” René Descartes The Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment A Diagram illustrating Cartesian Principles. Descartes main— tained that the pineal gland, seen here at the back of the head, transmitted messages from the eyes to the muscles in purely mechanical fashion. But the pineal gland was also the link between the material body and the nonmaterial human mind. From the 1677 edition of Descartes' De Homine. Descartes’ iry‘luence The English and French traditions doubting because he knew that the “strangest or most incredible” things had previously been set down in learned books. Taking as his first rule “never to receive anything as a truth which [he] did not clearly know to be such,” he found himself doubting everything until he came to the recognition that his mere process of thought proved his own existence (“I think, therefore I am”). Thereupon making ratio- nality the point of departure for his entire philosophical enterprise, Descartes rebuilt the universe on largely speculative grounds that dif- fered in almost every detail from the universe conceived by the Greeks, yet conformed fully to the highest principles of human rationality as expressed in the laws of mathematics. That most of his theories were not empirically verifiable did not trouble him at all, because he was confident that “natural processes almost always depend on parts so small that they utterly elude our senses.” Predictably, the details of Descartes' scientific system are now regarded as mere curiosities, but the French philosopher nonetheless was enormously influential in aiding the advance of science and in creating a new climate of opinion for several reasons. First of all, even though his systematic doubting did not succeed in establishing any solid new scientific truths, it did contribute to the discrediting of all the faulty science of the ancients. Then too, Descartes’ stress on mathematics was salutary became mathematics has indeed proven to be an indispensable handmaiden to the pursuit of natural science. But undoubtedly Descartes’ single most influential legacy was his philos- ‘ ophy of dualism, according to which God created only two kinds of reality—mind and matter. In Descartes’ view, mind belonged to man alone and all else was matter. Thus he insisted that all created existence beyond man—organic and inorganic alike—operated solely in terms of physical laws, or the interplay of “extension and motion.” In other words, for Descartes every single entity from the solar system to the realm of animals and plants was a self-operating machine propelled by a force arising from the original motion given to the universe by God. Indeed, Descartes thought that man himself was a machine—although, in this sole exception, a machine equipped with a mind. From this it followed that the entire universe could be studied objectively, without any aid from theology or appeals to the occult. Moreover, all apparent atributes of matter, such as light, color, sound, taste, or smell, which had no “extension” were to be classified as mere subjective impres- sions of the human mind unfit for proper scientific analysis. Based on such assumptions the pursuit of science could be dispassionate as never before. Roughly speaking, for about a century after the work of Bacon and Descartes the English scientific. community was Baconian and the French Cartesian (a name given to followers of Descartes). This is to say that the English concentrated primarily on performing empirical experiments in many different areas of physical science leading to con— crete scientific advances, whereas the French tended to remain more oriented toward mathematics and philosophical theory. Among the numerous great seventeenth—century English laboratory scientists were the physician William Harvey (1578-1657), the chemist Robert Boyle (1627—1691), and the biologist Robert Hooke (163 5—1703). Pursuing the earlier work of Vesalius and Servetus, but daring, unlike them, to practice vivisection, Harvey was the first to observe and describe the circulation of the blood through the arteries and back to the heart through the veins. Similarly committed to empirical experiment, Boyle used the air pump to establish “Boyle’s law"—namely, that under constant temperature the volume of a gas decreases in proportion to the pressure placed on it. Boyle also was the first chemist to distin- guish between a mixture and a compound (wherein the chemical com- bination occurs), and accomplished much to discredit alchemy As for Hooke, although he conducted research in astronomy and physics as well as biology, he is best known for having used the microscope to discover the cellular structure of plants. Meanwhile, in France, Des— cartes himself pioneered in analytical geometry, Blaise Pascal worked on probability theory and invented a calculating machine before his conversion to religion, and Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655) sought to demonstrate the truth of the atomic theory. Also within the French realm Of thought was the Dutch jew Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), a philosopher who tried to apply geometry to ethics and believed that he advanced beyond Descartes by interpreting the universe as being composed of a single substance—simultaneously God and nature—— instead of two. The dichotomy between English Baconianism and French Carte- sianism, however, breaks down when one approaches the man com- monly considered to have been the greatest scientist of all time, Sir Isaac Newton (1642—1727). A highly unattractive personality in his daily conduct—being secretive, petty, and vindictive—Newton was nonetheless a towering genius who drew on both the Baconian and Cartesian heritages. For example, following Bacon, and in the sharp- est opposition to Descartes, Newton refused to dismiss the phenom- enon of light as a mere subjective impression of “mind.” Instead, by means of laboratory experiments he demonstrated that light behaves differently when filtered through different media, and hence offered an interpretation of light as a stream of particles that solidly estab- lished optics as an empirical branch of physics. Yet, on the other hand, Newton thoroughly approved of Descartes’ stress on mathematics, and once in a burst of purely theoretical inspiration discovered the infinitesimal calculus. Of course Newton’s supreme accomplishment lay in his formula- tion of the law of universal gravitation, which, as expressed‘in his monumental Latin Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) of 1687, integrated Copemican astronomy with Galileo’s physics. In the Principia Newton broached the two major scientific questions ofhis day: (I) What keeps the heavy earth in motion? The Scientific Revolution Sir Isaac Newton Newton’s law of gravitation _________’__'___—— The Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment The impact of Newton’s Principia (before Copernicus the earth had been thought immobile) and (2) Why do terrestrial bodies tend to fall to the earth’s center whereas plan- ets stay in orbital motion? (before Copernicus the planets were thought to be embedded in crystalline spheres moved by angels or “divine intelligences"). In the early seventeenth century Kepler had already suggested the possibility of mutual attractions between all bodies in the solar system that kept the earth and other planets mov— ing, but the Cartesians attacked this explanation as being too occult since attraction over space left out the crucial Cartesian ingredient of matter. Disregarding these Cartesian doubts because he saw no alter- native, Newton returned to consider Kepler’s theory of mutual attrac- tions, and uniting Baconian observations with Cartesian mathematics, arrived at a single law of universal gravitation according to which “every particle of matter in the universe attracts every other particle with a force varying inversely as the square of the distance between them and directly proportional to the product of their masses.” Since this law was verified by experience in both terrestrial and celestial realms, there could be no doubt that it explained all motion. Indeed, Newton’s law was so reliable that it was employed immediately to ' I predict the ebb and flow of tides. Later, in 1846, astronomers, noting irregularities in the motion of the planet Uranus, were able to deduce on Newtonian grounds the presence of the more distant planet Nep— tune before Neptune was actually located with the aid of high-power telescopes. Historians of science consider Newton’s law of gravity to be “the most stupendous single achievement of the human mind," finding that “no other work in the whole history of science equals the Principia either in originality and power of thought or in the majesty of its achievement.” Certainly the publication of the Principia was the crowning event of the scientific revolution because it confirmed the most important astronomical and physical theories previously set forth by Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, and resolved beyond quarrel the major problems that Copernicus’s heliocentric theory had created. Needless to say, scientific work did not thereafter come to a standstill. Quite to the contrary, since‘Newton’s accomplishment proved inspi- rational to researchers in many other fields, scientific work advanced steadily after 1687. But a fimdamental reconception of the nature of the physical universe had been made, and thinkers in all areas could proceed with their work confident that science rather than superstition was the new order of the day. ’ 2. THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT Although the presuppositions for the Enlightenment were set by the triumph of the scientific revolution in the late seventeenth century, the Enlightenment itself was an eighteenth-century phenomenon, lasting for close to the entire century until certain basic Enlightenment postulates were challenged around 1790 by the effects of the French Revolution and the new movement of romanticism. Of course not every thinker who lived and worked in the eighteenth century was equally “enlightened.” Some, such as the Italian philosopher of his- tory G. B. Vico (1668—1744), were thoroughly opposed to everything the Enlightenment stood for, and others, most notably jean jacques Rousseau (1712—1778), accepted certain Enlightenment values but sharply rejected others. Moreover, patterns of Enlightenment ideol- ogy tended to vary from country to country and to change in each country over the course of the century. Yet, despite these qualifica- tions, most thinkers of the eighteenth century definitely shared the sense of living in an exciting new intellectual environment in which “the party of humanity” would prevail over traditionalism and obscurantism by dint of an unflinching commitment to the primacy of the intellect. Most Enlightenment thought stemmed from three basic premises: (1) the entire universe is fiilly intelligible and governed by natural rather than supernatural forces; (2) rigorous application of “scientific method” can answer fundamental questions in all areas of inquiry; and (3) the human race can be “educated” to achieve nearly infinite improve- ment. The first two of these premises were products of the scientific revolution and the third primarily an inheritance from the psychology of john Locke. Regarding the substitution of a natural for a supernatural world- view, explanations must start with the euphoria which greeted Isaac Newton’s discovery of a single law whereby all motion in the heavens and earth became intelligible and predictable. [f Newton could deal so authoritatively and elegantly with motion, it seemed to follow that all nature is governed neither by mysterious divine intervention nor by caprice, but by humanly perceivable universal laws. Hence most seri- ous thinkers from about 1690 to 1790 became inveterate opponents of belief in miracles, and considered all varieties of revealed religion to be not just irrelevant to the pursuit ofgscience, but positively antithet- ical to it. This is not to say that the Enlightenment abandoned belief in the existence of God: to the contrary, only the smallest number of Enlightenment thinkers were atheists, and very few even were avowed agnostics. Rather, most adhered to a religious outlook known as Deism which assumed that God existed but, having once created a perfect universe, no longer took an active interest in it. Expressed in the Ian-'- guage of the Deists themselves, God was the “divine clockmaker" who, at the beginning of time, constructed a perfect timepiece and then left it to run on with predictable regularity. Most Deists continued to attend the churches of their ancestors (either Protestant or Catholic) from time to time, but they made little secret of their doubts about the efficacy of ritual and spoke out against all forms of religious intol- erance. The Foundations of the Enlightenment The Enlightenment: the major pattern of eighteenth-century thought Premises of the Enlightenment The rejection qf supematuralism Confidence in scientific method The Study of an Amateur Sci- entist. This late—seventeenth- century aristocratic dilet- tante collected all sorts of specimens from the natural world. The mounting ofhis crocodile must have offered some challenge. As for the second Enlightenment premise, the accomplishments of the scientific revolution inspired a deep sense of assurance that “scien- tific method” was the only valid means for pursuing research in all areas of human inquiry. By scientific method Enlightenment thinkers usually meant the dispassionate, empirical observation of particular phenomena in order to arrive at general laws. Given the acknowl- edged triumph of Newtonian physics, it is not surprising that around I700 western Europe was struck by a virtual mania for applying sci- entific method in studying all the workings of nature. Since most sci- entific work was still simple enough to be understood by amateurs without the benefit of years of specialized education, European aris- tocrats and prosperous people in all walks of life began to dabble in “research”—buying telescopes, chasing butterflies, or building home laboratories in the hope of participating in some new scientific break.- through. Writing in 1710, the English essayist Joseph Addison sati- rized such pursuits by imagining a will written by one “Sir Nicholas . Gimcrack,” an earnest amateur who left his “recipe for preserving dead caterpillars" to his daughters, his “rat’s testicles" to a “learned and worthy friend,” and who disinherited his son for “having spoken disrespectful]y of his little sister,” whose mortal remains Sir Nicholas kept near his desk in “spirits of wine." Of course most of the aris- tocratic “Gimcracks” never progressed beyond pickling, but their enthusiasm for following the latest developments in scientific research led them to patronize the work of truly gifted scientists and con- tributed to creating an atmosphere wherein science was prized as humanity’s greatest attainment. Inevitably, in turn, such an atmosphere was conducive to an assumption which became dominant in the course of the eighteenth century—that scientific method was the only proper means for study- ing human affairs as well as natural phenomena. Since the world of The W0,“ ofthe philosophes physical nature seemed well on the way to being mastered, Enlighten- ment thinkers considered it mere common sense that the world of human nature could soon be mastered as well by scientific means. Thus students of religion started collecting myths from numerous dif— The scientific method ferent traditions, not to find any occult truth in them but to classify applied to human concerns their common traits and learn the steps by which humanity suppos- edly freed itself from superstition. Similarly, historians collected evi- dence to learn the laws governing the rise and fall of nations, and students of politics compared governmental constitutions to arrive at an ideal and universally applicable political system. In other words, as the English poet Alexander Pope stated in his Essay on Man of I73 3, “the science of human nature [may be] like all other sciences reduced to a few clear points,” and Enlightenment thinkers became deter- mined to learn exactly what those “few clear points” were. It must be stressed, however, that if most thinkers of the Enlighten- ment supposed that the empirical study of human conduct could reduce society’s working to a few laws, most also believed that human con- john Locke’s psychology duct was not immutable but highly perfectible. In this they were and human pevfedibility inspired primarily by the psychology ofjohn Locke (1632—1704), who was not only a very influential political philosopher, as we have seen, but also the formulator of an extremely influential theory of knowl- edge. In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) Locke rejected the hitherto dominant assumption that ideas are innate, maintaining instead that all knowledge originates from sense perception. Accord- ing to Locke, the human mind at birth is a “blank tablet” (Latin: tabula rasa) upon which nothing is inscribed: not until the infant begins to experience things, that is, to perceive the external world with its sen- ses, is anything registered on its mind. From this point of departure, Enlightenment thinkers concluded that environment determines everything. For example, in their view, if some aristocrats were any better than ordinary mortals it was not because they had inherited any special knowledge or virtues, but only because they had been better trained. It therefore followed that all people could be educated to become the equals of the most perfect aristocrats, and that there were no limits to the potentialities for universal human progress. Indeed, a few Enlightenment thinkers became so optimistic as to propose that all evil might be eradicated from the world, since whatever evil existed was not the result of some divine plan but only the product of a faulty environment that humans had created and humans could change. 3. THE WORLD OF THE PHILOSOPHES France, the dominant country in eighteenth-century Europe, was the center of the Enlightenment movement, and thus it is customary to refer to the leading exponents of the Enlightenment, regardless of where The Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment General characteristics of the philosophes Voltaire Voltaire by Houdon Voltaire's social View: they lived, by the French term philosophe, meaning philosopher. In fact the term philosophe is slightly misleading inasmuch as hardly any of the philosophes were really philosophers in the sense of being highly original abstract thinkers. Rather, most were practically oriented pub— licists who aimed to reform society by popularizing the new scientific interpretation of the universe and applying dispassionate “scientific method" to a host of contemporary problems. Since they sought most of all to gain converts and alter what they regarded as outmoded insti- tutions, they shunned all forms of expression that might seem incom- prehensible or abstruse, priding themselves instead on their clarity, and occasionally even expressing their ideas in the form of stories or plays rather than treatises. By common consent the prince of the philosophes was the French— man born Francois Marie Arouet, who called himself Voltaire (1694— 1778). Virtually the personification of the Enlightenment, much as Erasmus two centuries earlier had embodied Christian humanism, Voltaire commented on an enormous range of subjects in a wide vari- ety of literary forms. Probably his greatest single accomplishment lay in championing the cause of English empiricism in previously Carte— sian France. Having as a young man been exiled to England for the crime of insulting a pompous French nobleman, Voltaire returned after three years a thorough and extremely persuasive convert to the ideas of Bacon and Locke. Not only did this mean that he persuaded other French thinkers to accept Newton’s empirically verifiable sci- entific system in place of Descartes’ unverifiable one, but he also encouraged them to be less abstract and theoretical in all their intellec— tual inclinations and more oriented toward the solving of everyday problems. To be sure, throughout the eighteenth century France’s intellectual world remained more rationalistic than England’s, but Voltaire’s lifelong campaign on behalf of empiricism nonetheless had a very salutary effect in‘making French thinkers more practically ori- ented than before. Continually engaged in commenting on contemporary problems himself, Voltaire was an ardent spokesman for civil liberties. In this regard his battlecry was Ecrasez l’infti‘meé—“cmsh infamy”——meaning by infamy all forms of repression, fanaticism, and bigotry. In his own words, he believed that “the individual who persecutes another because he is not of the same opinion is nothing less than a monster.” Accord- ingly, he wrote an opponent a line which forever after has been held forth as the first principle of civil liberty: “I do not agree with a word you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Of an forms of intolerance Voltaire hated religious bigotry most of all because it seemed based on silly superstitions: “the less superstition, the less fanaticism; and the less fanaticism, the less misery.” In additiOn to attacking religious repression, Voltaire also frequently criticized the exercise of arbitrary powers by secular states. In particular, he thought that the English parliamentary system was preferable to French abso— 10 lutism and that all states acted criminally when their policies resulted in senseless wars. “It is forbidden to kill,” he maintained sardonically, The World 0ft,“ philosophes “therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” . Although Voltaire exerted the greatest effect on his age as a propa- gandist for the basically optimistic Enlightenment principle that by “crushing infamy” humanity could take enormous strides forward, Candide the only one of his works still widely read today, the satirical story Candide (1759), is atypically subdued. Writing not long after the dis- astrous Lisbon earthquake of I75 5, in which over 20,000 lives were lost for no apparent reason, Voltaire drew back in this work from some of his earlier faith that mankind by its own actions could limit- lessly improve itself. Lulled into false security concerning what life has in store for him by the fatuous optimism of his tutor, Dr._ Pan- gloss, the hero of the story, candide, journeys through the world only to experience one outrageous misfortune after another. Storms and earthquakes are bad enough, but worse still are wars and rapacity caused by uncontrollable human passions. Only in the golden never- never land of “Eldorado” (clearly a spoof of the perfect world most philosophes saw on the horizon), where there are no priests, law courts, or prisons, but unlimited wealth and a “palace of sciences . . . filled with instruments of mathematics and physics,” does Candide find temporary respite from disaSter. Being a naturally restless mortal, however, he quickly becomes bored with Eldorado’s placid perfection and leaves for the renewed buHedngs of the real world. After many more lessons in “the school of hard knocks,” he finally learns one basic truth by the end of the story: settling down on a modest farm with his once-beautiful but now hideously disfigured wife, he shrugs when Dr. Pangloss repeats for the hundredth time that “this is the best of all possible worlds," and replies: “that’s as may be, but we must cultivate our garden." In other words, according to Voltaire, life is not perfect and probably never will be, but humans will succeed best if they ignore vapid theorizing and buckle down to unglamorous but productive hard work. In addition to Voltaire,ithe most prominent French philosophes were Montesquieu, Diderot, and Condorcet. The baron de Montesquieu (1689—175 5) was primarily a political thinker. In his major work, The Spirit qf Laws (1748), Montesquieu sought to discover the ways in which differing environments and historical and religious traditions influence governmental institutions. Finding that unalterable differ— ences in climates and geographic terrains affect human behavior, and hence governmental forms, Montesquieu throughout much of The Spirit qf Laws seems to be saying that external conditions force humans to behave in different ways and that there is nothing they can do about this. But ultimately he was an idealist who preferred one particular political system, the English constitution, and hoped that all nations might overcome whatever environmental handicaps they faced to imitate it. 3' ' Montesquieu Reference: Bums, Edward McNall, eta]. Western Civilizations .' Their History and Their Culture (Volume 1]). New York : W.W. Norton & Company. 1984. 11 ...
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Chapter_12 - GS 1003 World Civilization Chapter 12 THE...

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