Challenging widespread misunderstandings, this book shows that central to key enlightenment texts was the practice of estranging taken-for-granted prejudices by adopting the perspective of Others.
The enlightenment’s key progenitors, led by Montesquieu, Voltaire and Diderot, were more empiricist than rationalist, and more critical than utopian. Moreover, each was an artful exponent of the ‘proto-postmodernist’ practice of asking Europeans to review what they considered unquestionable through the eyes of Others: Persians, women, Tahitians, Londoners, natives and naïves, the blind, and even imaginary extra-terrestrials. This book aims to show that this self-estrangement, as a means to gain critical distance from one’s taken-for-granted assumptions, was central to the enlightenment, and remains vital for critical and constructive sociopolitical thinking today.
Matthew Sharpe is associate professor philosophy at Deakin University. He is the coauthor of Philosophy as a Way of Life: History, Dimensions, Directions (with M. Ure) and author of Camus, Philosophe: To Return to Our Beginnings as well as articles on the history of philosophy, and political, critical and psychoanalytic theory.
Introduction: Demythologising the enlightenment
0.1 Inside the post-truth cave: the enlightenment beleaguered
0.2 The enlightenment against systems, and the figure of the philosophe
0.3 The enlightenment as ferment, not ‘project’
0.4 Chapter synopsis
Chapter 1: Locke, Bayle, Critique and Toleration
1.1The scientific revolution(s), and their epistemic foundations
1.2Locke on the conduct of the human understanding, and its many limitations
1.3Bayle, the Critical and Historical Dictionary, and the art of critical doubt
1.4Locke, Bayle, and the birth of tolerance from the spirit of self-critique
Chapter 2: Paris - Persia: Othering (and Sexing) the Enlightenment
2.1 Enlightenment on the road: travel literature as engine of estranging the familiar
2.2 Persian Letters: an experiment in two-way mirroring
2.3Uzbeck’s travails, or the demands of enlightenment
2.4Seraglios and surveillance, the sexual politics of tyranny
2.5Zulema and Anais, or: what if God were a woman?
Chapter 3: Voltaire the Candid, the Great, and the Small
3.1The patriarch of the enlightenment, an ignorant philosopher?
3.2How to make Paris quake, from London exile (The Philosophical Letters)
3.3Micromégas, or the uses and advantages of interstellar travel writing
3.4Candide, or enlightenment as critique of the pretensions of reason
3.5Voltaire after Bayle: biblical criticism, deism and the struggle for toleration
Chapter 4: Eyesight from the blind: Diderot, Saunderson, and Humans born Blind
4.1 Blindness, Monstrosity, and the Molyneux problem in enlightenment France
4.2Diderot’s anti-rationalism, or what could a blind man know?
4.3Saunderson, the blind man as sage, and the critical metaphysics of the blind
4.4The letter as enlightenment travelogue, from the land of the blind
4.5What the blind can teach the sighted (that the sighted might otherwise never see)
Chapter 5: Enlightenment, race, slavery, and anti-colonialism
5.1Colonialism, the universal religion, and enlightenment anti-theology
5.2Enlightenment divided: polygenesis, monogenesis, and the rise of the life sciences
5.3Enlightenment against slavery
5.4Enlightenment anti-colonialism and Abbé Raynal’s History of the Two Indies
5.5Philosopher-historians, not philosophers of history
Chapter 6: The enlightenment, sexuality, and gender
6.1 Women and the enlightenment
6.2Marriage, sexuality, and philosophy in enlightenment Europe
6.3Diderot’s Supplement to Bougainville’s Voyage, or what the Tahitians can teach Europeans about love and hospitality
6.4Wollstonecraft, de Gouge, and the advent of enlightenment feminism
Conclusion: So, what could enlightenment be?