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 of 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: The Enlightenment Beleaguered
Chapter 1: Locke, Bayle, Critique and Toleration
Chapter 2: Paris-Persia: Othering (and Sexing) the Enlightenment
Chapter 3: Voltaire’s Smiling Philosophy
Chapter 4: Eyesight from the Blind: Diderot, Saunderson, and Humans Born Blind
Chapter 5: Enlightenment, Race, Slavery, and Anti-colonialism
Chapter 6: The Enlightenment, Sexuality, and Gender
Conclusion: What was Enlightenment?
About the Author
Centered on insightful readings of key French Enlightenment texts, this book articulates a dynamic version of enlightenment thinking, and brings it to bear on contemporary practices of othering. Engagingly written, and persuasively argued, it offers a nuanced critique of some current ways of misconstruing the upshot of the Enlightenment.
Among the many sins that are regularly laid at the Enlightenment’s doorstep, unthinking racism, sexism, and Eurocentrism are some of the most common, and most damning. Matthew Sharpe’s bold new book contests these accusations by showing that the thinkers of this period were in fact unusually insistent on viewing the world through the eyes of the other.
As liberal, pluralistic societies feel increasingly under challenge, we need to remember our roots in the Enlightenment. The Other Enlightenment is a timely plea to re-read the French philosophes – we will be surprised by what they have to say.
Matthew Sharpe’s wonderful and original The Other Enlightenment: Self-Estrangement, Race, and Gender shines a new light on the Enlightenment. He presents it as a period of intellectual ferment that opened a critical space in which forms of power became contested and opened to different possibilities through critical self-othering and self-distancing.
A wonderfully lucid and engaging study that brings back to life key figures of the European enlightenment. Sharpe convincingly presents the philosophes and their practices of epistemic humility and cultural openness as an alternative to the various forms of identity politics dominating our times.