E 379N • The Enlightenment
9:30 AM-11:00 AM
This course will consist of intensive study of texts of a few representative authors of the 18th Century, mainly in France and Germany, but starting with Voltaire's stay in England in the 1720s and the resulting work, Lettres Philosophiques or Letters concerning the English Nation. We will also read Candide and other writings of Voltaire. We will focus on the things Voltaire and Montesquieu (in The Spirit of the Laws) single out in English social, political and cultural life as key elements of the Enlightenment which they helped propagate on the continent. We will also study a number of works by Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Of the Germans we will read Lessing and Kant. With all the texts we read in the course, attention will be given to their literary character, which is inseparable from the ideas they seek to communicate. Far from being an 'Age of Reason', the Enlightenment shows a marked scepticism toward rationalism and an openness to experience that are reflected in the literary character of the works, though these tendencies are challenged by a new form of rationalism in Rousseau and Kant, which might be considered as marking the limits of the Enlightenment.
Three papers (two 5-page, one 6-page) 80%
Oral report and class participation 20%