E 379N • The Enlightenment
9:30 AM-11:00 AM
Rather than a survey, this course will consist of intensive study of texts of a few representative authors, starting with the Third Earl of Shaftesbury and Bernard Mandeville. We will then turn to Voltaire's stay in England in the 1720s and the resulting work, Lettres Philosophiques or Letters concerning the English Nation, and focus on the things he singled out in English social, economic and cultural life as key elements of the (late) Enlightenment which he helped propagate on the continent. The importance of Bacon, Hobbes, Locke and Newton for this Enlightenment is conveyed through this work. With all the works we read in the course, attention will be given to their literary character, which will be seen to be inseparable from the ideas they seek to communicate. Other works by Voltaire to be read include Candide and several essays. We will read works by Hume and Johnson, Diderot and Rousseau, Lessing and Kant. Far from being an 'Age of Reason', the Enlightenment shows a marked skepticism toward rationalism and an openness to experience that are reflected in the literary character of the works, although these tendencies are challenged by a new form of rationalism in Rousseau and Kant, which may or may not be considered as marking the limits of the Enlightenment.
Three papers (two 5-page, one 6-page) 80%
Class participation 20%