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Enlightenment in 50 Mins. or Less! March 11, 2008

Posted by Will Thomas in History 174.
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Going back to History 174, in my chemistry lecture, I basically just claimed that, despite efforts to incorporate chemistry within physical philosophy, the basic methodologies were never radically altered from the alchemical period up to (and really beyond) Dalton; new kinds of experiments were done, and new conceptual schemes emerged, but, in practice, the sort of “natural history” methodology of chemistry remained fairly constant. Special thanks to Jan Golinksi’s “Chemistry” entry in the Cambridge History of Science Vol. 4.

But today was the Enlightenment. Since entire courses are dedicated to the Enlightenment, how does one cope? Well, first, you keep your eye on what all this has to do with the scientific enterprise rather than drift off into a summary of the Enlightenment. Thus, science is a template for the overthrow of authority and the building up of new knowledge. Pit stops at salon culture, the Encyclopedia, deism/atheism. Then, you address the new political economy as a quasi-Newtonian theorization based on the actions of individual actors: Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Rousseau, Smith (yes, it was that fast, basically project sumamries rather than discussions of individual philosophy). Then, you sum up with different governmental interpretations of Enlightenment thought: enlightened despotism, Jefferson’s rationale for independence, Jefferson’s and Hamilton’s differing ideas about government, and the rationalized populism of the French Revolution/metric system (thanks Ken Alder)/Napoleonic code. Then you end up with some hand-waving about the role of rationality in governance, with a comparison of the sensibilities underlying Tinker v. Des Moines and the French ban on religious dress in schools as the cherry on top.

Presto! Thematic Enlightenment Pie. It’s an old family recipe!

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