The Good-Natured Man: The Evolution of a Moral Ideal, 1660-1800

The Good-Natured Man: The Evolution of a Moral Ideal, 1660-1800

The Good-Natured Man: The Evolution of a Moral Ideal, 1660-1800

The Good-Natured Man: The Evolution of a Moral Ideal, 1660-1800

Excerpt

The emergence and demise of the Good-Natured Man type in Restoration and eighteenth-century literature occur within the context of a major cultural adjustment in England to a new image of the world brought into focus by the hypothesis of Copernicus, the discoveries of Galileo and Newton, the theories of Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, and Locke. Intellectual historians refer to this cultural adjustment as a cosmological revolution that shattered into fragments a vision of reality two thousand years old. In the new world view the universe was perceived to be an orderly and rational system intelligible to human beings. The idea of there being a rational, objective order to nature is at least as old as the thought of Plato and the Stoics, but in the seventeenth century this conception became universally accepted as fact. Nature became the touchstone of truth and virtue. And reason, being the marvelous faculty through which humans can fathom nature, shared in the exaltation. Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding was extremely popular when it appeared because it gathered into a system beliefs about God, nature, and reason that were consistent with the new developments in science.

In this atmosphere the defenders of Christianity "were willing to put orthodoxy on trial at the bar of reason, and were satisfied that it would emerge triumphant from the test." They expected nothing in Christianity to be contrary to reason and assumed the orderliness of nature to be overwhelming evidence of an intelligent creator. Writers often referred to as British Moralists (the Cambridge Platonists . . .

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