The Romantic Enlightenment

The Romantic Enlightenment

The Romantic Enlightenment

The Romantic Enlightenment

Excerpt

For John Wesley man was spirit; in "the revolt of the masses" he became a commodity. Elements of what transpired between these two extreme views of him constitute the theme of this study. More concretely, it is an inquiry into changes in Western feeling and explanation from the heyday of rational empiricism to the rise of existentialism, or from the adventures of Candide to the metamorphosis of Gregor Samsa.

Like views on child-rearing, interpretations of the Enlightenment tend to vacillate between two poles; the one confronts us with the "heavenly city" of Kant's categorical imperative, Newton's laws, and Rousseau's religion of virtue, while the other dwells on his Confessions and primitivism, Johnson's pessimism, Kant's regulative ideas, and the passions released by the French Revolution. Which was the reality and which the façade? Whatever the answer to this question may turn out to be, any one- dimensional philosophy of the Enlightenment as intellectualist or anti-intellectualist can no longer be maintained.

The relativity of taste, morals, and even religion was already commonplace among the educated. To be sure, the relativity of truth still lay concealed, but surely this extension of the concept occurred to not a few, at least in its implicitness. In vain do we seek discord in the formal gardens of Versailles or the faith of deists, but Voltaire Candide refutes more than "the pre-established harmony," and Pierre Bayle's celebrated skepticism could also touch the polemic of the philosophes themselves. No philosophical system comparable to the achievements of Leibniz, Spinoza, and Descartes was evolved in the eighteenth century, and the fragmentariness of the sciences, which . . .

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