The Age of Minerva - Vol. 1

The Age of Minerva - Vol. 1

The Age of Minerva - Vol. 1

The Age of Minerva - Vol. 1

Excerpt

. . . abstract reasoners seem hitherto to have enjoyed only a momentary reputation, from the caprice or ignorance of their own age, but have not been able to support their renown with more equitable posterity. It is easy for a profound philosopher to commit a mistake in his subtile reasonings--and one mistake is the necessary parent of another. . . . But a philosopher who purposes only to represent the common sense of mankind in more beautiful and more engaging colors, if by accident he falls into error, goes no farther; but, renewing his appeal to common sense and the natural sentiments of mind, returns to the right path and secures himself from any dangerous illusions.

--Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding

The focus of this study has undergone several transformations as new issues arose that required further research. My belief was, and still is, that the eighteenth century was not very different from our own age in one important respect. Its fundamental project of rational knowledge suffered from fragmentations and irrationalities comparable to those that mark the twentieth century. I found it remarkable that scholars had taken frequent but only passing notice of the idea of discontinuity in the eighteenth century. Their work highlighted the positive growth and continuities of the Enlightenment as it concerned the arts and sciences. I was struck instead by several contradictory images and paradigms that I intended to study and name collectively the "faces" or "masks" of Reason, "counter-rational Reason," or simply "Unreason" defined partly as the neglected underside of Reason. The Enlightenment represents the morning clarity of today's modern age, but the same Enlightenment once witnessed a morning of its own. My question was whether thereafter its afternoon was sun-filled, with occasional cloudbursts, or whether, as in our own age, the entire century experienced as much disruptive darkness as light. I noticed certain themes and models that configured the eighteenth century as a discontinuous pattern of advancing shadows and deflected sunrays rather than the steadily advancing stream of light that other scholars saw. But my perception was too intuitive to solidify such a point of departure.

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