Harriet Martineau and the Quiet Revolution
I found myself, with the last link of my chain snapped -- a free rover in the broad breezy common of the universe... I felt the fresh air of nature, after imprisonment in the ghost-peopled cavern of superstition.
-- Harriet Martineau, Autobiography
T wo generations separated the productive years of Hume and Rousseau and the coming of age of Harriet Martineau. Those generations had witnessed the American War of Independence and the heady days of the French Revolution when, for a brief time, people believed that democracy and social justice for all were realizable in their lifetimes. But this was not to be -- at least not in the "old world." The bloody aftermath of the revolution and Napoleon's subsequent dictatorship and wars of aggression resulted in a period of social crisis throughout Europe. With Napoleon's downfall, nationalism began to emerge as a powerful new religion, with numerous regional and cultural groupings seeking political unification into nation-states. At the same time, the Industrial Revolution in Britain, and to a lesser degree on the continent, was rapidly destroying the old social patterns and creating a new impoverished urban class.
Meanwhile, at least five identifiable schools of moral philosophy had evolved out of the formulations of the pioneers of social-scientific thought. The sensationalism of Hobbes and Locke was most apparent in the ideas of the French materialists such as Claude Helvetius, Étienne de Condillac and Baron d'Holbach. They, too, viewed the human being as a thoroughly material organism operating in a Newtonian universe of mechanistic cause and effect. And they held that all mental faculties and moral strivings are rooted in the senses.
A somewhat related strand of thought had originated with Adam Smith, who was also greatly influenced by the Newtonian world view and by Hume's