WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS. . . The Intellectual Horizons of the Eighteenth Century
The following chapters aim to be almost pedantically explicit and detailed in their exposition of a certain moral and political philosophy. In this endeavor, they assume the vocabulary and adopt the manner of thinking indigenous to the era in which this philosophy was formulated. The reader for whom terms like "nature," "right reason," "virtue," and "natural law" do not seem quaint or ambiguous, and for whom the deductive analysis of abstractions holds no terror, might skip the present pages and turn immediately to the beginning of the discussion proper.1 Some readers, however, whose concerns are remote from the subject of this inquiry, may find it helpful to glance over the entire terrain and orient themselves in the intellectual climate of the eighteenth century before following the winding pathways of this essay.
The eighteenth century prided itself on having accomplished the final liberation of the human mind from classical metaphysics and medieval Sacred Science. It called itself "The