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The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 23, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

“Perhaps the most significant footnote in the entire history of Western thought,” muses Padgen, appeared in a 1783 journal in Berlin. The footnote asked, “What is enlightenment?” Answering the question is this work’s project, which Padgen conducts through eighteenth-century intellectuals associated with the Enlightenment. Unlike the philosophers and theologians of the preceding Renaissance and Reformation, who engaged in rediscovery or restoration of the past, Enlightenment thinkers repudiated traditions thought to fetter human beings. Religion, law, government, and social customs came under criticism from writers who varied in the subjects they contemplated but generally were animated by belief in the power of reason to define human nature and design human society. Partly a process of demolition, as in attacks on the claims of Christianity, and partly a process of construction, as in the beginnings of social sciences like economics, the course of the Enlightenment unfolds in Padgen’s presentations of major figures Locke, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, Hume, Adam Smith, and Kant. Readers interested in the origins of modernity, progressivism, and conservatism will find much to ponder in Padgen’s substantive history of ideas. --Gilbert Taylor

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“Sweeping . . . Like being guided through a vast ballroom of rotating strangers by a confiding insider.”The Washington Post
 
“Fascinating.”The Telegraph (London)
 
“A political tract for our time.”The Wall Street Journal

“For those who recognize the names Hegel, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Voltaire, and Diderot but are unfamiliar with their thought, [Anthony] Padgen provides a fantastic introduction, explaining the driving philosophies of the period and placing their proponents in context. . . . Padgen’s belief that the Enlightenment ‘made it possible for us to think . . . beyond the narrow worlds into which we are born’ is clearly and cogently presented.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The Enlightenment really does still matter, and with a combination of gripping storytelling about colorful characters and lucid explanation of profound ideas, Anthony Pagden shows why.”—Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature and The Blank Slate
 
“Reading Anthony Pagden’s The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters is an enlightenment in itself. The larger-than-life thinkers and talkers of eighteenth-century Europe have been blamed for everything from taking the magic out of life to making Auschwitz possible, but here, in sparkling style, Pagden shows us not only how their ideas made mankind modern but also what our world might have been like without them. Everyone interested in where the West came from should read this book.”—Ian Morris, author of Why the West Rules—For Now
 
“Anthony Pagden defends the Enlightenment as a cosmopolitan project with classical roots and contemporary relevance. Like Kant, he argues that we live in an age of enlightenment, ongoing but incomplete, but that someday we will experience a fully enlightened age. His lucid and learned book might help to realize that hope.”—David Armitage, author of Foundations of Modern International Thought

“Pagden demonstrates the breadth and depth of his knowledge and his impeccable research of the period we refer to as the Enlightenment. . . . A book that should be on every thinking person’s shelf—the perfect primer for anyone interested in the development of Western civilization.”Kirkus Reviews
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (April 23, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400060680
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400060689
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #159,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By FictionFan TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 31, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Like most people, I have a vague idea of what is meant by Enlightenment values - scepticism, reason, science etc. - and could probably name, if pushed, a few of the intellectuals and philosophers associated with it. I hoped this book might give me a clearer idea of the history and development of the period and of the contribution of some of the main players. And to a degree it did. Pagden concentrates very much on the intellectual developments and how they impacted on the political sphere. There is very little in the book about the cultural aspects of the Enlightenment - the salon culture is mentioned, but mainly in passing, and although he refers to the emphasis placed by some of the philosophers on arts and music, he doesn't go into what impact this had on the artistic culture of the time.

In the first couple of chapters, Pagden briefly discusses the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution, showing how the ideas of the Enlightenment philosophers grew out of and built onto these. In the following chapters, he takes us on a roughly chronological journey through the period of the Enlightenment, concentrating on the writings of the philosophers and highlighting how they influenced each other. Towards the end, he discusses to what extent the French Revolution resulted from Enlightenment ideas and shows the philosophical backlash following this period. And finally, he very briefly highlights the influence that Enlightenment thinking still has, particularly in the West, on national and international forms of governance.

There is no question about the amount of scholarship that has gone into this book and I undoubtedly feel considerably better informed about the subject. However, there are several problems that prevent me from feeling I could wholeheartedly recommend it.
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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Terrence McGarty on April 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Enlightenment by Pagden is a compelling book. It is not a history, it is not a work of comparative philosophy, and it is not a work of political theory. It is a view of the enlightenment by topics and through the focus of these topics it draws in the principal players in the Enlightenment again and again, intertwining their views in an ever more complex web. Each time Pagden does so he addresses another set of issues and often brings current affairs to the fore as well.

The core of the Enlightenment was the focus on reason and its tremendous powers and the total abhorrence of institutional revealed religion. Faith conflicted with reason. The Enlightenment totally rejected the Scholastics and their use of reason and logic. In a strange way reason dominated even the experimental efforts that surrounded the Enlightenment figures. The author states in his Preface that reason was not overthrowing the passions, but that the claims of reason were to be rejected as well as accepted. The author does also address the concern of Eurocentrism and the placing of the Enlightenment on a secondary state, a place where he believes it is not to be.

The author begins with an attempt to define the Enlightenment, or "Enlightenment" as process. To be enlightened meant being critical and for this capability it meant the use of reason (p 21). He provides a remark from Kant that it is but a few men, since most men and all women are but sheep, which use reason. For others if they can pay others for such things as what to eat, what is moral, then there is no need to think, reason. Yet amidst the mass of historical references the definition of either Enlightenment or the Enlightenment still is elusive.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By M. R. Brewer on February 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover
There is much to like in this book. Pagden does a good job of discussing the views of many Enlightenment era thinkers, especially Kant and Hume (also, more briefly, Herder, one of those thinkers selectively appropriated by the Nazis). He gave me a good sense of the discontinuity in thinking between scholasticism and science-based rationalism. His short summary of stoicism is excellent. There are many concise nuggets. For example, in discussing the work of early Christian theologians, he writes "...they transformed Christianity from what had been, in essence, a world-rejecting late Roman mystery cult into--to use a recent term--"Hellenized Judaism."" There are other passages just as wonderfully lapidary as this one. His treatment of the discovery of other cultures, and particularly the advanced, but static, Chinese civilization, was also worthwhile.

So why only 3 stars? It was too long, and to my taste, too discursive. It got to the point that when he mentioned yet another obscure thinker, and in parentheses said 'of whom more later,' I cringed! I ended up skimming a good hundred pages in the middle of the book. Sometimes his sentences were limp and rambling, and at one point he used 'incredulous' a couple of times when he should have used 'credulous.'

So there's much good here, but you will have to wade through some not so good stuff. It was worth my while, but it could have been tighter. A couple of books that I admire, and that I thought of when reading Pagden's book were 'Cosmopolis' by Steven Toulmin and 'The End of History and the Last Man' by Francis Fukuyama.
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