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The Philosophy of the Enlightenment Paperback – November, 1968

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"At long last Cassirer's famous study of the Enlightenment comes to the English-reading public and in an excellent translation that calls for high praise. Here is a remarkable synthesis of the multiple and variant expressions of eighteenth-century thought; here is intellectual history at its most penetrating and profound."--American Historical Review

From the Back Cover


"In 1932, Cassirer's warning against dismissing Enlightenment thought as shallow went tragically unheard, but it is as timely as ever. His classic study of Enlightenment philosophy has not been surpassed. In portraying Enlightenment philosophy as a process, not a doctrine, Cassirer not only undermines all those caricatures of the Enlightenment that still flourish within and without the academy; he also shows the force it can have for renewing philosophy itself."--Susan Neiman, author of Moral Clarity


"Ernst Cassirer's The Philosophy of the Enlightenment is not only a brilliantly original work of history, it is itself a work of philosophy by one of the twentieth century's most interesting thinkers. Despite all that has been written on the Enlightenment since it first appeared in 1932, it remains unsurpassed."--Anthony Pagden, University of California, Los Angeles


"This fine new re-edition of Ernst Cassirer's The Philosophy of the Enlightenment gives us two classics in one: Cassirer's own seminal statement of the evolution of eighteenth-century philosophy, and a concise and moving foreword by an intellectual sympathizer, Peter Gay, amongst the greatest historians of our time. Together the two men did more than virtually any other to define the Enlightenment for the twentieth century."--Darrin M. McMahon, Florida State University


--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (November 1968)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691019630
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691019635
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,526,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Ernst Cassirer was one of the more important philosophers of the 20th Century, although his work is less well-known in this country than on the Continent. Cassirer was also a Kant scholar who wrote an influential biography of Kant "Kant's Leben und Lehre" (Kant's Life and Teachings). This book, written in the mid-1930s, but not available in English until much later, is perhaps still the best serious survey of the Enlightenment, with more emphasis on the German Enlightenment than we are used to seeing. (The term 'enlightenment' itself comes from the German word "Aufklaerung"). Unlike many of the more recent writers on the Enlightenment, Cassirer is sympathetic to the Enlightenment enterprise and does not have an axe to grind (Peter Gay and Lester Crocker come to mind). Although well-written, and the subject is interesting to anyone concerned about the growth of the modern world, this is not an easy book: Cassirer presents a more nuanced view of the Enlightment and the philosophes than even most educated readers are used to and the reader must actively think about the arguments presented. The effort is absolutely worthwhile.
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Format: Paperback
The historian Tim Blanning used the phrase "difficult but profound" to describe this book. Profound because of its insightful treatment of enlightment intellectual history, difficult because Cassirer employs a fairly technical and unfamiliar vocabulary and the often intricate analysis. This book, however, definitely repays careful reading. Cassirer believed in the Hegelian idea that the study of a period's philosophy allows definition of the distinguishing spirit of that period. Consequently, this is not a conventional chronological history but a thematic treatment of key areas. Cassirer treats the natural sciences, psychology and epistemology, treatment of religion, attitudes to history, what we would now call political theory and political science, and aesthetics. Each section is distinguished by Cassirer's remarkable erudition. In addition to analysis of major thinkers like Voltaire and Leibnitz, Cassirer discussion of now obscure thinkers to illuminate important issues. Another important feature is Cassirer's careful attention to the German enlightenment, particularly the intellectual tradition initiated by Leibnitz.

Several key themes run throughout all sections. One is the importance of reason which Cassirer treats usefully as the use of analysis. Very much inspired by the success of Newtonian physics, analysis is an empirically oriented investigation of natural, psychological,and social worlds, the description of the dynamic processes, and the search for mechanisms. As Cassirer remarks, "the power of reason does not consist in in enabling us to transcend the empirical world but rather in teaching us to feel at home in it". The emphasis on reason/analysis is accompanied by a heightened sense of human capacities and the possibility of real human progress.
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Ernst Cassirer's "The Philosophy of the Enlightenment" is an excellent historical overview of this period of intellectual history. He highlights the major themes that unite this diverse group of thinkers. I previously read and enjoyed Peter Gay's two-volume history of the Enlightenment, but I wish I had read Cassirer's book before Gay's. I would definitely have appreciated Gay's work more. I highly recommend Cassirer's work.
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Format: Paperback
Yes! Amazing how the eighteenth century is still here today, in our many institutions and political ideals. Cassirer's heady analysis of the culture, debates and ideals of the time informs our current cultural mosaic, where rap lives side by side with the Lincoln Center. I especially return to his synopsis of the debate about faith in the XVIIIth c., that centers on Voltaire's attack against Pascal. When the thoughts of moral titans collide, the sparks endure.
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The previous reviews do not warn the potential reader that this is an "insider's" book. It may be suitable for those well-versed in philosophy but is a waste of time and money for anyone outside of the field of philosophy. It never gets around to offering a cogent review of the nature of enlightenment philosophy. I was disappointed because I had read that the leading figures in the American Revolution were well-versed in this subject.
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