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concise summary of the academic literature
on May 15, 2010
this succinct text is basically a very high quality, informed and judicious "cliff's notes" overview of the sprawling academic literature on the enlightenment -- summarized at the end as an annotated, 13 page bibliography and a detailed, 7 page index. with repeated hat tips to peter gay's landmark, two volume study (1960), porter reviews subsequent confirmations and dissents from gay's narrative and major conclusions about the enlightenment in an "on the one hand ... on the other hand" style. the compact, briskly written chapters cover definitions of the enlightenment, the enlightenment project of creating a secular "science of man," the politics and religious attitudes of the philosophes, and the unity or diversity among the various enlightenment participants, both as individuals and as national, social and class movements. Porter's verdict: "The Enlightenment helped to free man from his past. In so doing, it failed to prevent the construction of future captivities" (tyrannies such as the french revolution and napoleonic era, exploitation of labor by capital, technological alienation, etc.).