Enlightment

THE ENLIGHTENMENT WORLD
Edited by
Martin Fitzpatrick, Peter Jones, Christa Knellwolf and Iain McCalman
First published 2004
by Routledge
2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon,

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|I INTELLECTUAL ORIGINS OF ENLIGHTENMENT | |
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|Introduction | |
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|Peter Jones | |
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|1 Science and the coming of Enlightenment | |
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|John Henry | |
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|2 The quest for philosophical certainty | |
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|Peter Schouls | |
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|3 The critique of Christianity | |
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|James Dybikowski | |
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|4 Enquiry, scepticism and Enlightenment | |
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|Aaron Garrett | |
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|5 The Huguenot debate on toleration | |
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|Luisa Simonutti | |
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|II ASPECTS OF ENLIGHTENMENT FORMATIONS | |
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|Introduction | |
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|Martin Fitzpatrick | |
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|6 The Dutch Republic: That mother nation of liberty | |
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|Hugh Dunthorne | |
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|7 A crucible for change: Enlightenment in Britain |
| |Alexander |
| |Murdoch 104 |

| |8 The itinerary of a young intellectual in early Enlightenment Germany |
| |Martin Mulsow 117 |

| |9 The Age of Louis XIV and early Enlightenment in France |
| |Martin Fitzpatrick 134 |

INTRODUCTION
Peter Jones
No single idea, belief or practice unites all of the writers associated with Enlightenment thought; no one meaning informed even the banners under which dispute was sustained; no one definition embraces the ways in which the most self-consciously used terms were employed – terms such as science, republic, scepticism, Christian, atheist. This does not render such labels useless, because they function as maps, simultaneously reflecting and requiring interpretation. No one map, and no single label, can represent everything that could be represented; each must be drawn up on a certain scale, and all can be misread. An analogy with maps was popular among writers of the time who were keen to signal the challenges of interpreting unfamiliar contexts. Richard Bentley (1662-1742), the first Boyle lecturer, in 1692 was worried by the fact that we can only view the topography of the past as if from a mountain top: the very real obstacles confronting travellers on the ground are flattened out: All the Inequality of Surface would be lost to his View; the wide Ocean would appear to him like an even and uniform Plane (uniform as to its Level, though not as to Light and Shade) though every Rock of the Sea was as high as the Pico of Teneriff (Boyles Lecture Sermons 1739: vol.1, 84). Moreover, as Anthony Collins (1676-1729) forcefully stated in 1710, maps are not designed to represent Mountains, Valleys, Lakes and Rivers, to those who have no Ideas of them. Maps suppose Men to have these Ideas before-hand (Collins 1710:36).
Many writers were aware of the importance of contexts in determining both what to do and how to understand the past. The discipline, familiar to all educated people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which placed context at the centre was rhetoric, underpinned by grammar. Bishop Berkeley (1685-1753), in 1709, captures the thought, by then almost commonplace, illustrating a point made by Dybikowski (Chapter 3), that remarks deemed unexceptionable from a bishops pen are perceived as subversive from a freethinkers: A word pronounced with certain circumstances, or in a certain context with other words, hath not always the same import and signification that it hath when pronounced in some other circumstances, or different context of words (Berkeley 1732: para. lxxiii).
Rhetoric was supposed to be concerned with effective public communication, but practical success explicitly presupposed many things, above all transparency in
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meaning: this did not assume that anything was self-evident, but rather that everything required interpretation. Ephraim Chambers (1680-1740), in 1728, echoed an idea trumpeted by almost everyone since Francis Bacon (1561-1626): that wilful obscurity should be condemned because it gives a reader the spurious freedom to invent whatever meaning he wishes, and with it the seductive illusion of ownership. The human mind, he says, in apprehending what was hid under a veil, fancies itself in some measure the author of it (Chambers 1728: Mixed Fables). He recognized, of course, that the more a study of rhetoric was confined within institutions, the more it declined into scholastic formalities.
There is something arbitrary and artificial in all writings: they are a kind of draughts, or pictures, where the aspect, attitude, and light, which the objects are taken in, though merely arbitrary, yet sway and direct the whole representation. Books are, as it were, plans or prospects of ideas artfully arranged and exhibited, not to the eye, but to the imagination; and there is a kind of analogous perspective, which obtains in them, wherein we have something not much unlike points of sight, and of distance. An author, in effect, has some particular view or design in drawing our his ideas ??¦ The case amounts to the same as the viewing of objects in a mirror; where, unless the form of the mirror be known, viz. whether it be plain, concave, convex, cylindric, or conic, etc., we can make no judgement of the magnitude, figure, etc. of the objects.
(Chambers 1728: vol. I, xvi)
Clarity of expression was everyones declared goal, but the frequency with which it was asserted indicated the extent of the struggle. Too often writers failed to define their central terms, or to abide by their definitions. And, as DAlembert acidly observed in 1751, when it came to acknowledgements, the common practice is to refer to sources or to make citations in a way that is vague, often unreliable, and nearly always confused (Diderot and DAlembert 1751: xxxvii). Moreover, two theoretical problems seemed to make the tasks of communication intractable: first, the puzzling relations of language to the world; and second, the ubiquitous implications of change. DAlembert, no doubt reflecting on Chambers, declared that:
It is almost as if one were trying to express (a) proposition by means of a language whose nature was being imperceptibly altered, so that the proposition was successively expressed in different ways representing the different states through which the language had passed. Each of these states would be recognized in the one immediately neighbouring it; but in a more remote state we would no longer make it out.
(Diderot and DAlembert 1751: viii-ix)
He fears, in other words, that across separated points in time, and in the absence of an intervening medium, we may be unable to work out what was being said. The meaning of many everyday expressions might change independently of any changes
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in what they described. Action-at-a-distance might be doubtful; meaning-at-a-distance impossible.To grasp the import of such insights, let us consider briefly some of the differences between, say, 1759 and today. In that year Handel died, and the Seven Years War (1756-63) was raging to no ones benefit. In that year, too, Voltaire (1694-1778) published Candide, Samuel Johnson (1696-1772) his moral tale Rasselas, and Adam Smith (1723-90), Theory of Moral Sentiments. With the eighth volume about to be published, the great Encyclopedie of Diderot (1713-84) and DAlembert (1717-83) was banned by order of King Louis XV, along with De lEsprit of Helvetius(1715-71). In chapter 30 of Johnsons melancholy novel, Rasselas and his sister declare themselves to have little interest in history. They are firmly rebuked: To see men we must see their works, that we may learn what reason has dictated, or passion has incited, and find what are the most powerful motives of action. To judge rightly of the present we must oppose it to the past; for all judgement is comparative, and of the future nothing can be known.Such a view had been gathering support for over a century, and in 1759 had been conspicuously exemplified in the newly published Tudor volumes of David Humes History of England. Hume (1711-76) had already identified one unavoidable challenge: historians of the past know the outcome and consequences of actions, but not the intentions necessary for understanding them. The original agents, on the other hand, know their own intentions when they set out, but not the outcome. But there are other kinds of challenge: for example, almost no statistics were available. In 1752 Hume stated, We know not exactly the numbers of any European kingdom, or even city, at present (Hume 1752: vol. 1, 414). Yet, in 1759 no one can be said, in a defensible modern sense, to have known:
| |??? anything about forms of energy other than light and heat; |

| |??? anything about the composition of air or water; |

| |??? anything about the nature of fire, breathing or procreation; |

| |??? anything about the age of the earth or the size of the universe; |

| |??? anything about the nature of stars or the origins of life; |

| |??? anything about the evolution of animals or genetic inheritance. |

There were, of course, opinions about such matters, and within a dozen years or so some recognizably modern views were being formulated; but we have beliefs about these things, with varying degrees of assurance, and such beliefs irradiate all our assumptions and attitudes. To enter the minds of 1759, as it were, we would have to un-think what we know, in order to understand what we do not believe. Can it be done
Alongside conceptual challenges of this kind, a second point about context and method should be underlined. There are huge differences over time in what is admitted, by whom, to be a proper question; and in what count as the proper methods for reaching acceptable answers to it. Hume was not the first to insist that scientific and religious views may be understood by ordinary people, and may affect their lives in ways quite other than philosophers acknowledge – this was a fairly standard observation by Deists. The elements of abstract theories that might be translated into common life were always unpredictable, even if detectable. Moreover,
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an increasing number of writers from the mid-seventeenth century onwards, including Claude Perrault (1613-88) and Fontenelle (1657-1757) in France, and Hume and Adam Ferguson (1723-1816) in Britain, argued that most people were simply not motivated by theories of any kind, and most definitely not purely by reason. Following Bacon, they all held that fact, not doctrine or untestable speculation, was the goal of enquiry. Echoing French contemporaries such as Bayle and Fontenelle, and citing their classical mentor Cicero, the unidentified author of The Spectator, 408, in 1712 (often thought to have been Alexander Pope) prominently declared, Reason must be employed in adjusting the Passions, but they must ever remain the Principles of Action (Spectator, 408).
Contemporaries can be as puzzled by terminology as later historians. There was, of course, censorship, and writers might need to disguise what they meant; but readers could also suspect subversive texts where none was intended. In the first two parts we read how writers variously understood such terms as Newtonianism, or scepticism, and how they employed what today we regard as sceptical arguments in surprisingly selective contexts. Garrett (Chapter 4) emphasizes that many writers influenced by, or even adopting, sceptical arguments did not see themselves as sceptics, nor as addressing sceptical challenges. Indeed, like other labels, including republican and Christian, the ideas encompassed under them vary almost to the point of self-contradiction. Overall, however, the goal of many prominent writers accused, or even boasting, of a sceptical approach to knowledge was to promote rigorous, repeatable, experience-based enquiry. That such a goal strikes a modern reader as hardly worthy of comment demonstrates the total success of the approach – and the difficulty of understanding contexts in which such views were vigorously challenged.
In Chapter 2 Schouls explains how, for thinkers of the early modern period, tradition was rejected as a principal source of truth and wisdom: both the criteria and objects of certainty lay within individuals themselves. And although neither Descartes nor Locke discarded God from his philosophy, they had established the means by which their immediate followers could, and would, do so. Indeed, in 1753 Turgot (1727-81) surmised that Descartes dared not admit the irrelevance of God to his philosophical position because of the solitude it entailed. The demand and search for certainty may seem incomprehensible to a modern reader, but society itself appeared to be under threat as the authority of those who had claimed knowledge collapsed: was everyone equally ignorant What were the criteria of justified belief; what warranted the acceptance of other peoples claims; how should prejudice be identified and replaced Prejudice was an important notion because, as Milton (1608-74) stated in his Areopagitica, if a man beleeve things only because his Pastor says so ??¦ without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds, becomes his heresie (Milton 1644:38-9).
Such anxieties meant that the nature of education had to be addressed, with emphasis on individual effort and achievement, and rejection of the mechanical repetition of traditional methods and ideas. Insistence on thinking and judging for oneself soon led to the view that ones knowledge is essentially made – not passively imbibed, not inherited, not divinely vouchsafed. In his Novum Organum (I.xcv) of 1620, Bacon had famously claimed:
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Those who have handled sciences have been either men of experiment or men of dogmas. The men of experiment are like the ant; they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes a middle course; it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and the field, but transforms and digests it by a power of its own. Not unlike is the true business of philosophy.
Thereafter, most thinkers up to Condorcet (1743-94) said something about education. Benjamin Franklin in 1749 tells his readers to study Milton, Locke, Hutcheson, Obadiah Walker, Charles Rollin and George Turnbull. The earlier writers, such as Milton and Descartes, initially dismissed tradition, culture and community as irrelevant, but even they soon reabsorbed all three notions into their emerging moral, social and political philosophies. Locke, followed by Hume and his Scottish contemporaries, insisted that knowledge and its pursuit could not be merely individual endeavours: for one thing, no one has enough personal experience to ensure even minimal security in a hostile world. Indeed, knowledge must be regarded as an essentially social phenomenon, requiring the presence of others from whom to learn, and among whom to test ones own ideas. Moreover, Hume, arguably inspired as much by Descartess successors such as Malebranche (1638-1715) as by Locke, insisted that we cannot understand the nature of the present without some notion of its roots in the past. This required a grasp of the culture and tradition from which the present emerged, and awareness of the often complex causal connections that occurred. Only with such awareness can anyone in the present decide what needs revision or rejection in the repertoire of ideas and practices they have inherited; and only with such awareness can anyone hope to build on past successes and avoid past errors. Obvious: once it has become obvious.
By the mid-seventeenth century there had developed a recognition that even if scholastic philosophical and theological obscurities could be successfully shamed into dissolution, the increasingly specialized new enquiries – later labelled as scientific – were generating new obstacles to mutual understanding. Ephraim Chambers, writing only a year after the death of Isaac Newton (1642-1727), deplored the fact that in the modern world people of the same profession, no longer understand one another ??¦ {and} our knowledge is grown into little other than that of peoples misunderstandings or misapprehensions of one another (Chambers 1728: xvii).
An indication of the extent to which the new, moderately sceptical, experience-based enquiries had permeated most areas of study by the time of the French Revolution in 1789 can be gauged from two brief quotations. In the first, William Robertson, leader of the Moderate clergy in Edinburgh, and Principal of the university there, objects to the ways in which missionary priests had projected their own views on to the peoples whom they wished to convert:
They study to reconcile the institutions, which fall under their observations, to their own creed, not to explain them according to the rude notions of the people themselves. They ascribe to them ideas which they are incapable of forming, and suppose them to be acquainted with principles and facts, which it is impossible that they should know.
(Robertson 1777: vol. 2, 133)
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Adopting a similar tone, and writing at the beginning of the Revolution, J.-M.-A. Servan (1741-1808), a distinguished French lawyer, observed that in conjectures about the future one cannot guess the intervening crevasses that might impede progress towards distant mountains – a metaphor that by now had lasted more than a century:
No matter how much we study we shall never learn more than a little of the present, far less of the past, and almost nothing, perhaps even nothing at all, of the future ??¦
History, in short, provides warning signals; it is a light that alerts us to the dangers of a reef ahead, but it is not a clear chart and compass.
(Servan quoted by Bongie 1965:76)
Although Enlightenment ideas did influence subsequent thought in so many ways, it is easy to forget one of their central social insights. It is this. Everyone learns and absorbs ideas from other people, from the contexts in which they live and from the traditions with which they become familiar. Very rarely have even the best-known thinkers originated the ideas for which they are famous; typically, what distinguishes them are the ways in which they mould, develop or emphasize existing ideas, make new syntheses and interpret their own context. Countless philosophers before David Hume, for example, reflected on the how and why of change, and thus on the nature of causation, including his immediate predecessors discussed in this book, such as Malebranche, Locke, Descartes and Bacon – quite apart from Aristotle, whose famous distinction in Poetics, II.8, between causal connection and mere temporal sequence, was known to everyone. A rather small group of Humes contemporaries agreed with his analysis of causation, but it is subsequent interpreters and historians who have singled out his work as peculiarly influential on later thought. Contemporaries and posterity judge authors by different standards and from different perspectives.
Most of the discussions in this book refer to activities and ideas of an exceptionally small minority of the total populations: they were the people who held or aspired to power, and who possessed or had access to resources which enabled them to pursue or promote enquiry and implement change. The social benefits of their influence were most marked in the educational opportunities that gradually became available to more people, accompanied by decreasing poverty, and the eventual participation of more people in decisions which affected their own lives. It would be a mistake to think, however, that the names or achievements of those whom we discuss were known to more than a handful of their contemporaries or their descendants.
REFERENCES
| |Bacon, F. (1620) Novum Organum, in The Philosophical Works of Francis Bacon, ed. John M. Robertson, trans. Ellis and Spedding (1905) |
| |London: Routledge. |
| | |

| |Berkeley, G. (1732) An Essay towards a New Theory of Vision {1709}, 4th edn, in (1975) Philosophical Works, introduction by M. R. Ayers, |
| |London: Dent. |
| | |

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|Bongie, L. L. (1965) David Hume Prophet of the Counter-revolution, Oxford: Clarendon Press. |
| | |

| |{Boyles Lecture Sermons} (1739) A Defence of Natural and Revealed Religion: Being a Collection of the Sermons Preached at the Lecture |
| |Founded by the Honourable Robert Boyle, Esq. (From the Year 1691 to the Year 1732), London. |
| | |

| |Chambers, Ephraim (1728) Cyclopaedia: or an Universal Dictionary of the Arts and Sciences, 2nd edn, 2 vols (1738) London. |
| | |

| |{Collins, Anthony} (1710) A Vindication of the Divine Attributes ??¦ , London. |
| | |

| |Diderot, D. and DAlembert, J. (1751) Discours Preliminaire des Editeurs, in Encyclopedie ou Dictionnaire Raisonne Des Sciences, Des Arts|
| |et Des Metiers, Paris. |
| | |

| |Hume, D. (1752) Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations, in Political Discourses, Edinburgh; quoted in Essays and Treatises on Several |
| |Subjects (1764) London. |
| | |

| |{Johnson, S.} (1759) The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia: A Tale, London. |
| | |

| |Milton, J. (1644) Areopagitica, ed. John W. Hales (1894) Oxford: Clarendon Press. |
| | |

| |Robertson, William (1777) The History of America, Dublin. |
| | |

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CHAPTER ONE
SCIENCE AND THE COMING OF ENLIGHTENMENT
John Henry
The seminal influence of the new philosophy, or (as we would say) the new science, of the seventeenth century upon the leading Enlightenment thinkers is so unanimously acknowledged in all the literature on the long eighteenth century that it is in danger of being taken for granted. Because science is such a powerful cultural force in modern life, and since the Enlightenment has been be seen as the beginning of modernity, it is all too easy for us to leave unexamined the powerful influence of seventeenth-century natural philosophy on eighteenth-century thinkers. It is important to realize that it was only in the eighteenth century that scientific knowledge acquired the cultural kudos in the West which it has ever since enjoyed; and only then that science began to be recognized as the supreme cognitive authority, the intellectual system to which all others should defer.
This new recognition of the intellectual power of scientific knowledge was not merely a matter of eighteenth-century intellectuals waking up to an obvious, previously unrecognized, truth. There was nothing inevitable about the rise of science. On the contrary, it was the Enlightenments philosophes who took up the science of the preceding age and helped to establish it as the dominant force in Western culture. They would not have done so had there not been something about the science of that preceding age which profoundly impressed them. It is the aim of this chapter, therefore, to look more closely at the science of the period before the Enlightenment, with a view to understanding what it was that so impressed the intellectuals of the late eighteenth century, and made them believe that, thanks in large measure to recent developments in science, they were living in an age of enlightenment.
We will be concerned with developments in the period known to historians as the Scientific Revolution, roughly from the middle of the sixteenth century to the early decades of the seventeenth. This was a period when the finite spherical and earth-centred universe of pre-modern times was replaced by the notion of a sun-centred solar system in an infinite expanse of space. Whats more, these changes in cosmology were accompanied by numerous astronomical discoveries, including new stars, satellites and the magnetic nature of the earth. There were numerous advances in the knowledge not only of human anatomy, but also of the anatomy of insects and plants. Knowledge of physiology also improved with the discovery of the circulation of the blood in animals and sexual generation in plants, and life processes in general
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came to be seen not as the result of the special influence of souls or other vital principles but merely the result of physical and chemical processes. Ancient beliefs in inherent purposes and qualities in things gave way to ideas of cause and effect based merely on the physical interactions of bodies. The idea that bodies were made of four elements having their own characteristic qualities gave way to the belief that all bodies and their properties were simply the result of invisibly small particles of matter in characteristic arrangements. It was also a time when it was first accepted that knowledge of nature and its processes could best be understood by close observation and by mathematical analysis, and when it was first realized that the operations of nature followed precise law-like rules.
It might seem, even from a rapid survey like this, that these achievements speak for themselves; that we only have to go through each of them in more detail to understand why the leading philosophes were so impressed. There is no denying the cumulative impact of all these achievements, but the real legacy of the Scientific Revolution was not simply a bundle of newly established knowledge. Its importance was to show how yet more discoveries might be made, and how new truths about the world and everything in it could be established and understood. In short, the Scientific Revolution pointed the way to progress, and the new methodology of science became a major factor in the development of Enlightenment optimism.
In what follows, therefore, I do not attempt to consider the manifold achievements of the Scientific Revolution in any detail (there are, after all, many books on the period which are readily available). I simply focus on those aspects of the Scientific Revolution which caused Enlightenment thinkers to believe that knowledge of the natural world, what we would call scientific knowledge, should be seen as paradigmatic of all knowledge claims, and, if correctly pursued, would lead to the irresistible progress of mankind. My concern, therefore, is not so much with specific scientific achievements as with what is called scientific method. It was what they perceived to be the new methodology of science which had the most profound influence upon Enlightenment thinkers. The specific achievements of the Scientific Revolution amply demonstrated the efficacy of the new scientific method. For the intellectuals of the succeeding age, therefore, it was simply a matter of bringing that method to bear on other aspects of life and thought.
THE NEW PHILOSOPHY, OR NEW PHILOSOPHIES
Late seventeenth-century natural philosophers frequently referred to something called the new philosophy, which they contrasted to the old scholastic philosophy, traditionally taught in the universities. It is evident, however, that there was not just one new philosophy. As Voltaire (1694-1778) made plain in his Philosophical Letters, there was a vigorous rivalry, for example, between English and French new philosophies:
A Frenchman arriving in London finds quite a change in philosophy as in all else. Behind him he left the world full; here he finds it empty. In Paris one sees
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the universe composed of vortices of subtle matter; in London one sees nothing of the sort. With us its the pressure of the moon that causes the rising of the tide; with the English its the sea gravitating toward the moon; so that when you {French} think the moon ought to give us a high tide, these gentlemen think it ought to be low.
(Voltaire 1734: Letter Fourteen, 60)
Here, and in the rest of this letter, Voltaire is comparing the rival new philosophies of the great French thinker Rene Descartes (1596-1650), founder of the so-called mechanical philosophy, and the supreme English mathematician and experimental philosopher Isaac Newton (1642-1727). According to Descartes, the world was full, and according to Newton it must be empty. Voltaire writes in an entertaining way, straying even into facetiousness (he suggests that the only way we could decide who was right about the moons effect on the tides would require seeing the state of affairs at the first moment of creation), but he was fully aware of the far-reaching significance of these and the other tremendous contrarieties that he mentioned.
Voltaire, true to his anglomanie, was one of the first Frenchmen to acknowledge the superiority of Newtonian science over Cartesian mechanical philosophy. His Philosophical Letters played a part not only in convincing other Frenchmen that Newtonianism should be taken more seriously, but also in raising the profile of natural philosophy in general as a prime means of discovering the truth about the way things are, and therefore as a major source of intellectual authority, capable even of supplanting ecclesiastical authority.
The astonishing wider impact of these philosophies of nature almost certainly stemmed from the fact that they seemed to offer so much promise in discovering the truth. To begin with, Cartesianism seemed so superior to scholastic natural philosophy that it became immensely influential in spite of numerous difficulties. Those difficulties, however, led other natural philosophers to develop refinements or alternatives to the Cartesian system which eventually culminated in the mathematical physics of Isaac Newtons Principia Mathematica (1687). Although quickly accepted in England by the majority of natural philosophers, on the Continent Newtonianism seemed to deviate too far from sound Cartesian principles to be acceptable. But it was gradually recognized that Newtonianism could be used to advance beyond Cartesianism, giving rise in the eighteenth century to a newer natural philosophy. Indeed, post-Cartesian and post-Newtonian science became a major factor in Enlightenment optimism.
To understand why these new philosophies inspired such optimism, one needs to know how they came to be amalgamated so successfully.
CARTESIANISM
Inspired partly by the Renaissance revival of knowledge about ancient atomism, the earlier work of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), and the innovative work of his erstwhile friend and collaborator Isaac Beeckman (1588-1637), Descartes developed a natural philosophy in which all physical phenomena could be explained in terms of matter
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in motion. Descartess great advance over his precursors was to develop a complete system of philosophy in which there were no unexplained, or inexplicable, phenomena. Assuming that all bodies were composed of invisibly small particles in various combinations and arrangements, Descartes explained all change in terms of the motion and therefore rearrangement of the constituent particles.
The crucial difference between Descartess philosophy and ancient atomism, or even the contemporary physico-mathematics of Beeckman, was the claim that all the required motions could be explained in terms of the working of specific laws of nature. Taking it as axiomatic that motion could never be lost from the world system, but must always remain at a constant level, these laws stipulated how motions were transferred in collisions from one particle to another. Where ancient atomists, or their Renaissance revivers, sometimes invoked unexplained principles of motion to account for the new motions of atoms, Descartes only allowed transfer of motion from one part of the system to another, in accordance with his rules of collision. At least, thats how it was in principle.
It followed from this that Descartes was committed to a universe in which nothing could be allowed to hinder the lawlike transfer of motion from one particle to another. There could thus be no empty spaces between particles (spaces which might absorb the vibratory motions of a particle, for example, without passing the motion on to adjacent particles). This is why a Frenchman, according to Voltaire, thinks the world is full. A full universe, however, as the ancient atomists pointed out long ago, was in danger of being a universe locked in stasis. How could anything move if every possible space to move into was already occupied Descartes avoided this by insisting upon a kind of instantaneous fluidity in the universe, so that as soon as one particle moved, its place was immediately filled by another (to avoid formation of a vacuum), and its place in turn was filled by another, and so on. This process did not have to go on ad infinitum, however. According to Descartes, such movements were locally confined, so that there was a kind of circular displacement initiated by the movement of one particle but closed by completion of a circle of displacement. Such circular displacements could be large or small but they always acted instantaneously, in the sense that there could never be a moment when there was a vacuum left where a particle once had been. These circular displacements, required essentially as part of Descartess metaphysics, came to play a role in his physics, being invoked to account for the circular motions of the planets and other cosmic phenomena. The name given to such a whirlpool of matter was vortex, and this is what Voltaire had in mind in his letter On Descartes and Newton, when he wrote that In Paris one sees the universe composed of vortices of subtile matter (Voltaire 1734: Letter Fourteen, 60).
Descartes was sufficiently confident of the explanatory power of his new system of philosophy that he was able to claim, at the end of his Principia philosophiae (1644), the fullest account of his system, that no phenomena of nature have been omitted by me in this treatise, and that there is nothing visible or perceptible in this world that I have not explained (Descartes 1644: Part IV, ?§199, 282-3). The claim was not meant to be taken literally, but as a statement of principle.
The advantages of this system over the traditional version of Aristotelian philosophy which had become enshrined in university curricula throughout Western
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Europe were evidently sufficient to ensure its influence. New discoveries and new theories, such as the astronomical theory of Copernicus and the theory of motion of Galileo, not only seemed to undermine Aristotelianism but exposed the unsatisfactory way Aristotelian philosophers defended their traditional positions. Increasingly, Aristotelianism was seen to rely merely on its own definitions of how things are. Copernicus must be wrong, Aristotelians insisted, because the natural place of the earth is at the centre of the world system. One of the most derided of such Aristotelian concepts was the notion of so-called substantial forms. Growing out of Aristotles original claim that bodies cannot consist simply of matter, since matter can only be understood if it is formed into a particular shape, substantial forms accounted for all of a bodys qualities. A piece of matter in the shape of a cube might turn out, on inspection, to be a cube of wood or a cube of iron. Since Aristotle claimed all unformed matter was the same, what makes wood differ from iron His answer: the (substantial) form. But what this meant was that any poorly understood, or downright inexplicable, phenomena could simply be explained in terms of the substantial form of the body or bodies in question. This was becoming something of a philosophical scandal.
The mechanical philosophy did away with the concept of substantial forms at a stroke. Matter, still always the same, was held to exist in countless numbers of particles of different sizes and shapes, but always smaller than could be detected by human senses. It was the combination of these particles, in particular arrangements, or their movements in particular ways, which gave rise to the bodies (wood, iron, etc.) and other phenomena of everyday life. Explanations in these terms (essentially still current in modern science) were considered by converts to the mechanical philosophy to be more intelligible and more plausible than explanations in terms of Aristotelian substantial forms or other scholastic concepts.
Nevertheless, there were serious disadvantages to the Cartesian system. In spite of its authors boldly expressed confidence in the unassailable nature of its explanations, it was perfectly clear that the whole system was based entirely upon speculation; given that all explanations depended upon the behaviour of imperceptible movements and particles, there was no accessible evidence for any of the explanations, much less any certainty. Moreover, some well-known physical phenomena seemed very hard to reconcile with Cartesian principles. Many everyday phenomena could be understood in terms of the transfer of motions in collisions, although usually a willing suspension of disbelief was urgently called for, but there were others which seemed inexplicable in Cartesian terms. How can gunpowder send a heavy cannonball flying at high speed and over a great distance just because it is tickled by the gentle motion of a flame Contrary to Cartesian principles, this looks like the generation of new motion, rather than the transfer of motion from one thing (the flame) to another (the cannonball). Efforts to suggest that the required kind of vigorous motion must somehow be trapped in the gunpowder during its manufacture did not seem convincing – nothing in the making of gunpowder required that the ingredients be implosively brought together in a way that mirrored its subsequent explosiveness. For many, therefore, the Cartesian system seemed merely fantastic – the result of an ingenious imagination, perhaps, but entirely lacking in support. For Voltaire, the problem was that Descartes gave himself up to the systematizing
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spirit. From then on his philosophy was no more than an ingenious romance, at best seeming probable to the ignorant (Voltaire 1734: Letter Fourteen, 64).
Voltaire was condemning Descartes for the very thing that had made his philosophy seem so powerful to many seventeenth-century thinkers. By the early decades of the seventeenth century it was becoming increasingly obvious that Aristotelian philosophy was seriously flawed, maybe even untenable. In spite of the innovations of Copernicus, Galileo and others, however, it was all too clear that there was nothing capable of replacing the fully comprehensive system of Aristotle. Acceptance of Copernican astronomy, or the Galilean theory of motion, immediately raised innumerable questions about other aspects of physics which were simply never addressed by Copernicus or Galileo. What was required was a complete system of natural philosophy, able to offer an account of all phenomena – this was precisely what the Aristotelian system provided. Descartes was the first philosopher ever to provide a coherent, all-embracing system that could replace the Aristotelian system, lock, stock and barrel. For many, this had been the major strength of the Cartesian system. Voltaire, however, was an admirer of English philosophy, where the systematizing spirit was treated with suspicion, if not outright disdain.
ENGLAND AND THE EXPERIMENTAL PHILOSOPHY
Nowhere, it seems, were philosophers more suspicious of the Cartesian romance than in seventeenth-century England. By mid-century there was already a strong tradition of empiricism in England; a belief that knowledge could be established only by an experience dependent ultimately on sense perceptions. Consequently, even those natural philosophers who immediately recognized the superiority of Cartesianism over scholastic Aristotelianism (and there were many) considered it only as a starting point for thinking about the natural world, not as the final word.
The suggested reform of natural philosophy put forward by Francis Bacon (1561-1626), statesman and man of letters, can be seen as both symptomatic of English attitudes and influential in reinforcing them. The emphasis on empiricism was at least partly the result of English experiences following the Henrician Reformation. Being the only Reformation initiated on non-doctrinal grounds, it gave rise to protracted religious disputes between those who wished to remain Anglo-Catholic and those who sought more radical reform. This in turn led to what came to be seen as characteristically English attempts to reach compromise positions to reconcile opposed factions. Since entrenched doctrinal positions were always defended on supposedly well-reasoned grounds, English intellectuals tended to distrust claims based on reason and looked for compromise in more pragmatically based positions. Bacon grew to maturity as the famous Elizabethan compromise, based on the supposedly conciliatory Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church, was being promoted. Against this background, especially of the outdated Aristotelian natural philosophy of the scholastics, it is not surprising that Bacons work, from the outset, was empiricist and hostile to premature system-building. (He lived too early
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to oppose the Cartesian system but dismissed earlier anti-Aristotelian systems developed by BernardinoTelesio (1509-88), Francesco Patrizi (1529-97) and others.)
Although Bacon was never able to reform natural philosophy in the way that he envisaged, he outlined his methodological prescriptions in a number of published works which proved immensely influential, especially in England. Although Bacon was an empiricist, and a champion of experiment as a way of reaching an understanding of natural processes, his method was uniquely different from other experimentalists. In particular, Bacon was opposed to what he saw as the common practice of performing experiments in order to confirm what one already believed. For Bacon, this was simply another example of what he called anticipations of nature, rather than an unbiased means of discovering the truth. It was all too easy, Bacon believed, to design an experiment to prove what you wanted it to prove. For Bacon, experiments should be designed merely to establish facts, to establish precisely what happens in a given set of circumstances. This approach went hand in hand with Bacons generally natural historical approach; that is to say, his emphasis on gathering natural histories, or catalogues of natural data. Indeed, Bacon spoke often of the need to gather natural and experimental histories. In his most famous book, the Novum Organum (New Organon, or New Instrument, 1620), Bacon described in detail how such empirical data should be set out in what he called Tables of Discovery. The crucial point here was Bacons belief that the search for explanatory causes, to account for the phenomena listed in the tables, should follow the gathering of data, not precede it. This was the right kind of disciplined approach, Bacon believed, to avoid jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions. The understanding, he wrote in the New Organon, must not therefore be supplied with wings, but rather hung with weights, to keep it from leaping and flying from particulars to remote axioms, or principles (Bacon 1620: Book I, Aphorism 104).
Bacons ambition to reform natural philosophy could hardly fail to attract international attention at a time when Aristotelianism was seen to be in terminal decline, but it was undoubtedly in England where he had the most influence. His ideas seemed especially congenial to leading natural philosophers after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Seeing the Civil War and Interregnum periods as times of religious fanaticism (or enthusiasm, as it was usually called), many among the educated classes turned once again to religious compromise as a way of damping controversy. Latitudinarianism became a prominent movement within the newly restored Anglican Church. Taking inspiration from earlier efforts at compromise during the reign of Edward VI (1547-53), Latitudinarians insisted only upon a few fundamental doctrines, which would be acceptable (they hoped) to all Christians. Other points of religion were held to be indifferent to ones salvation, and therefore believers could hold their own view until the truth should be revealed on the Last Day. In this religious atmosphere Baconianism began to flourish even more.
The Baconian emphasis upon compiling natural histories and avoiding commitment to particular theoretical points of view until the time was ripe (when all the relevant data was deemed to have been made available) was seen as a way of avoiding controversy in natural philosophy, analogous to the method of Latitudinarian churchmen. This was important because Aristoteli

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