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HISTORIOGRAPHY AND ENLIGHTENMENT: A VIEW OF THEIR HISTORY

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2008

J. G. A. POCOCK*
Affiliation:
Department of History, Johns Hopkins University

Extract

This essay is written on the following premises and argues for them. “Enlightenment” is a word or signifier, and not a single or unifiable phenomenon which it consistently signifies. There is no single or unifiable phenomenon describable as “the Enlightenment,” but it is the definite article rather than the noun which is to be avoided. In studying the intellectual history of the late seventeenth century and the eighteenth, we encounter a variety of statements made, and assumptions proposed, to which the term “Enlightenment” may usefully be applied, but the meanings of the term shift as we apply it. The things are connected, but not continuous; they cannot be reduced to a single narrative; and we find ourselves using the word “Enlightenment” in a family of ways and talking about a family of phenomena, resembling and related to one another in a variety of ways that permit of various generalizations about them. We are not, however, committed to a single root meaning of the word “Enlightenment,” and we do not need to reduce the phenomena of which we treat to a single process or entity to be termed “the” Enlightenment. It is a reification that we wish to avoid, but the structure of our language is such that this is difficult, and we will find ourselves talking of “the French” or “the Scottish,” “the Newtonian” or the “the Arminian” Enlightenments, and hoping that by employing qualifying adjectives we may constantly remind ourselves that the keyword “Enlightenment” is ours to use and should not master us.

Type
Essays
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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References

1 Robertson, John, The Case for the Enlightenment: Scotland and Naples, 1680–1740 (Cambridge University Press, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Robertson, Case, 130 and passim.

3 I attempted a portrayal of the latter in Pocock, J. G. A., Barbarism and Religion, vol. 2, Narratives of Civil Government (Cambridge University Press, 1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Oz-Salzberger, Fania, “The Political Thought of John Locke and the Significance of Political Hebraism,” Hebraic Political Studies 1/5 (2006), 568–92Google Scholar.

5 For a preliminary account, see Pocock, J. G. A., Barbarism and Religion, vol. 1, The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon (Cambridge University Press, 1999), chap. 2CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Bonno, Gabriel, ed., Lettres inèdites de Jean Le Clerc à John Locke (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1959), 33–4Google Scholar. A fuller study of Le Clerc in his relation to Gibbon is in preparation for a projected fifth volume of Barbarism and Religion. See, meanwhile, The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 131–2, 218.

7 I Corinthians:23.

8 “[N]on ut aliquid diceretur, sed ne taceretur,” quoted from Augustine's De Trinitate by Le Clerc in Ars Critica (second English edn, 1698), 117.

9 E.g. Arthur Bury, The Naked Gospel (Oxford, 1690), a work endorsed by Le Clerc.

10 Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ed. David Womersley (London: Allen Lane, 1994), 1: chap. 15, 446.

11 Isaac de Beausobre, Histoire de Manichée et du Manichéisme, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1734–29); Pocock, Barbarism and Religion, vol. 5, forthcoming.

12 Meier, Heinrich, Leo Strauss and the Theological–Political Problem (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 Young, B. W., Religion and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century England: Theological Debates from Locke to Burke (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

14 Bordoli, Roberto, L'Illuminismo di Dio: alle origini della mentalità liberale. Religione, teologia, filosofia e storia in Johann Salomo Semler (1725–1791) (Torino: L. S. Olschki, 2004)Google Scholar.

15 Levine, Joseph M., Humanism and History: Origins of Modern English Historiography (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987)Google Scholar; idem, The Battle of the Books: History and Literature in the Augustan Age (Cornell, 1991); idem, The Autonomy of History: Truth and Method from Erasmus to Gibbon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); idem, Re-enacting the Past: Essays on the Evolution of Modern English Historiography (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004).

16 Gibbon, Decline and Fall, 1: chap. 15, 458, note 32.

17 Gibbon, Decline and Fall, 1: 490. See Pocock, further J. G. A., “Perceptions of Modernity in Early Modern Historical Thinking,” Intellectual History Review 19/1 (2007), 7982CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 Gibbon, Decline and Fall, 1: 456–9.

19 See, in particular, Nigel Aston, “Infidelity Ancient and Modern: George Horne Reads Edward Gibbon,” Albion 27/3 (1995), 561–82; and idem, “A ‘Disorderly Squadron’? A Fresh Look at Clerical Responses to the Decline and Fall,” in Womersley, David, ed., Edward Gibbon: Bicentenary Essays (Oxford, Voltaire Foundation, 1997), 253–78Google Scholar.

20 Pocock, Narratives of Civil Government.

21 For Gibbon's judgments on both authors, see the Bibliographical Index to Womersley's edition of Decline and Fall, 3: 1196 (Bayle), 1233–4 (Le Clerc).

22 Giovanni Santinello, ed., Storia delle Storie della Filosofia, vol. 1, Dalle origini rinascimentali alla ‘historia philosophica’, vol. 2, Dall'età cartesiana a Brucker (Brescia: Editrice La Scuola, 1981–79), Hochstrasser, T. J., Natural Law Theories in the Early Enlightenment (Cambridge University Press, 2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Hunter, Ian, Rival Enlightenments: Civil and Metaphysical Philosophy in Early Modern Germany (Cambridge University Press, 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Conal Condren, Gaukroger, Stephen and Hunter, Ian, eds., The Philosopher in Early Modern Europe: The Nature of a Contested Identity (Cambridge University Press, 2006)Google Scholar.

23 Kames's chapter on the history of theology (Sketches of the History of Man, Book III, Sketch 3, “Principles and Progress of Theology”) speaks of the theology of savages, but does not proceed to that of shepherds. It appears unconnected with the stadial schemes of Smith or Millar.

24 Pocock, The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 157–68; Beausobre, Histoire de Manichée et du Manichéisme, 1: 167–8.

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