History 416 is a survey of the thought of one of the most revolutionary periods in the history of human interaction, the century when Europeans debated and often changed fundamentally the way they thought about knowledge, about authority, about the nature of religion and its place within their world, about human nature, about moral criteria, and about the possibilities of the human condition. Students will read solely primary sources—eighteenth-century texts themselves—seeking to understand the eighteenth-century meanings and receptions of eighteenth-century debates. Our goal never will be to summon authors before the bar of our "superior" wisdom, but to understand them in context, on their own terms. We shall examine the main currents of eighteenth-century European thought: challenges to inherited authority; deism; natural religion; skepticism; evangelical revival; political reform; diverse way of understanding nature and human nature; utilitarianism; materialism. The course will focus on works widely read in the eighteenth century and historically influential on the ages that followed. The course assumes no prior work in the subject, and there are no prerequisites. We shall read, in English, authors who transformed Europe's thought, debates, and civilization, either in their own right, or as part of broader movements of thought: the baron Montesquieu, Voltaire (twice), Joseph Butler, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (twice), Thomas Paine, John Wesley, David Hume, Cesare Beccaria, Julian Offray de La Mettrie, and Denis Diderot. We are a course on history, doing intellectual history, not a seminar on philosophy or political theory. That is to say, our goal will not be to judge or to argue the merits and demerits of our authors (you always can choose to do that on your own, apart from our course), but to understand how the world looked to different minds in a different time and place. The focus of our discussion will be analytic and comparative. We get to ask questions about an author's beliefs that an author may not ask himself or herself (for example, implicit views of human nature or of ethics). It may be that two of you who agree about what an author believes or not might hold two different views of the author's rightness or wrongness. Our subject will be the former (analyzing an author and comparing him to other authors), not the latter (judging an author). We're a class in history. Imagine, for the sake of argument, that we were studying Tibetan Buddhism or Medieval political theory. To summon those thinkers to judgment by our own contemporary or personal views of the world would be to study ourselves, not other minds or schools of thought. Our task is to understand other minds and other ways of thinking. The course will be organized around reading, lectures, and (voluntary) discussion. There are no required papers, because I want you to have the time to immerse yourselves in the readings, but if you have research interests or if you are uneasy about having only examinations determine your grade, you may choose to write a paper, not for extra credit, but to count as half of your final-exam grade. I shall set up a class list serve, and each week, before a reading, I'll send out some "Questions for Reading" to help you organize your work and to give us a place from which to start discussion. Discussions, however, will be wide open to your own interests and questions.
Day and Time: 
TR 1200PM-0130PM
Cross Listings: 
  • COML416401