By Henry Vyverberg

During this paintings, Henry Vyverberg lines the evolution and results of a vital concept in French Enlightenment thought--the notion of human nature. Human nature used to be as a rule noticeable as a greatly common, unchanging entity, although might be modifiable through geographical, social, and ancient components. Enlightenment empiricism urged a level of cultural variety that has frequently been underestimated in experiences of the age. proof here's drawn from Diderot's celebrated Encyclopedia and from an enormous diversity of writing by way of such Enlightenment notables as Voltaire, Rousseau, and d'Holbach. Vyverberg explains not just the age's undoubted fascination with uniformity in human nature, but in addition its acknowledgment of vital boundaries on that uniformity. He exhibits that even though the Enlightenment's ancient feel was once frequently blinkered by way of its notions of a uniform human nature, there have been additionally cracks during this idea that constructed throughout the Enlightenment itself.

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Consciousness of this duty is what is called morality. . "21 The patriarch of the philosophies, Voltaire, found two ideas basic to natural law—its fixed, eternal nature and its moral utility. Its central principle, he maintained, is justice. Although Voltaire could also write of the physical, scientific laws of nature, his usage of the term "natural law" is clearly ethical and normative in this typical summary from 1766: "I call natural laws those that nature . . has engraved within our hearts.

Rousseau a Bernardin de Saint-Pierre . . (Paris: Hachette, 1907); Paul Van Tieghem, Le sentiment de la nature dans le preromantisme europeen (Paris: A. G. Nizet, 1960). On science, see: Emile Callot, La philosophie de la vie au xviiie siecle . . (Paris: Marcel Riviere, 1965); Colm Kiernan, The Enlightenment and Science in Eighteenth-Century France, in Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, vol. 59A (Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation, 1973); Jacques Roger, Les sciences de la vie dans la pensee franyaise au xviiie siecle .

9 Certain motives and needs were indeed universal, but they expressed themselves differently under different circumstances. Peter Gay also has exercised discretion. For the philosophes, he notes, "nature had built a certain uniformity into man's basic patterns of growth and behavior," but without foreclosing all variations. There was enough uniformity in human nature to serve, it was hoped, as the basis for sound historical and sociological generalizations, but not so much as to impose a deadening sameness upon humanity.

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