In this concise and powerful book, one of the world’s leading historians of the Enlightenment provides a bracing and clarifying new interpretation of this watershed period. Arguing that philosophical and historical views of the era have long been hopelessly confused, Vincenzo Ferrone makes the case that it is only by separating these views and taking an approach grounded in social and cultural history that we can begin to grasp what the Enlightenment was—and why it is still relevant today.
Examining Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Horkheimer, Adorno, Foucault, and Pope Benedict XVI, Ferrone shows how transhistorical, philosophical interpretations of the Enlightenment have diverged from ones based on careful historical reconstructions of the ideas, practices, and institutions of eighteenth-century Europe. He then offers a new reading of the Enlightenment, arguing that it was "the laboratory of modernity," a profound and wide-ranging cultural revolution that reshaped Western identity, reformed politics through the invention of human rights, and redefined knowledge by creating a critical culture. Not confined to a group of radical elites, these new ways of thinking gave birth to new values that spread throughout society and changed how everyday life was lived and thought of.
Original and provocative, The Enlightenment provides a compelling reevaluation of the true nature and legacy of one of the most important and contested periods in Western history. And, in a new afterword, Ferrone describes how his argument challenges the work of Anglophone interpreters of the Enlightenment, including Jonathan Israel.
The translation of this work has been funded by SEPS—Segretariato Europeo per le Pubblicazioni Scientifiche.
Vincenzo Ferrone is professor of modern history at the University of Turin. He has been a visiting scholar at the Collège de France and at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. His books include The Politics of Enlightenment.
"Ferrone’s familiarity with the primary literature is impressive, covering thinkers from France and Italy to Germany and Scotland. His grasp of the historiography is just as sure, encompassing both Anglophone and European research. This makes for a book that is far more than just a synthesis."--Richard Bourke, Times Literary Supplement
"[C]ompelling."-- Jacob Soll, The New Republic
"Ferrone’s command of his material is impressive. . . . There is something for us to learn, or be reminded of, on nearly every page of this dense but often enlightened work."--John Toren, Rain Taxi Review of Books
"A novel and provocative interpretation of the Enlightenment that effectively challenges scholars of the movement to rethink their own understandings of the intellectual turmoil and upheaval of the eighteenth century."--Sharon Stanley, Review of Politics
"Ferrone's compelling and courageous effort to disentangle the conceptions of the Enlightenment advanced by historians and philosophers since the eighteenth century results in a volume indispensable to historians and philosophers alike--and especially all those interested in how the late Enlightenment's 'laboratory of modernity' gave rise to and continues to shape our understanding of humanism today."--Ryan Patrick Hanley, author of Adam Smith and the Character of Virtue
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