‘If I knew something useful to me, and harmful to my family, I would reject it from my mind’, the French Enlightenment philosophe Montesquieu famously wrote. ‘If I knew something useful to my family and not to my country, I would try to forget it. If I knew something useful to my country, and harmful to Europe, or useful to Europe and harmful to Mankind, I would look upon it as a crime’.
Montesquieu’s sentiment expresses, for Anthony Pagden, the essence of the Enlightenment. In the belief that all humans ‘share a common identity and thus belong ultimately to a single global community – a “cosmopolis”’ lies, he suggests, the Enlightenment’s greatest legacy. The Enlightenment – And Why It Matters is both a history of the period and an argument for the importance of the cosmopolitan ideal.
There is no period of history that has been more analysed, debated, celebrated and disparaged…
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