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Unfinished Paper On The Social Context Of The Enlightenment

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Question 7: the Enlightenment in its social context

Using the week 2 additional readings list and the list below as your starting-points, discuss the social contexts out of which Enlightenment argument emerged. How did these environments influence the philosophes' ideas about reasoned argument, debate and the Ð''public sphere'?

We know in the late 1700's and early 1800's that the Age of Reason dawned upon the European civilizations. But from where did this idea of reason sprout? Where did the subject of reason and rationality come from? Why was it that these subjects were so embraced? The following essay will answer and analyse these questions by discussing the change in the understanding of the Ð''the public' as we know it today and the role of coffee houses, salons and academic societies and their influences on philosophers.

Social environments such as coffee houses, libraries and salons were fundamental in the discourse of rational and critical thinking. These places allowed for conversation to take place without any formal incongruity and social distinction (to an extent), unlike churches and schools.

Some other social settings like public lectures, reader's societies, academic societies and other societies similar to that of the Freemasons where also very supportive to the development and spread of enlightenment, however some required memberships that imposed a fee and where cautiously controlled. This often meant that less prosperous individuals were not able to attend. These higher class social groups allowed for the Ð''hot topics' to be discussed and criticised through "free and open examination". The carefully scrutinized memberships and fees allowed only the wealthier and higher paid academics to attend, and for that reason ( to their way of thinking) generated better viewpoints on the topics discussed and kept the Ð''riff-raff' out.

Fuelling the frequently emerging discourses relating to reason, rationality and critical thinking during the Enlightenment were the increased number of journals, newspapers and pamphlets circulating through these social settings. These texts not only included philosophical work but also novels, articles on travel, scientific theories, politics and much more. They were often also quite cheap and available to anyone. This increase in printing was crucial to the development of the Enlightenment and also the spread of the writings of key enlightenment figures, such as d'Alembert, Diderot, Condillac and Rousseau.

Another reason for the spread of the Enlightenment was Industrialism which at this time was just starting to roll. This created an influx of people, which increased the amount of academics in the major European cities and thus allowed a greater quantity of people to be exposed to Ð''The Enlightenment'.

Through the previously mentioned social settings and environments philosophers were blessed with a larger academic society, who would be interested in reading and criticising their publishing. However, it was not enough for some of the philosophers who really wanted to get their writings on new or improved viewpoints circulated to a higher degree, and so, for the elite writers and philosophers, prize essay competitions allowed their ideas to be heard not just within their immediate social environments but to be spread more extensively as they where published and sold to many different cities and provinces. Also, heir reputation among the social ans academic elites allowed their ideas to be heard.

A philosopher and sociologist by the name of JÐ"јrgen Harbermas studied the coffee houses of eighteenth century France and similar social settings and came up with the idea of a name for the social atmosphere were the Ð''diffusion and interchange of ideas' (ch&c15) was taking place. He named it the Ð''the public sphere'. This idea was quite a paradox as revealed below.

In the eighteenth century the interpretation of the ideas of Ð''public' and Ð''private' were considerably altered. The idea of the word Ð''public' was always considered as Ð''partaking in state or religious authority' for example work, family and religious interests. (ps&po 24). However this was now seen as being Ð''private'.

Kant helped by adding his thoughts on the idea of the word Ð''private'. He suggested that the word Ð''private' is made obvious by the nature of a society or a community. To explain himself further he goes on to say, "The useÐ'... which an appointed teacher (in a lecture) makes of his reason is merely private, because this congregation is only a domestic one".

The text by Roger Chartier also gives a good example by explaining Habermas' ideas of Ð''Public' and Ð''Private': "defining the public as the sphere of the universal and the private as the domain of particular and domestic interests (which may even be those of a church or a state)"(pp26).

Therefore the word Ð''public' is distinct from Ð''private' by its ideology that it is Ð''universal', its idea that the use of Ð''public reason' is not controlled by the political and religious powers (however it is in one's best interest to, as Kant suggests, argue subjects publicly, nonetheless respect laws of your political authority) and its lack of Ð''domestic interests'.

The idea of Habermas', Ð''the public sphere', however should not be confused with Ð''public', nevertheless it does help to



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