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Faces of the Enlightenment

Philosophical sketches


Zbigniew Drozdowicz

The author of this book speaks out again in regard to the Enlightenment. His inspiration comes not only from new observations occasioned by own studies, but also from the recently read material as well as opinions and appraisals of the era articulated lately at academic conferences. Although they have not led the author to perform a fundamental revision of his views in regard to the nature of Enlightenment and its crucial contributions to the Western culture, they did afford a better understanding of its complexity. They also made him more aware that his interpretation and presentation of that era depends considerably on what its prominent representatives had to say, as well as on the worldview-based assumptions and methods of appraisal adopted by its later observers and interpreters.

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1. Radicalism and Moderation of the Enlightenment

The hypothesis that nothing is radical or moderate in itself, but that in every case a point of reference is required such that it constitute a credible gauge, seems rather safe and uncontroversial. But the controversies emerge when one begins actually indicating what constitutes such a gauge. After all, some may consider something particularly well matched, while it evokes serious reservations among many others. An example of such a gauge could be that proposed by Jonathan Irvine Israel in his treatise entitled Radical Enlightenment. Philosophy and the Making of Modernity (1650–1750).236 However, I am loathe to invoke once again in these deliberations those charges that were addressed both in regard to the way of understanding the radicalism of the Enlightenment in this work, and towards how its author made B. Spinoza a kind of spiritus movens of that age.237 Attempts at facing the radicalism of the Enlightenment and intellectually “embracing” it have of course also appeared in other treatises dedicated to the era.←154 | 155→

In my contemplations I shall cite examples of ways of grasping the Enlightenment’s radicalism and the Enlightenment’s moderation which I not only find interesting, but which also inspire serious discussion on the subject. However, I would like to point out right at the start that both the radicalism and moderation are “cut” to measure not so much the entire Age of Enlightenment as—above all—those needs and expectations that...

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