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Great Expectations: Futurity in the Long Eighteenth Century

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Edited By Mascha Hansen and Jürgen Klein

What did eighteenth-century men and women think about when they contemplated the future? What was hidden in the «dark bosom of futurity», as Richardson’s Pamela calls it? Do all types of literature that supply a critique of the present conjure up an idealized past or a vision of a better future? Predictions and prophecies – not only astrological but also political ones, utopian models, theological concepts like predestination, progress in the sciences, and, last but not least, life-after-death, both in the form of secular fame and the immortal soul, are among the topics addressed by the essays collected in this volume.

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REWRITING THE DIVINE-RIGHT THEORY FOR THE WHIGS: THE POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS OF SHAFTESBURY’S TREATMENT OF THE DOCTRINE OF FUTURITY IN HIS CHARACTERISTICKS, Patrick Müller

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REWRITING THE DIVINE-RIGHT THEORY FOR THE WHIGS: THE POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS OF SHAFTESBURY’S TREATMENT OF THE DOCTRINE OF FUTURITY IN HIS CHARACTERISTICKS Patrick Müller, Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg In November 1698, Shaftesbury’s An Inquiry concerning Virtue was published anonymously and, the story goes, without its author’s consent. While we cannot say for sure who actually had the tract printed and circulated, the Earl’s son, in an account now usually followed by scholars, laid the blame squarely at John Toland’s infamous door.1 Nowadays the Inquiry is the most uncontroversial of the Earl’s treatises; the general view is that it contains the nucleus of his ethical theory, which is presented there in clear and systematic form.2 In it we find the much-debated concept of the moral sense, an exposition of the social and natural affections, and, as some have noted in passing, Shaftesbury’s most cohesive ar- guments against the doctrine of futurity and the philosophical implications thereof. In the monograph devoted by Robert G. Walker to Doctor Johnson’s views on immortality, Shaftesbury’s critique is singled out as, in its time, the most serious threat to what the author calls the “moral argument for the immor- tality of the soul.”3 In a recent article, Simon Grote, discussing Shaftesbury’s stubborn refusal to accept motives derived from futurity as an adequate basis for truly moral actions, suggests that this should be interpreted in the context of his ongoing engagement with a Lockean doctrine, i.e. with the idea that moral law 1 See the fourth...

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