Friday, January 12, 2007
Carl Becker's "The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers" argues expertly for a reinterpretation of the philosophes. Instead of being the devout secularists and athiests that they have been made out to be, Becker believes instead that they thought within the intellectual framework of Middle Ages philosophy and Christianity. That there "is more of Christian philosophy than has yet been dreamt of in our histories." (31) Much of the power of Becker's argument comes from his expert writing style and willingness to upend commonly recieved ideas. The problem with Becker's argument, in my mind, is that he too often allies philosophes with theologians based on the fact that they used similar vocabulary. This seems as misguided as aligning the National Socialists with theologians because they both used the terms 'purity' and 'cleanliness'. The philosophes might have used the ideas of earlier religious thinkers, and many of them were kinder to the church than Voltaire or Hume, but it's quite hard for me to take seriously the arguments of a Voltaire, Hume, or Locke, and agree that they "demolished the Heavenly City of St. Augustine only to rebuild it with more up-to-date materials."
Posted by Rufus at 8:39 AM