Department of English, Jadavpur University

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Course Director: Chandreyee Niyogi


‘Dare to know!’ wrote Kant in the eighteenth century, summarizing the motto of Enlightenment. ‘Have courage to use your own understanding!’ But in the twentieth century Adorno and Horkheimer saw Enlightenment as a justification for thought control and global economic homogenization even though it had promised the ultimate liberation of the human spirit all over the world. This course is a study of short excerpts from some of the most important texts and authors of the Enlightenment, both English and European, that is intended to dispel the notion, as Eric Hobsbawm expressed it so inimitably, that ‘the Enlightenment can be dismissed as anything from superficial and naive to a conspiracy of dead white men in periwigs to provide the intellectual foundation for Western imperialism.’ Recent studies show that the enlightenment was never a monolithic ‘Enlightenment project’, either of human emancipation or of the tyranny of Reason over feelings. It needs to be placed in a perspective of two separate but overlapping movements, that of a ‘mainstream’ Enlightenment taking off from the dualistic philosophy of Descartes on the one hand, and a ‘radical’ Enlightenment taking off from the materialistic political theology of Spinoza, which had an international underground following. Similarly, it can also be seen that the pre 1750s ideology of enlightenment engendered its own critique in the second half of the eighteenth century, making way for the age of Romanticism. This course will look at some of this play of differences within what is assumed to be a ‘totalitarian’ ideology of Enlightenment, and familiarize the students with some important debates of the age of enlightenment.


Texts to be studied include:


Module 1: What is Enlightenment?

Immanuel Kant: ‘What is Enlightenment?’

Jurgen Habermas: ‘Modernity – an Incomplete Project’

Partha Chatterjee: ‘Our Modernity’

Michel Foucault: ‘What is Enlightenment?’


Module 2:  The dominant and the radical enlightenment

Descartes: Excerpts from Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Seeking the Truth in the Sciences

Spinoza: Excerpts from A Theologico-Political Treatise (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus) or Ethics


Module 3: Science, empiricism and progress

Bacon: Excerpts from The New Atlantis

D’holbach: Excerpts from The System of Nature


Module 4:  Nature and Human Nature

Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau on the State of Nature: Excerpts to be specified later

David Hume: ‘On the dignity and meanness of human nature’


Module 5:  Enlightenment critique of empiricism and rationalism

Swift: ‘The Academy of Lagado’ from Gulliver’s Travels, Book 3

Voltaire: Excerpts from Candide


Module 6: Private Vices Public Benefit – The Ethos of Capitalism

Mandeville: The Grumbling Hive (a poem)

Defoe: Giving Alms no Charity


Module 7: Enlightenment and the question of gender

Defoe: ‘On the Education of Women’

Mary Leapor: ‘Man the Monarch’

Mary Astell: Excerpts from Some Reflections Upon Marriage



[N.B. 1. Not all modules or texts may be accommodated in one semester. 2. All reading materials will be supplied by the course coordinator]


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