The Enlightenment by Roy Porter (auth.)

By Roy Porter (auth.)

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It is becoming clearer that, at all stages of the movement, nine-tenths of the Enlightenment iceberg was submerged, and that the historian neglects this at his peril. Scholars have long lavished great attention upon Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopedie, that great compendium of practical knowledge spiced with daringly advanced views, which began to appear in 1751, and finally ran, over the course of some twenty years, to some 20 volumes, with a further 10 volumes of plates. The authors of certain of the contributions remain unknown to this day; many - not least the Chevalier de Jaucourt, who wrote hundreds of entries - receive hardly a mention in standard Enlightenment histories.

If mankind were to be progressive, the species had to 19 be capable of change, above all, of adapting to new environments. Not surprisingly, therefore, Enlightenment psychologists were preoccupied with the learning process, and held out great hopes for education. The history of the race, suggested many thinkers, following Locke's fundamental Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) and his Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), could be seen as paralleling the education of an individual infant [108].

But a new breed of 'political economists', notably the Scot Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations (1776), contended that the selfish behaviour of individual producers and consumers, if pursued in accordance with the competitive laws of the market, would result in the common good thanks, in part, to the help of the 'invisible hand' of Providence [22; 27; 46; 53]. Likewise, legal reformers such as the Italian Beccaria argued that a truly scientific jurisprudence needed to be built upon the assumption of a psychology of rational selfishness: the pains of punishment must be precisely calculated to deter the pleasures of crime [97].

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