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The Science of Freedom

by Peter Gay

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317159,966 (4.34)1
The Science of Freedom completes Peter Gay's brilliant reinterpretation begun in The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism. In the present book, he describes the philosophes' program and their views of society. His masterful appraisal opens a new range of insights into the Enlightenment's critical method and its humane and libertarian vision.… (more)

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I like the challenge of tackling a 600-page book as much as the next man, but I was a bit hesitant to buy this one because I wasn't really sure what it was about. But reading it turned out to be a real pleasure. The author uses the word "Enlightenment" in a fairly restricted manner: it refers here only to the ideas of the "philosophes" - Voltaire, Hume, Rousseau and a few other 18th century thinkers. This restriction is a good thing because it limits the scope of the book to a set of fairly simple questions: what was the worldview of these philosophes, what did they think about science, history, politics, religion, education, and so on. I have to admit that I skipped the chapters which dealt with their thoughts on art, but apart from that I have no complaints. The author writes with a pleasantly clear and logical style and manages to convey a good set of insights on each topic he discusses. I cannot say that I had a particularly clear understanding of the Enlightenment before reading this book. It certainly filled enough gaps that if the topic ever comes up for discussion at a dinner table, I should have my own opinion in the matter.
  thcson | Feb 21, 2020 |
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In the century of the Enlightenment, educated Europeans awoke to a new sense of life.
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The Science of Freedom completes Peter Gay's brilliant reinterpretation begun in The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism. In the present book, he describes the philosophes' program and their views of society. His masterful appraisal opens a new range of insights into the Enlightenment's critical method and its humane and libertarian vision.

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W.W. Norton

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