The Dream of Enlightenment by Anthony Gottlieb
The Rise of Modern Philosophy

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This last remark looks like a rather odd verdict on a philosopher, but it makes sense in the context of the book, and of course Gottlieb is not denying Descartes’s immense influence.
-NY Times

Synopsis

The author of the classic The Dream of Reason vividly explains the rise of modern thought.


Western philosophy is now two and a half millennia old, but much of it came in just two staccato bursts, each lasting only about 150 years. In his landmark survey of Western philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance, The Dream of Reason, Anthony Gottlieb documented the first burst, which came in the Athens of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Now, in his sequel, The Dream of Enlightenment, Gottlieb expertly navigates a second great explosion of thought, taking us to northern Europe in the wake of its wars of religion and the rise of Galilean science. In a relatively short period—from the early 1640s to the eve of the French Revolution—Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz, and Hume all made their mark. The Dream of Enlightenment tells their story and that of the birth of modern philosophy.


As Gottlieb explains, all these men were amateurs: none had much to do with any university. They tried to fathom the implications of the new science and of religious upheaval, which led them to question traditional teachings and attitudes. What does the advance of science entail for our understanding of ourselves and for our ideas of God? How should a government deal with religious diversity—and what, actually, is government for? Such questions remain our questions, which is why Descartes, Hobbes, and the others are still pondered today.


Yet it is because we still want to hear them that we can easily get these philosophers wrong. It is tempting to think they speak our language and live in our world; but to understand them properly, we must step back into their shoes. Gottlieb puts readers in the minds of these frequently misinterpreted figures, elucidating the history of their times and the development of scientific ideas while engagingly explaining their arguments and assessing their legacy in lively prose.


With chapters focusing on Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Pierre Bayle, Leibniz, Hume, Rousseau, and Voltaire—and many walk-on parts—The Dream of Enlightenment creates a sweeping account of what the Enlightenment amounted to, and why we are still in its debt.

 

About Anthony Gottlieb

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Anthony Gottlieb is the executive editor of The Economist and writes regularly on philosophy for the New York Times Book Review. He lives in London.
 
Published August 30, 2016 by Liveright. 307 pages
Genres: Religion & Spirituality, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Dream of Enlightenment
All: 3 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 1

NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Michael Wood on Sep 09 2016

This last remark looks like a rather odd verdict on a philosopher, but it makes sense in the context of the book, and of course Gottlieb is not denying Descartes’s immense influence.

Read Full Review of The Dream of Enlightenment: T... | See more reviews from NY Times

Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Jonathan Ree on Oct 05 2016

He tells us he is already at work on the final volume of his trilogy, which will run from Kant to the present, and the book will be eagerly awaited. But let’s hope that he will rein in his Olympian irony, and start treating his heroes with a little more respect.

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Financial Times

Good
Reviewed by Julian Baggini on Aug 26 2016

In helping us to understand these pioneers, Gottlieb has continued their work of making ours, if not the best of all possible worlds, then “an intellectually adventurous [and] a less ignorant one”.

Read Full Review of The Dream of Enlightenment: T... | See more reviews from Financial Times

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