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The Heavenly City Of Eighteenth Century Philosophers

2038 words - 9 pages

I. Introduction
a. The medieval world, epitomized by Thomas Aquinas, had unwavering belief in religious doctrine and viewed the Great Chain of Being as the concept that gave absolute structure to society.
b. The world of the philosophes
c. The commonly ascribed difference between the two
d. Becker’s argument
i. The eighteenth century philosophers were more similar to the thirteenth century theologians than to humans today.
ii. The 18th century philosophers, he maintains, were trying to (possibly unconsciously) deconstruct the heavenly city of the old religious order and reconstruct it back on earth. In substituting progressivism for chiliasm, all they did was change the location of Heaven, making it a utopia achievable on earth rather than one reached after death.
iii. Becker's argument is this: while the eighteenth century philosophers shifted in attitude from Chileasm to Progressivism, this change was more in tone and alleged intent than in substance and argument. By and large, what changes did occur were reconstruction of old, Christian arguments, replacing "God" with "Human Nature" and re-purposing St. Augustine's Heavenly City for "rational" purposes.
e. My Argument
i. Becker seems to expect the philosophes to entirely eschew every convention and design of the past.
ii. But history has proven that no generation of thinkers can do so
iii. While some believe that the Philosophes are a great exception that propelled civilization generations forward, most serious students of history would realize that to be impossible
iv. Insofar as Becker is arguing that contemporary historians ascribe too much incisiveness to the philosophes, he is marvelously successful.
1. “My object is, therefore, to furnish an explanation of eighteenth-century through, from the historical point of view, by showing that it was related to something that came before and to something else that came after” (29)
v. Becker seems to vacillate between these two arguments
1. Argument 1: 18th century philosophes essentially used new rhetoric and authorities to further the theologian perspective; there is nothing new in enlightenment philosophy
2. Argument 2: Modern understanding how of the 18th century philosophes “revolutionized” philosophy over exaggerates its impact
vi. This is ultimately a polemical argument, and Becker seems more interested in persuading people to change their view than presenting a balanced perspective himself.
1. As he tries to swing the pendulum of attitude towards the philosophes from adulation to something less extreme, he swings it too far and becomes guilty of that which he argues against.
vii. Becker’s burden of proof would be easier if he did not continually assert that the cities of the Theologians and the Philosophes were very similar, and thus the philosophes had advanced thought in no ultimately meaningful way since the thirteenth century.
viii. Becker’s broader argument, that the modern man has less in common with the eighteenth century man...

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