Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 September 2009
THE ENLIGHTENMENT AND THE RISE OF LOGICAL EMPIRICISM
A certain recurrent, perhaps inextinguishable human ambition found its classic expression in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, especially in the circle around the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d'Alembert: the ambition of shaping individual and social development on the basis of better and more reliable knowledge than the tangled, confused, half-articulate but deeply rooted conceptual systems inherited from our ancestors. The Enlightenment is identified with the idea that improved knowledge can be an instrument of individual and social liberation. People of whatever class or culture, given access to this knowledge and the tools to use it critically, are able in this view to emancipate themselves from their culture of origin and belong to a cosmopolitan republic of letters. Individuals who join this culture are better informed about the contexts of their lives, this story goes, and so are better able to make informed life choices and to take genuine civic responsibility. And societies composed of such citizens can use this knowledge to build pluralistic institutions that enable all their members to develop and pursue their aspirations autonomously. The cosmopolitan culture embodying this programme of life guided by better knowledge has never been entirely well defined, and even in the eighteenth century it took on a number of national guises. But these shared a common inheritance from classical antiquity, as well as a growing trans-national corpus of scientific (and, in the broad sense in which it was then still used, ‘philosophical’) knowledge, of political commentary, of literature, art, and music.