Sunday, March 7, 2021

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

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Philosophy
Intriguing Connections = The Persecuted and The Persecutors


Short Description


Elaborate Description

There are seven philosophers under this book’s purview, who are: Rene Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, Baruch Spinoza, Locke, Bayle, Leibniz, and Hume.  Their curiosity in challenging assumptions facilitated reduction in persecution for intellectual thought.  Conquered prejudice and blind admiration in favor of cautious collection of facts.  Gottlieb looks at their philosophies from the perspective of their time rather than attributing today’s values unto them.  The enlightenment precipitated in tolerance of religious dissent, and increased the power that people held to shape their government.  Because of the philosophers, impediments to knowledge and well-being were questioned, which fostered an ask for better alternatives.  

Descartes philosophy stems from doubt.  Doubted as much as possible before claiming any knowledge.  Even by being cautious and doubtful, he nevertheless accepted many suspect assumptions with his philosophies and knowledge which depended on the existence and nature of God.  With previous poor treatments of philosophers whose work was unacceptable to Church and educational establishment, Descartes knew that his ideas could be dangerous.  As such, in order to be accepted, he tried to pacify the pious.   Although Descartes wanted to appease potential threats, he was abusive to his contemporary rivals and accused former collaborators of stealing his ideas.  Through his search for certainty, many found his ideas to be misconceptions, which is common in ideas which need to be claimed before potential alternative can be found. 

Hobbes made many enemies by provocatively attacking academics and theologians alike.  Known for his political philosophy in which the state has immense power.  Under this philosophy, the people willingly accept to follow a sovereign authority to prevent dire consequences.  The sovereign would need a monopoly on political authority as anything less would not be effective at staving of chaos.  The benefits of having such a sovereign would be to live without threat to life by violence or other cruelties.  In irony, although Hobbes saw the potential for abusing the subjects, he did not consider this to be an option because the sovereign would wrong God and risk the sovereign’s soul to eternal death.  This is ironic because Hobbes was well-versed in history which contained many leaders that prove him wrong. 

Spinoza did not want people to confuse human values with the point of view of the divine.  Thought that it was possible to know what was good or bad for humanity but that the credibility of the viewpoints were not equal.  Questioned miracles and divine interventions.  Saw it as an error to see divine intervention as mutable, as that presumed that laws of nature are like human laws which were at the discretion of the lawmaker.  To Spinoza, amazing events were not evidence of infinite power, while amazing power can lead people astray.  Did not want to rule out alternative explanations to events before considering them.  Spinoza recognized that persecuting independent though would have unintended consequences.   

Locke wanted people to avoid completely relying on the opinions of others.  His philosophy, as Gottlieb puts it, was an ‘assault on the lazy acceptance of received opinions’.  Even in morals, morals required people to think about them, which required a lack of blind acceptance to others practices and standards. Legitimacy of the government should also be made independently.  Many of his views on government were used as pretext to rebel, which Locke would not have quickly approved of.  The power of the government came from people joining to form a community, creating a social contract which held political power.  

Bayle noticed that a particular event, such as a comet, could not be signal from God because the signal could easily backfire.  The signal could encourage alterative forms of worship.  An event does not carry a particular deity’s signature, making the signal ambiguous.  Although there were not many atheists during the time, Bayle, unlike his contemporaries, did not think that atheism would lead to as much wickedness as was considered.  His philosophy indicates that it is not appropriate to coerce people to think or do a particular thing because God wanted those thoughts and action from convictions resulting from a search for truth.  Honest mistakes should not be considered as sin, and therefor should not be punished as such. 

It is Leibniz’s notations which are used in infinitesimal calculus.  Leibniz speculated that there should be a building block of matter which cannot be divided further.  He called them atoms, but not the atoms of what physics claims to be atoms.  These were monads, of which everything else is built from.  

Hume is known for what is now known as the problem of induction.  Asking for intellectual modesty as knowledge is based on limited experience.  Distinguished between relations of ideas and matters of fact.  Reasoning about ideas produces mathematics and definitional claims.  Reasoning about facts produces more information but are depended on experiences and are incapable of being demonstrated.  

This book is a bit limited in the number and diversity of the philosophers showcased.  They are mostly all popular.  Although the philosophies are different, they do have a trend in response to religion.  Although these philosophers were in the minority and were primarily persecuted for their heterodox ideas, it seems that what is missing are philosophers who disagreed with enlightenment philosophers or showcased the mentality which the enlightenment philosophers were responding too.  This is unlike the book’s predecessor, Dream of Reason, which showcased very diverse philosophies and various philosophers which are not well known.  A bit difficult to read and understand sometimes as the information presented was somewhat disorganized.

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book
•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•What did the enlightenment do?
•What do you think of the philosophy of Descartes?
     Why did Descartes doubt everything?
     How did Descartes treat potential opposition?
•What do you think of the philosophy of Hobbes?
     What powers should a sovereign have?
     What are the benefits of having a powerful sovereign?
     Why do people accept a sovereign?
     Why would a sovereign not abuse the subjects?
•What do you think of the philosophy of Spinoza?
     What are Spinoza’s view on miracles and divine intervention?
     How should morality be seen as?
•What do you think of the philosophy of Locke?
     What did Locke think of the opinions of others?
     Why are governments formed?
     What is Locke’s view on what shapes knowledge and action?
•What do you think of the philosophy of Bayle?
     Should mistakes be taken as sin?
•What do you think of the philosophy of Leibniz?
     What are monads?
•What do you think of the philosophy of Hume?
     What is the problem of induction?

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9781631492082
Pages to read:   239
Publication:     2016
1st Edition:      2016
Format:           eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          5
Overall           5