Radical, Sceptical and Liberal Enlightenment

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History
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  • 1 Assistant Professor, Faculty of Economics, Administrative, and Social Sciences, Dept. of Political Science, Bilkent UniversityAnkaraTurkey
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We still ask the question ‘What is Enlightenment?’ Every generation seems to offer new and contradictory answers to the question. In the last thirty or so years, the most interesting characterisations of Enlightenment have been by historians. They have told us that there is one Enlightenment, that there are two Enlightenments, that there are many Enlightenments. This has thrown up a second question, ‘How Many Enlightenments?’ In the spirit of collaboration and criticism, I answer both questions by arguing in this article that there are in fact three Enlightenments: Radical, Sceptical and Liberal. These are abstracted from the rival theories of Enlightenment found in the writings of the historians Jonathan Israel, John Robertson and J.G.A. Pocock. Each form of Enlightenment is political; each involves an attitude to history; each takes a view of religion. They are arranged in a sequence of increasing sensitivity to history, as it is this which makes it possible to relate them to each other and indeed propose a composite definition of Enlightenment. The argument should be of interest to anyone concerned with ‘the Enlightenment’ as a historical phenomenon or with ‘Enlightenment’ as a philosophical abstraction.

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