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The Enlightenment Invention of the Modern Self (Part I)
Prof. Leo Damrosch (Harvard University)

DISK 1.1
Lecture 1: Changing Ideas of the Self
This lecture presents an overview of the 18th century (1500-1700), a time when modern ideas about the self began to be imagined.

Lecture 2: 17th-Century Religious Versions of the Self
Two great religious writers, the English Protestant John Bunyan and the French Catholic Blaise Pascal are examined in this lecture. Their work showed deep psychological insight about the self marking the benchmark from which modern thinking about the self evolved.

Lecture 3: 17th-Century Secular Versions of the Self
The lecture discusses  the French rationalist tradition. It considers the implications of the mathematician–philosopher Rene Descartes who represents the move from philosophy as wisdom (philo-sophia) to epistemology (‘the problem of knowledge’), and the rationalist method of systematic doubt that produced the famous ‘I think therefore I am’.

Lecture 4: Lafayette, La Princesse de Cleves, I
The lecture introduces the pioneering novel La Princess de Cleves which presents the shrewd and  narrow view the world had of the aristocratic court culture in France. People are seen basically motivated by self love, concerened ony to confirm their power and fearing to fall in love.

Lecture 5: La Princesse de Cleves, II
In this lecture the analysis of the novel moves forward, showing the characters torn between conflicting passions and the traditional roles. The novel‘s heroine breaks free by rejecting the values of the court and electing a religious retreat. As the plot develops, the characters undergo increasing pressure and the novel reaches an unexpected ending.

Lecture 6: British Empiricism and the Self, I
Empiricism became the dominant philosophy of the 18th century replacing the cynical view of the aristocratic culture of the17th century. It was the empowering ideology of the middle class culture giving new emphasis to the integrity of the individual. The main contrasts between the French rationalism (quest for certainty in things) and the British empiricism (certainty was impossible in most things) are sketched out.

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Lecture 7: British Empiricism and the Self, II
David Hume, a Scottish philosopher, is discussed in this lecture. He raised some very critical questions that Locke (mentioned in the previous lecture) had avoided and thus drove the implications of empiricism beyond Locke. Like other thinkers of the Enlightenment period, Hume made mature his god-term, as he was unable to imagine religious experience as anything other than illusion.

Lecture 8: Voltaire, Candide
The main satiric aim of Voltaire’s Candide is the ‘optimistic’ philosophy of Leibniz who believed that everything is for the best even if humans may need to suffer. Voltaire represents the militant reformist side of the Enlightenment and was especially indignant with religion and philosophy in resolving real-life human problems.

Lecture 9: Voltaire, Johnson, Gibbon – Some Lives
In this lectures you will hear biographies of several major writers of the 18th century. Biographies used elegant style and focused on building a consistent picture of character ignoring any inconsistencies.

Lecture 10: Boswell, The London Journal, I
The London Journal was a diary kept by James Boswell giving valuable insight into the problems experienced by an actual person – that is, himself. He raises important cultural issues and focuses on self- understanding coming from feelings or emotion.

Lecture 11: The London Journal, II
You will hear further readings of the London Journal describing Boswell’s confused feelings in relation to women. His attraction to prostitutes and prostitution as a social phenomenon and his flirt to ‘Louisa’, an actress, attempt to give further insight into his personality.

Lecture 12: Diderot’s dialogues
Diderot was the editor of the great Encyclopaedia of Sciences, Arts and Trade and gave 15 years of his life to this work. The aim of the encyclopaedia was to make knowledge practical and freely available to all. His other work is also explored as he was a many-faced writer. ‘Letter on the Blind’ was his most interesting work casting light on the understanding of moral truths.

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