Dr Roger Maioli (University of Florida): “Enlightenment Relativism: A Reassessment”
ABSTRACT: Combining literary studies and intellectual history, “The Enlightenment Crisis of Values” is the first full-length study of Enlightenment relativism — of its features, origins, and consequences. I argue that eighteenth-century reflections on relativism help to explain an intriguing feature of the Enlightenment’s legacy: its status as the source of secular egalitarian values but also of resilient cultural and racial prejudices whose role was to justify inequality and subjection. The book traces the connection between relativism and these two discourses by showing that a wide range of British and French authors viewed threats to objective moral values as entailing threats to existing social hierarchies. In responding to these threats, they developed arguments that secured both moral values and human hierarchies. Through genres as various as novels, plays, essays, philosophical treatises, historical and critical works, satirical prints, and letters, they denied the principles of relativism by forging a concept of “nature” as a wise abstract entity that gave us objective moral distinctions (between, say, right and wrong or vice and virtue). But the same “nature” that allegedly underwrote distinctions between intentions or types of actions was also invoked to underwrite distinctions between human beings. The Enlightenment’s double legacy, I argue, emerges in the form of disparate responses to the same crisis of values.
Topic: Philosophy and Literature Colloquium / Andrea Selleri ( Host)
Time: Oct 21, 2021 07:30 PM Istanbul