Emeritus Professor David Wolfe, physicist, University of New Mexico

Monday 16–Friday 20 January

11.15 am


The Enlightenment is the general term applied to the eighteenth century. However, this term is often misunderstood. The eighteenth century was hugely influenced by the explosion of print media, the rapid spread of newspapers. During this period there was a great change in thinking, something which started in Britain with Isaac Newton and John Locke, but existed in many forms in many countries, particularly France. The world they were making is the world we have inherited, the secular value system to which most of us subscribe which upholds the worth of tolerance, knowledge, education and opportunity. Whereas progressives have praised these philosophes as the begetters of the Rights of Man and the American Republic, more right-leaning scholars blame the latter part of the Enlightenment for the Terror in France and for, eventually, begetting ‘totalitarian democracy’, including fascism, Nazism and Stalinism. The Enlightenment is a time when tolerance was central, and protagonists could shake hands on some matters and shake fists on others. This course will discuss aspects and features of the Enlightenment.

Lecture titles

1. The crucial change for humanity in the Enlightenment

2. The British: Newton and Locke

3. The British: Hume, Gibbon and Burke

4. The French: Diderot, d’Alembert, Condorcet

5. The end of the century