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Natural Disasters and the Debate on the Unity or Plurality of Enlightenments

Natural Disasters and the Debate on the Unity or Plurality of Enlightenments Nathaniel Wolloch Tel Aviv University When Alexander Pope wrote his famous Epitaph Intended for Sir Isaac Newton (ca. 1730)--"Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night, / God said, Let Newton be! and all was light"--he was voicing one of the main credos of the Enlightenment, building on the legacy of the Scientific Revolution--that human beings were capable of mastering nature and harnessing it for their benefit.1 At the same time, in his Essay on Man (1733­34), Pope was also wary of human pride and presumption. The ability to control nature was limited, and in the face of providentially ordained unmanageable forces, the best approach was acquiescence, since "One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right."2 In the second half of this Leibnizian optimism was to be severely challenged, particularly following the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon and Voltaire's famous poem quickly written in reaction. This was followed by one of the most significant intellectual debates of the Enlightenment, with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his "Letter on Optimism" (1756), espousing a persistent belief in the overall benignity of providentially ordained nature, and Voltaire clinging to his pessimism, eventually giving it voice in Candide (1759).3 Nevertheless, in their approach to natural http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Eighteenth Century University of Pennsylvania Press

Natural Disasters and the Debate on the Unity or Plurality of Enlightenments

The Eighteenth Century , Volume 57 (3) – Nov 4, 2016

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University of Pennsylvania Press
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Copyright © 2010 University of Pennsylvania Press.
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Abstract

Nathaniel Wolloch Tel Aviv University When Alexander Pope wrote his famous Epitaph Intended for Sir Isaac Newton (ca. 1730)--"Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night, / God said, Let Newton be! and all was light"--he was voicing one of the main credos of the Enlightenment, building on the legacy of the Scientific Revolution--that human beings were capable of mastering nature and harnessing it for their benefit.1 At the same time, in his Essay on Man (1733­34), Pope was also wary of human pride and presumption. The ability to control nature was limited, and in the face of providentially ordained unmanageable forces, the best approach was acquiescence, since "One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right."2 In the second half of this Leibnizian optimism was to be severely challenged, particularly following the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon and Voltaire's famous poem quickly written in reaction. This was followed by one of the most significant intellectual debates of the Enlightenment, with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his "Letter on Optimism" (1756), espousing a persistent belief in the overall benignity of providentially ordained nature, and Voltaire clinging to his pessimism, eventually giving it voice in Candide (1759).3 Nevertheless, in their approach to natural

Journal

The Eighteenth CenturyUniversity of Pennsylvania Press

Published: Nov 4, 2016

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