The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy

Liveright: Norton. Aug. 2016. 384p. notes. index. ISBN 9780871404435. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631492082. PHIL
Gottlieb (former executive editor, the Economist) provides a sequel to The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance. Here, there are individual chapters on René Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, Baruch Spinoza, John Locke, Pierre Bayle, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, David Hume, and other French philosophers. Gottlieb attempts to understand "these pioneers" by "step[ping] back into their shoes." He unpacks their major philosophical ideas from within the contexts of their lives and times and also traces their subsequent scholarly receptions. No small task, but one accomplished with delightfully economical prose. British philosophers get the most attention, with the longest chapters going to Hobbes, Locke, and Hume. And while Gottlieb acknowledges that "all histories of philosophy are selective," his might advantageously have included more on another Brit, Francis Bacon. That would have allowed highlighting inductive thinking to accompany Descartes's rationalism, even if Gottlieb is right that Bacon was not the stock empiricist he's often made out to be. We should all look forward to his projected next volume, taking philosophy's story forward from Immanuel Kant.
VERDICT An accessible introduction to Enlightenment philosophers with much to offer all educated readers. [See Prepub Alert, 2/29/16.]

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