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The Pragmatic Enlightenment: Recovering the Liberalism of Hume Smith Montesquieu and Voltaire

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This is a study of the political theory of the Enlightenment, focusing on four leading eighteenth-century thinkers: David Hume, Adam Smith, Montesquieu and Voltaire. Dennis C. Rasmussen calls attention to the particular strand of the Enlightenment these thinkers represent, which he terms the 'pragmatic Enlightenment'. He defends this strand of Enlightenment thought against both the Enlightenment's critics and some of the more idealistic Enlightenment figures who tend to have more followers today, such as John Locke, Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham. Professor Rasmussen argues that Hume, Smith, Montesquieu and Voltaire exemplify an especially attractive type of liberalism, one that is more realistic, moderate, flexible, and contextually sensitive than most other branches of this tradition.

Defends the Enlightenment against its many critics across the political spectrum

Groups together key thinkers of the Scottish and French Enlightenments

Devotes attention to Voltaire, who has garnered strikingly little attention from political theorists and philosophers in recent decades

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Rasmussen Dennis
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Dennis C. Rasmussen is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Tufts University, Massachusetts. He is the author of The Problems and Promise of Commercial Society: Adam Smith's Response to Rousseau (2008), which received an honorable mention for the Delba Winthrop Award for Excellence in Political Science.


Part I. Hegemonic Universalism?:

1. Morality in context

2. Pragmatic liberalism

Part II. Blind Faith in Reason?:

3. The age of the limits of reason

4. The perils of political rationalism

Part III. Atomistic Individualism?:

5. The social and encumbered self

6. Negative liberty for a positive community


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