Thursday, August 19, 2010

Week Three, history 305

In The Spirit of the Laws Montesquieu identified three particular types of government: republics, monarchies and despotisms. He also explained how he believed each of these governments should function and what characteristics would work to corrupt them. Using what you learned about Montesquieu’s ideas on government and what you have learned in your other classes about various European (or world) governments during the Enlightenment period, provide an example of each type of government as defined by Montesquieu during the early to mid-18th century. In other words, choose a nation to represent each type of government and explain how it fit into Montesquieu’s definition. Then, explain which type of government—again, according to Montesquieu’s definitions—you think was most appropriate for the period of the Enlightenment. Was any more or less effective than the others? Why?
Historians, philosophers, religious scholars and others have debated the religiosity of Dénis Diderot. Some of his writings seemed to portray him as a believer in the Christian God, though one with many intricate questions. In others he seemed an atheist, deist or agnostic theist. He wrote several articles for his Encyclopedia, which also included articles by many other philosophes and Enlightened thinkers of his time. After reading the selections written by Diderot, describe to which religious belief—if any—you think he most likely subscribed. Why would this particular belief system appeal to him—or other people of his time? How much grief would such a belief bring upon its followers? In other words, could someone who shared Diderot’s beliefs expect repercussions, injustices or prejudices against them? Why or why not?
  1. Republican - the Dutch Republic of the Netherlands- elected officials, relative freedom of religion
  2. Monarchy, where there are fixed and established laws.- England, a monarch bound by laws
  3. Despotism - the ruler has unlimited power -  Russia... Peter II could do anything he wanted with anyone.
Montesquieu believed that different geography's were best served by different styles of government. France is mostly fertile and decent land, so I think he'd suggest a monarchy.  Despotism wasn't needed to get people to work and be productive, but it wasn't really a harsh enough environment to make people work hard and be diligent. 1
A belief in God is not a constant. A youth may have believed devoutly in God. The death of his sister may have opened a door to doubts, to exploration. In the very religious we find static truths. A truth that is true today, will be true a thousand years from now and no amount of thought, experience, or investigation can change that truth. There are advantages to this paradigm.
I have been reading around all over the place about Diderot.  Such complicated and fascinating times!  As for his religious beliefs... I think a person could devote a good number of years to trying to decide... which I think would have made Diderot unhappy. 
I was reading through his complete works, and by which I mean I was skimming and typing into google translator furiously anytime something seemed to make sense and be relevant to me. I came across this entry: 
'Damion (Jean-Philbert), French philosopher. - Judgement on Diderot found in the book of Interpretation of the Nature of the traces of a belief in God and end the human soul, II. 6.' 2
Trojan warriors did not think of Microsoft products. The human mind is a splendid and very agile computer, but it thinks only of things it has experienced, things it can infer or extrapolate. When a human being expresses thoughts, even when they wish to deceive and conceal only such thoughts as actually go through their mind can make into their externalized expression. Nothing I've read about Diderot suggests that he actively wished to conceal anything. 
When he wrote the words, 'traces of a belief in God and end the human soul', I have no way to know what his emotions were, but I can tell that the concept of 'God', 'the human soul', and 
A mind that searches out truth, that seeks answers to all manner of questions does not have that luxury. Truth becomes a river to be explored and studied, knowledge tools, and so to ask about Diderot's belief in God, which can not be measured by ordinary tools used by humanity is to simplify an answer until it is unrecognizable. I believe that his belief in God varied throughout his life.
A lot of times, when I look back at what someone else may or may not have thought, I'm really looking at what I think. My translation of that entry in his encyclopedia is wrong. When I typed it in, I made en into end... which is what I wanted to find. 
The truth, for me, at this moment, is that it will be years before I'm competent to decide what I think Diderot felt about God. I think it's fair to feel a kinship with Diderot though, in this questioning and reserve of judgement. 
That openness to being wrong, to looking at ideas we may have held with intense investment of energy, where our own security and status is held safe behind intellectual castle walls... that process could seem terrifying to someone whose security is build around an immobile truth about the world. I can completely see the psychological discomfort that could be sparked in someone whose world view needs the safety of an explained and static world...that that reaction could be intense to the point of violence. 
That inflexibility and violence of reaction flows both toward and from persons who may hold any particular religious concept. I will take uncertainty, curiosity, and tolerance way before I will accept a risk to my fellow humans. 
1. Hillary Bok, "Baron de Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondat," Standford Encyclopedia of Philosphy,  2010,
2. Denis Diderot, "Oeuvres complètes de Diderot : revues sur les éditions originales.... Etude sur Diderot et le mouvement philosophique au XVIIIe siècle. Tome 20 / par J. Assézat [et Maurice Tourneux]", Translated by Nix Winter, 1875-1877,

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