The Heavenly City of Eighteenth Century Philosophers

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I. Introduction a. The medieval world, epitomized by Thomas Aquinas, had unwavering belief in religious doctrine and viewed the Great Chain of Being as the concept that gave absolute structure to society. b. The world of the philosophes c. The commonly ascribed difference between the two d. Becker’s argument i. The eighteenth century philosophers were more similar to the thirteenth century theologians than to humans today. ii. The 18th century philosophers, he maintains, were trying to (possibly unconsciously) deconstruct the heavenly city of the old religious order and reconstruct it back on earth. In substituting progressivism for chiliasm, all they did was change the location of Heaven, making it a utopia achievable on earth rather than one reached after death. iii. Becker's argument is this: while the eighteenth century philosophers shifted in attitude from Chileasm to Progressivism, this change was more in tone and alleged intent than in substance and argument. By and large, what changes did occur were reconstruction of old, Christian arguments, replacing "God" with "Human Nature" and re-purposing St. Augustine's Heavenly City for "rational" purposes. e. My Argument i. Becker seems to expect the philosophes to entirely eschew every convention and design of the past. ii. But history has proven that no generation of thinkers can do so iii. While some believe that the Philosophes are a great exception that propelled civilization generations forward, most serious students of history would realize that to be impossible iv. Insofar as Becker is arguing that contemporary historians ascribe too much incisiveness to the philosophes, he is marvelously successful. 1. “My object is, therefore, to furnish an explanation of eighteenth-ce... ... middle of paper ... ...ine designed by the Supreme Being according to a rational plan” c. They viewed the garden of eden as a myth, but still idealized the Romans and Greeks as perfect beings and the onset of the “dark ages” as a sort of fall from grace d. They denied the importance of the Church or Bible but had a naïve faith in reason and nature e. They “dismantled heaven… [but] retained their faith in the immortality of the soul.” vii. Ultimately “the underlying preconceptions of eighteenth-century though were still… essentially the same as those of the thirteen century.” viii. “the Philosophes demolished the Heavenly City of St. Augustine only to rebuild it with more up-to-date materials.” f. Evaluating Becker’s Argument Thus Far III. Nature or God? i. Becker claims that the philosophes were inspired by “the Christian ideal of service, the humanitarian impulse to set things right.”

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