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C O U R S E 
The French Revolution
Peter McPhee, The University of Melbourne
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
The Contribution of the Philosophes to the French Revolution
Notes taken on August 15, 2014 by Edward Tanguay
17th century France had many characteristics of an older France
hundreds of years of state building had allowed many regional exceptions and exemptions and particularities to develop in terms of administration
characterized by local authorities and regional ties
this continually frustrated royal government to run an efficient kingdom
but these conditions can't be said to have caused the French Revolution
what were the causes of the French Revolution
some say it was the Enlightenment
some people such as Barruel blamed it on "conspirators and people with sinister motives", he was referring to the intellectual movement of The Enlightenment
they articulated a notion of self-government, a critique of absolute monarchy and the church, of rights such as civil and economic freedoms
these ideas were profoundly at odds with how the system worked
if Louis XVI was King of France by the grace of God, then any criticism of religion would undermine absolute monarchy itself
Voltaire rehabilitates the name of Calas after he was unjustly tortured and killed by through
Jean Le Rond d'Alembert, Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau
the Enlightenment was not confined to France but certainly had its great flowering there
none of these philosophes claimed to be revolutionary per se
most were well-to-do, even nobles
they were certainly not a revolutionary party calling for revolutionary change
however, the philosophes did call for reform
people are born as tabula rasas that need to be formed
criticized the church for preaching an angry God and that humans had an inherently sinful state
central is the assumption of perfectibility
if we make the world a better place, make it more prosperous, respect people's freedoms, then is no limit to what may be achieved in terms of a more civilized society
economic reforms also seen as important
Francois Quesnay
Laissez faire economy
why should the meek have to wait in order to enter the kingdom of heaven to be happy
prioritizes reason, invention, progress to improve the lot of the people in the here and now
egalitarian, social critic, much more radical than the other writers and thinkers of the Enlightenment
conflict comes from the inequality that humans produce in society
lived in Montmorency in a simple environment
argued for a new form of citizenship, a new form of government based on the will of the people
1762 book: Emile, or on Education
fascinated by what the voyages of exploration were saying about the rest of the world
tales from James Cooke were profoundly interesting to the philosophes
tales of people who were apparently "primitive" but who appeared to be happier than many people were in Europe
Rousseau used these reports to write devastating essays of 18th century France, a society of mass poverty and elite privilege
however, it is difficult to see the philosophes as a direct cause of the French Revolution
even Rousseau would not have called himself a revolutionary
they looked more to enlightened rulers such as Catherine, Frederick and even Louis the XVI to introduce enlightened reforms
you also have to consider what people were even able to read the works of these men
education was still mostly in the hands of the clergy, and these were the last people who would want to teach people to read the philosophy of the philosophes
one volume of the Encyclopédie cost as much as a peasant family could earn in a year
only 47% of men and 27% of women were capable of even signing their name
even secondary schools such as the Lycée Louis le Grand
curriculum was dominated by a study of the classics taught in Latin or Greek
certainly they were not taught the works of the Enlightenment