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The Enlightenment Invention of the Modern Self

Explore the idea of "self" as it developed as a concept in Enlightenment-era literature.
Enlightenment Invention of the Modern Self is rated 4.9 out of 5 by 34.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Among the best Among the best courses I have taken with the Teaching Company. Prof. Damrosch is very engaging; he has a remarkable gift of being able to explain philosophical concepts clearly and concisely without watering down the ideas conveyed. I also liked that he created a syllabus around a theme that he obviously has studied and contemplated for a long time. The course is much more than a simple survey.
Date published: 2022-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worthwhile and well argued Who are you? What kind of thing is your "me"? What is a self? If these questions intrigue you, I strongly recommend this course. It starts by discussing the Christian view of us as souls. According to the professor and the works he describes, that was quite different from the "I" of modern psychology that we're used to. He then turns to British empiricists like Hobbes, Locke and Hume and their skeptical views of the self. Contrasting with that, he hails Rousseau as a pioneer of inner complexity and ponders the views of several French thinkers and novelists on role playing. He traces the emergence of the concept of personality, something that develops, as distinct from character. The professor speaks well and very naturally and is very easy to listen to. For me, the most interesting lectures were those on Benjamin Franklin and Adam Smith, paragons of industrious striving who did not portray themselves (or others) as having inner lives of any significance. The struggles of James Boswell in his journal to understand himself when his era didn't have today's psychological concepts were also compelling. The biggest challenge of the course for me was the professor putting novelists, essayists and argumentative philosophers in meaningful intellectual relationships with one another. While listening to the first lecture on poet and artist William Blake, I couldn't help thinking it strange to hear someone juxtapose him with Hobbes, Locke and Hume (whom I studied extensively in college). Then came the last sentence of Lecture 23: "Blake, like other romantic writers, was doing the same thing that Kant and Hegel and other philosophers in Germany were doing in his time, bringing back the ultimate questions, reviving ways of thinking that the Enlightenment had dismissed as superstitious and obsolete." Somewhere during the final lecture on Blake I made my peace with that perspective.
Date published: 2021-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Better than a shrink Helped me understand things I never thought about and why certain kinds of people behave, have behaved and continue to behave in a certain kind of way. Rips the shroud off of history and shows the pulsating flesh beneath.
Date published: 2020-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A fantastic course. I was a bit reluctant to purchase this course because it seemed so much of the material had been covered before in other lecture series. However I am very glad I did give this course a chance. I enjoyed the entire series of lectures immensely. Professor Damrosch is an engaging, entertaining and though provoking lecturer who manages to make even well covered material seem fresh and exciting. If there is one think I would have liked from the course that I didn't get it would be a lecture that arrives at the self in its modern conception. But that aside I can't imagine how someone could not find this course a rewarding experienceand
Date published: 2017-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Some good stuff about the so-called self I wasn't sure if I had a modern self, or a pre-modern self, or a post-modern self, or maybe no self at all. After listening to this course, it seems like I've got a modern self, but you never know. Anyhow, look at all these high reviews. I saw that 100% of reviewers would recommend this course, so I asked myself, "would I"? Yes, I would, and probably for similar reasons, although to be honest, I only skimmed those reviews, probably like you're skimming this one (hello, there). What's so great about it? First, source materials: Voltaire, Laclos, Johnson, Boswell, Blake. There don't seem to be a lot of Germans represented, but what are you going to do? Mostly French, British, and one American (Franklin). Second, Leo is a good presenter. Clear and cogent. Nice voice. I wonder why this is the only course that he has. Maybe the Great Courses said, "Hey, Leo, do you want to record another course?" And Leo said, "No thanks, guys. I've got some other stuff going on." I did notice that he wrote a book about Rousseau, which I want to read after listening to this course. Also, he had one lecture on Rousseau's Reveries of a Solitary Walker, which I read. It's pretty short and pretty great. And pretty. Seriously, it's a good book that this course introduced me to. I don't know what else to say, so I think I should conclude this review. p.s. this course goes well with Alan Kors's course called "Birth of the Modern Mind". I haven't reviewed that course yet, but I plan to at some undefined point in the future. Maybe tomorrow.
Date published: 2016-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Flies in the face... I had just finished the excellent lecture series about the philosophical evolution of the Enlightment by Dr Kors (Birth of the Modern Mind: The Intellectual History of the 17th and 18th Centuries), and was interested in finding out a bit more from a different set of eyes...literary eyes in this case. I was initially a bit disappointed and lost in the first two lectures, until I read more thoroughly the scope of the course and got out of the Kors-inspired materialistic mode and tried to think more like a poet/author. This was a time (1670-1790) in which there was a great deal of change in the air...the world was struggling out from under the yoke of oppressive religious dogma and turning to nature and the mind of man. The world was being defined by from a purely empirical point of view...everything involved employing the scientific method of observation and replication of experiments. Decartes gave way to Newton, Pascal and Bunyon to Diderot and Voltaire. The world had changed. These new ideas flew in the face of the establishment. But for some this materialistic philosophy just didn't cut it...what about the individual...the self? The truly enlightened rejected the dualism of mind and body...the mind, they said, was just another part of the body, deeply rooted in the physicality of the whole. This concept flew in the face of a few (and growing) groups of individuals who became quite influential...folks like Rousseau, Boswell and our old friend Diderot began to produce literary works that proved that the immaterial mind...the self...is very much alive and well, thank you very much. It's here in the lecture series, starting with the discussions about Boswell, Diderot and Rousseau where Dr Damrosch hits his stride and really captured my attention (I'll admit here that I will re-listen to the first few lectures with a much more discerning eye). These were truly gifted writers whose stories are as interesting as the works they create. The series end with fascinating discussions about Ben Franklin, Adam Smith and Choderlos de Laclos, the author of 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses' ('Dangerous Liaisons'). Needless to say, these authors have created works, both in life and literature, that flies in the face of our ideas about the enlightenment and leads the world into the Romance period. Highly recommended...Dr Leo is the perfect lecturer...witty and articulate. Avoid those flies and get this one on sale with a coupon.
Date published: 2016-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It Never Gets Old This course was born roughly in the first decade of The Great Courses (né The Teaching Company) and, when I first experienced it, I wasn't certain I could yet comment on it intelligently. I think it was because the content was as deep as it was wide, not in an off-putting way but with a nod to its sensitivity and richness. After my second go-round, I am even more struck that Professor Damrosch has treated his subject not solely in terms of an historic or intellectual epoch, but also by allowing us to experience its principals in a very personal and inward-turning way. This is no mean feat, and Professor Damrosch handles it in a way that others (I make an exception here with Professor Alan Charles Kors of Penn) would find difficult to replicate. By all means, try to read the core texts, but you will be richer even for having applied yourself to the course content alone. A very fine job.
Date published: 2016-04-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Impressive This is a very good course. The professor is consistently interesting and sometimes brilliant. His intellectual journey from the Enlightenment to Romanticism, with his eye ahead to modernism, is one well worth taking. The stage is set nicely in the introductory lessons. We get a good sense of "the old order," especially in religious and philosophical thought, and the meaning and impact of Enlightenment thinking in the transition. What I like most about the course is how much the professor looks past the Romantic era to modern times in foreshadowing ways in which literature and philosophy that grew out of the Enlightenment shaped the modern sense of self. I realize the more I study them, oddly enough, the less I find of value in Rousseau, Boswell, and the writers, La Rochefoucauld, Lafeyette, and Laclos. But, of course, that's not the good professor's fault. And, frankly, it was good for me to get the healthy dose he delivered on them, for I #unhappily# see more of what I find at the core of the modern self in their writing than I do from Franklin, Smith, and the other philosophers. Sadly so, from my admittedly conservative point of view, in that I think there are in many ways more en-dark-enment in the modern self than en-light-enment. One certainly sees the roots of such in much of this "literature." Whether you have my perspective on these matter or not, you'll find value in this course. I recommend it.
Date published: 2016-03-31
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Overview

You are a product of the Enlightenment. In fact, the philosophy behind so much that has created the modern concept of Self—politics, economics, psychology, science and technology, education, art—was invented as recently as the Enlightenment of the 18th century. In The Enlightenment Invention of the Modern Self, literary scholar Leo Damrosch of Harvard University considers the time when ideas about the self were first considered.

About

Leo Damrosch

I think the greatest novels make you all too conscious of people's limitations and wounds.

INSTITUTION

Harvard University

Dr. Leo Damrosch is the Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature Emeritus at Harvard University, where he has been teaching since 1989. He earned a B.A. from Yale University, an M.A. from Cambridge University, where he was a Marshall Scholar, and a Ph.D. from Princeton University. At Harvard, Professor Damrosch was named a Harvard College Professor in recognition of distinguished teaching. He has held National Endowment for the Humanities and Guggenheim research fellowships and has also directed National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminars for college teachers. Dr. Damrosch is the author of several books, including Tocqueville's Discovery of America, Samuel Johnson and the Tragic Sense, Symbol and Truth in Blake's Myth, The Imaginative World of Alexander Pope, Fictions of Reality in the Age of Hume and Johnson, and The Sorrows of the Quaker Jesus: James Nayler and the Puritan Crackdown on the Free Spirit. He also published a biography, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius, which was one of five finalists for the 2005 National Book Award in Nonfiction, and won the PEN New England/Winship Award for best work of nonfiction.

By This Professor

Books That Matter: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
854
Rise of the Novel: Exploring History’s Greatest Early Works
854
Changing Ideas of the Self

01: Changing Ideas of the Self

Why study Enlightenment ideas about the self? This lecture presents an overview of the traditional belief system of 1500 to 1700, and how its coherent picture of psychological life began to break down during the Renaissance and Reformation.

31 min
17th-Century Religious Versions of the Self

02: 17th-Century Religious Versions of the Self

This lecture examines two great religious writers, the English Protestant John Bunyan and the French Catholic Blaise Pascal. Enlightenment thinkers would insist on the positive value of this world, would make pride a virtue rather than a sin, and would seek fulfillment in social interaction, not in self-disciplining solitude.

31 min
17th-Century Secular Versions of the Self

03: 17th-Century Secular Versions of the Self

This lecture considers the implications of René Descartes' rationalism and of the empiricism of the British political theorist Thomas Hobbes. Enlightenment thinkers had to reconfigure empiricism to avoid its grimmer aspects—defining competition as constructive and sociability as natural for human beings.

29 min
Lafayette,

04: Lafayette, "La Princesse de Clèves", I

The aristocratic court culture in France at the end of the 17th century held a shrewd but narrow world-view. The pioneering novel "La Princesse de Clèves" by Mme. de Lafayette. Today's culture aspires to an ideal of truth-telling authenticity, but most 17th-century writers took for granted that we never can know the truth about our own motives.

30 min

05: "La Princesse de Clèves", II

"La Princesse de Clèves," for all its greatness, presented a world-view that was unable to envision the possibility of companionate love, of sexual enjoyment that is not a power play, or an evolving personality as opposed to a static character.

29 min
British Empiricism and the Self, I

06: British Empiricism and the Self, I

The philosophy of empiricism provided a default framework for psychology throughout the 18th century. Empiricism was an empowering ideology of a middle-class culture that needed value in competition and a secure basis for cooperation in the social self. We discuss empiricist psychology in the immensely influential writings of John Locke.

30 min
British Empiricism and the Self, II

07: British Empiricism and the Self, II

The Scottish philosopher David Hume exposed some crucial questions that Locke had evaded. Hume's radical skepticism dissolved any possibility of knowing what the self is. The lecture concludes with the poet Alexander Pope, who struggled to make sense of inner conflict in the limiting confines of the empiricist framework.

30 min
Voltaire,

08: Voltaire, "Candide"

Voltaire's career and writings reflect the outwardly directed and pragmatism of the Enlightenment. Voltaire dismissed introspection and directed his inspired propaganda at historical events. In the satiric fable "Candide" he parodies philosophical optimism.

29 min
Voltaire, Johnson, Gibbon-Some Lives

09: Voltaire, Johnson, Gibbon-Some Lives

As an approach to 18th-century ways of understanding behavior, this lecture considers biographies by several major writers to show how hard it was to recognize, let alone to explain, issues that would later become central in biographical explanation.

30 min
Boswell,

10: Boswell, "The London Journal", I

"The London Journal," a diary kept by the young James Boswell in 1762-1763, gives valuable insight into problems of the self as experienced by an actual person. The problems he raises are important symptoms, exposing issues that the culture as a whole will have to acknowledge and try to deal with.

29 min

11: "The London Journal", II

Boswell strives impressively to reconcile his conflicted feelings. We use a modern perspective to clarify what he has trouble understanding: his role-playing, euphemistic language, attraction to prostitutes, his "melancholy" or bipolar disorder. Empiricist psychology had no way of addressing the psychological suffering that Boswell experienced.

30 min
Diderot's Dialogues

12: Diderot's Dialogues

Diderot played a central role in the public mission of the Enlightenment. He was editor of the "Encyclopédie," which aspired to promote open inquiry and make technological knowledge available to all.

31 min
Diderot,

13: Diderot," Jacques the Fatalist", I

In this novel Diderot presents a world in which the narrator can never be trusted to tell a reliable story. "Jacques the Fatalist" refuses to be "realistic" and develops a metafictional perspective on the way we normally try to find "truth" in works of fiction.

30 min

14: "Jacques the Fatalist", II

The fatalism of his title refers to the idea that everything is determined by an unbreakable chain of causes, but as Diderot also acknowledges, human beings cannot help believing in freedom.

30 min
Rousseau,

15: Rousseau, "Inequality" and "Social Contract"

Empiricism left each individual trapped in a private subjectivity. Rousseau's response to this dilemma was to consider that, perhaps, we do have an authentic self that has been covered over and distorted by a lifetime of social conditioning.

30 min
Rousseau,

16: Rousseau, "The Confessions", I

Rousseau began the "Confessions" to assert his personal integrity and to recover the meanings in childhood experiences that haunted his memory. In doing so, he reveals fundamental patterns in his psychic life.

30 min

17: "The Confessions", II

The episodes recounted in "Confessions" implicitly confirm Rousseau's theory of natural man and his deformation by civilization. He presents a critique of the assumptions of empiricism with respect to particularity and generality, the self and memory, and the value of the imagination.

30 min
Rousseau,

18: Rousseau, "Reveries of the Solitary Walker"

Detaching himself from society, Rousseau invokes nature as his god-term and becomes a major contributor to the current of thought later known as Romanticism, in which human beings receive spiritual sustenance from external phenomena.

31 min
Franklin,

19: Franklin, "Autobiography"

In Franklin's "Autobiography" we return to the optimism, practicality, and sociability of the empiricist model that has continued to influence our culture to this day. Franklin embodied the American ideal of being well adjusted and, in his own time, was seen as the quintessential American.

30 min
Franklin and Adam Smith

20: Franklin and Adam Smith

This lecture examines the psychological and economic writings of Adam Smith, which advance a powerful theoretical foundation for the values that Franklin exemplified in his life.

31 min
Laclos,

21: Laclos, "Les Liaisons Dangereuses", I

This lecture introduces the most compelling and thought-provoking novel of the 18th century. Written as a series of letters, it makes the truth about human motives seem unknowable: Most of the characters are so skilled at duplicity; even their attempts at self-knowledge are doomed to failure.

31 min

22: "Les Liaisons Dangereuses", II

"Les Liaisons" challenges us to find a moral perspective in a hermetically closed society, where power is the only value, but refuses to give us a place to stand and remains disturbingly ambiguous throughout.

31 min
Blake,

23: Blake, "Songs of Innocence and of Experience"

The final two lectures look back at the Enlightenment from the perspective of the Romantic movement that succeeded it, focusing on William Blake's imaginative works that brilliantly reconceive the central issues of this course.

31 min
Blake,

24: Blake, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"

Written in response to the excitement of the French Rev¬olution, Blake's book uses a medley of genres to explore interrelated themes in psychology, politics, and religion. With Blake, we take a retrospective view of what the Enlightenment achieved in understanding the self and of what it left undone.

32 min

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