Sentimental Savants

Meghan K. Roberts

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2016 | ISBN: 9780226384115
Published online May 2017 | e-ISBN: 9780226384252 | DOI:
Sentimental Savants

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The eighteenth century was not an austere age of reason but rather a time when reason and emotion, science and sensibility, public and private, went neatly hand in hand. This book examines how the thinkers of the age attempted to live the Enlightenment. It is a story that starts at home. Eager to establish themselves as individuals of virtue and sentiment, philosophers flaunted their seemingly idyllic family lives. Rather than shuttering themselves in their studies, the sentimental savants of Enlightenment France claimed to live in and for society. They imagined themselves to be a new sort of public figure: learned men and women whose happy home lives enabled, rather than constrained, their intellectual work. They used their family homes to develop new ideas, new social theories, and new cultural practices. Their loving marriages testified to their sensitivity and sociability; their domestic experiences provided a strong empirical foundation on which to build their claims about science, medicine, and philosophy; their wives and children contributed to the household production of knowledge. Thinkers shone a spotlight on their domestic lives in an effort to further the cause of Enlightenment. By drawing attention to the virtues of private life and by practicing an intimate brand of empiricism, they opened up debates about the relevance of personal virtue to public authority and intellectual acumen.

Keywords: Enlightenment; families; sentimentalism; science; philosophy; self-fashioning

Book.  220 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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