EnglishLiterature of the French Revolution
Whilethe society advances in its ways of interpretation of variousphenomenon that surround it, the influence of philosophical programsremains as active as they were centuries ago. In essence, apart frominitiating vigorous traditions, the influence of a philosophical workextends far beyond the history of thoughts to change our way ofthinking about ourselves, the situations that we encounter, andpeople around us as well as our relationship with the world in whichwe live. The preceding is what Aarsleff Hans remarks of Locke, aBritish philosopher, who many scholars think of as the mostinfluential philosopher of modern time. (Aarsleff 252).
Whilethese thinkers’ thoughts were objective and without a preconceivedopinion of positivity or negativity, the nature of their literarywork remains a major determinant of how a particular school ofthought influences the society. The impact may be particularlysignificant when the views of a literary art tend to stimulate avariety of multiple diverse interpretation, explanation, or meaning,in which the intended meaning may not be determined from the context.
Specifically,the range of perceptions a philosophical program gives the society,depending on whatever interpretation the art is given, whetheraccurate or inaccurate, dictates the program’s acceptance orrejection and, therefore, whether it will circulate through thepublic directly and in effective ways. As Aarsleff notes of Locke,the radical nature of the philosopher`s attacks on epistemic,religious, and political authority are complicated for many people tounderstand today. Bishop Stillingfleet, the most famous of earlycritics of Locke`s works, Aarsleff continues, claimed that Locke`snew ideologies would cause skepticism. Additionally, the way Lockeaccount on his substance sabotages the tenet of the Trinity. Lockedenied the criticism, but since there were sufficient reasons tograsp that Locke was an anti-Trinitarian, there were grounds fordoubts that his denial was sincere.
However,from a different interpretation of his (Locke’s) epistemologicalopinion and support for rational religion, Toland and Anthony Collinsamong some other early nineteenth century deists drew conclusionsconcerning religion delivering ideas which offended the orthodoxchurch. In this illustration, the religious nature of Locke’sdoctrines made it difficult for the program’s acceptance andcirculation through, and direct effectiveness on, a portion of thepublic.
Asmany scholars conclude about Locke, the influence, and popularity ofhis philosophical doctrines varied widely depending on the nature ofthe account. While few of his works received little or no attentionfrom the English society, there are many of Locke`s ideas which drewenormous interest. For instance, his account of personal identity wasreal revolutionary and provided a genuine contribution to the fieldof philosophy, notes (Gough 252). Much of the eighteenth century sawhot debates on this account as well as Locke’s skepticismconcerning whether or not the human soul was immaterial or justmaterial. In fact, even into the twentieth century, “personalidentity” continued to be considerably recapped. Much ofrecapitulation begins with the 1707–08 Clarke and Collin’scontroversial reports. Another of Locke`s account closely related topersonal identity is “free agency” which saw a notablerecognition because of its nature. Locke’s free agency tended to beless controversial compared "personal identity".
Accordingto Gideon Yaffe`s recent publication LibertyWorth the Name,the greatest influence of the two accounts of Locke, are stillrelevant to the current discussion about free will as well ascompatibilism. This argument may well rekindle debates and supplementinterest on Locke’s personalidentityand freeagencyphilosophies (Yaffe 53).
Inthe late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Locke wrote two newaccounts: one on education and another on natural and human rights.The philosophy, however, seems to thrive on ambiguity and so, due tomisinterpretation, the viewpoints were entirely rejected forutilitarianism, making Locke’s influence and popularity drop to itslowest ebb. He became regarded as one of the prophets of the Frenchand American revolutions.
Anotherillustration of how a philosophy which can be interpreted differentlymay face challenges circulating through the public with directinfluence is the French revolution. During the eighteenth century,many revolutionary thinkers were already in France. Some of thesephilosophers included Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, and Montesquieu.The ideological nature of the works of these thinkers played a majorrole in the ignition of the French revolution during the time.According to Ritter, philosophers’ revolutionary ideas awoke thepeople of human rights thereby stimulating the fight for liberty.Philosophers like Rousseau exposed the ineffectiveness of the Monarchand his government. This encouraged the people into challenging theauthority (Ritter 201). Voltaire, for example, believed that man hadhis destiny in his hands and not in heaven. The philosophers inspiredthe people to fight for their privileges and against the churchdominance without fear. Another example is John Locke’s idea ofdivinity and certain rights of monarchs. Also, philosophy ofMontesquieu drew an outline of constitutional monarchy with adivision of powers following a believe that the entire authorityshould not be entrusted to one person.
Whilesome people suggested that the ideas were meant to better the life ofthe civilian and improve the relationship with their government,others misinterpreted the suggestions as incitement to causeresistance. According to Rousseau, the government needed to begrounded on the consent of the governed. He advocated for thedoctrine of democratic leadership and popular sovereignty. Taking ofcontract between the ruled and the ruler, Rousseau implied that theruled have the right to change form their government according totheir will and even change leadership whenever they were unsatisfied(Ritter 213).
Thus,critics interpreted that the thoughts of the philosophers as a directattack on the rights which protected the upper social classes andtheir privileges. Because of the mixed reactions, the effects of thescholars took a long time to circulate through the public. However,the philosophical ideas instilled courage among the people to rejectsocial inequalities and a desire for a government which could respondto their needs. Moreover, the political nature of these ideas playeda central role in revealing the political oppression therebymotivating the revolution.
Giventhe role of philosophy in the French revolution, many scholars tendto agree with Godwins` political writings. Godwins argues thatgenuine and unbiased ideological reasoning has the capability ofmanifesting justice and truth. As is evident in the FrenchRevolution, friction only results when the right idea of aphilosophical argument is either misunderstood, misinterpreted orcriticized without objective reasoning (Godwin, 83)
Aconservative concept of most literary art is grounded upon atraditional distrust of synopsis philosophies and principles born outof a skeptical disposition towards progress and rationalism. Mostpeople view the world as endlessly complex and largely above thecapacity of the human mind. One of the frontiers of this opinion wasMichael Oakeshott, a British political philosopher. In his politicalactivities, he observed that during political rationalism, peoplesail a bottomless and boundless sea. From his perspective, ideologiesare viewed as abstract thought systems designed to distort andsimplify social reality since they tend to explain somethingincomprehensible.
Therefore,philosophical ideas, as written by Teres, are equivalent of dogmatismdoctrinaire and beliefs that are separate from the complexities ofthe actual world (Teres 243). Traditionalists have hence declined theideological politics style which attempts to remodel the worldaccording to a set of pre-established theories or abstractprinciples. Until significantly infected by the ideological politicsand philosophical opinion of the new age, conservatives who aremainly comprised of critics had preferred the adoption of whatOakeshott referred to as traditionalist stance. This philosophyspurns ideology of a literary art for pragmatism. They argued thathistory and experience are the surest guidelines to human conduct(Teres 244). Such beliefs are a model to give a wrong meaning toliberal views, something that results in difficulty in attainingdirect effectiveness and circulation of philosophical programsthrough the public.
Inconclusion, the mixed reactions about John Locke’s accounts ondifferent issues that affect humanity demonstrate how literary artthrive on ambiguity. Consequently, it makes it difficult for theeffects of philosophical programs to circulate through the public andgain acceptance. This argument is confirmed by the philosophicalconcepts generated from the French Revolution.
Aarsleff,Hans. “FromLocke to Saussure: Essays on the Study of Language and IntellectualHistory.” Language,vol. 60, no. 1, 1982, pp. 181.
Godwin,William. “EnquiryConcerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Morals andHappiness.” ThePhilosophical Review, vol.57,no. 6, 1948, pp. 625.
Simon,Walter M., and J. W. Gough. “John Locke’s Political Philosophy:Eight Studies.” TheWilliam and Mary Quarterly,vol.8, no. 1, 1951, pp. 127.
Ritter,Joachim. "Hegeland the French Revolution." PhilosophicalBooks, vol.24,no. 4, 1983, pp. 224–225.
Teres,Harvey. "Notes Toward the Supreme Soviet: Stevens andDoctrinaire Marxism." TheWallace Stevens Journal,vol. 13, no. 2, 1989, pp. 150-162.
Yaffe,Gideon. LibertyWorth the Locke on Free Agency.Princeton University Press, 2000.