Handbook on the History of Economic Analysis Volume II

Handbook on the History of Economic Analysis Volume II

Schools of Thought in Economics

Edited by Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz

Volume II contains entries on the major schools of economic thought and analysis. These schools differ with regard to their 'vision' of the working of the economic system, the major forces and interactions that shape its path, and the policy recommendations proposed. At any moment of time, several such schools typically compete with one another, striving for dominance within the economic and political discourse. Each Handbook can be read individually and acts as a self-contained volume in its own right. It can be purchased separately or as part of a three-volume set.

Chapter 6: French Enlightenment

Thierry Demals and Gilbert Faccarello

Subjects: economics and finance, history of economic thought


The age of Enlightenment is certainly one of the most exciting periods in the history of sciences and philosophy (see, for example, the classic studies of Hazard 1935, 1946; Gay 1966, 1969). This is especially true in France where the number of firstrank philosophers and scientists, the so-called “philosophes”, is astonishing – from Pierre Bayle (1647–1706) to Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas Caritat de Condorcet (1743– 1794), including Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657–1757), Charles-Louis de Secondat de Montesquieu (1689–1755), François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire) (1694–1778), Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis (1698–1759), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), Denis Diderot (1713–1784), Claude-Adrien Helvétius (1715–1771), Étienne Bonnot de Condillac (1715–1780), Jean Le Rond d’Alembert (1717–1783), Paul Henri Thiry d’Holbach (1723–1789) and Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794), to mention only some of the most celebrated among them. The age extends from the second half of the seventeenth century right up to the French Revolution, which epitomises its climax. Building on the development of modern sciences started in the early seventeenth century, it brought progressively a radical change in all the fields of knowledge and thought. Not surprisingly, this intellectual groundswell also provoked numerous reactions, both during and after the period, which formed the various Anti-or Counter-Enlightenment traditions still active today (see, for example, Monod 1916; Masseau 2000; McMahon 2001; Sternhell 2006 [2009]). A European movement of ideas, the Enlightenment naturally presented a great diversity of writings and opinions, accentuated by the different national contexts, and gave rise to sometimes diverging interpretations – the more recent debates dealing with the distinction between a “radical” and a “moderate” Enlightenment (see Jacob 1981 [2006]; Israel 2001, 2006, 2010, and some related discussion – for example, Foessel 2009; Bove et al. 2007; Lilti 2009; Miklaszewska and Tomaszewska 2014). In spite of this, during this period, authors broadly shared some fundamental values of autonomy and freedom, universality and toleration, experimentation and the “reign of reason”, perfectibility – all that is supposed to aim at the happiness of humankind and to found modernity. The Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, edited by Diderot and d’Alembert from 1751 to 1772, is considered the flagship of this period, the best testimony of a revolution in thought and attitudes.

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