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Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 1172001 Lectures$
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F.M.L. Thompson

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780197262795

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197262795.001.0001

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Two Enlightenments: A Contrast in Social Ethics

Two Enlightenments: A Contrast in Social Ethics


(p.297) Two Enlightenments: A Contrast in Social Ethics
Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 117


British Academy

This chapter highlights the differences between the British and French Enlightenments by focusing upon a subject that has not received much attention: the distinctive social ethics in the two traditions. The political and institutional reasons for the disparities between the two Enlightenments include the differing relationship of the monarchy to the aristocracy in the two countries, of the aristocracy to the middle classes, of the central government to local government, and of the state to the church. No less important, however, were the philosophical differences. Where the British idea of compassion lent itself to a variety of practical, meliorative policies to relieve and improve social conditions, the French appeal to reason could be satisfied with nothing less than the ‘regeneration’ of man.

Keywords:   aristocracy, monarchy, social ethics, middle classes, British Enlightenment, French Enlightenment, government, church

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