Upplysning utan förnuft : begär och frihet hos Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume och Montesquieu

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


This essay has three main aims. The first one is to give an overview of some hundred years of European intellectual history, bringing out new aspects of the classical thinkers. The analysis of the four philosophers Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume and Charles de Montesquieu aims at illustrating a general historical process, viz. the emergence of the modern view of man in Europe. After Hobbes, desires were in constant focus for political theorists. This shift, from the emphasis on man's rationality to his desires, has since characterised the history of European political ideas. The second aim of this essay is to throw light on the character of practical philosophy in an historical perspective. Historically speaking, it has been independent and cherished its ties to the life of human beings. Of the four thinkers treated, Hobbes goes furthest in his attempts to create a scientific political philosophy. However, he realises the limitations to this approach, and in the final version of Leviathan the rhetorical and literary character of political philosophy is emphasised. The three other thinkers, John Locke, David Hume and Charles de Montesquieu, all cherish the independence of practical philosophy. A third aim of this essay is to exemplify a certain way of interpreting historical texts. The interplay between the text and the historical context is in focus in this essay. History generates the political thinker's problems. The very idea of a history, of a past as the object of knowledge, is founded on the conviction that it is possible to communicate with the past. Even if every historical event is unique, and every culture generates its specific experiences, the writing of history presupposes that the intentions of the subject are accessible to interpretation. The question has been to what extent the writing of history can make claims to truth and relevance. It is to be hoped that the discussion has lead to both more modest claims and a greater awareness that historical works expresses a structure which more or less reflects the scientist's perspective of his own time.

One conclusion of the analysis is that the modernity of the Age of Enlightenment is not primarily to be construed from the concepts of rationality, empiricism and progress. The view of man typical of early Enlightenment is rather to be characterised in terms of passions and desires, reason and virtue, but so construed that passions and desires are at the centre. In the four thinkers discussed, desires and passions are not in opposition to rationality, but are included as an aspect of practical rationality. Rather than regarding passions as phenomena to be unconditionally mastered, they were considered part of rational deliberation. Perhaps it is a sign of our times that today, when modernity has become eroded, the artificial opposition between passion and reason loses its claim of rationality. Elements of premodern Enlightenment rationality are coming back, emphasising feelings as the necessary starting-point for practical philosophy. The precondition for freedom consisted in desires and passions rather than in reason. The liberal idea of political freedom emanates from a tradition of thought in Europe which emphasised the emotionality and unpredictability of man. These features are the constant challenge to politics, and the only possible attitude to take for those in power is that of tolerance and freedom towards the citizens.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • History of Ideas


  • John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, postmodernism, modernity, women, political freedom, classical republicanism, human nature, reason, virtue, passions, Enlightenment, desire, David Hume, Charles de Montesquieu., History of philosophy, history of ideas, Filosofins historia, idéhistoria
Translated title of the contributionEnlightenment without reason. Desire and freedom in Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume and Montesquieu
Original languageSwedish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
  • [unknown], [unknown], Supervisor, External person
Award date1999 Apr 23
  • Brutus Östlings Bokförlag Symposion
Print ISBNs91-7139-429-x
Publication statusPublished - 1999
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 1999-04-23 Time: 10:15 Place: Room 201, Department of Cultural Studies External reviewer(s) Name: Krogh, Thomas Title: Prof. Affiliation: Oslo University, Norway ---

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