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Roy Porter, Enlightenment
Chapter 11. Happiness
“Enlightenment’s great historical watershed (fattore decisivo) lay in the validation of
pleasure.” (p. 258)
 Pursuit of temporal happiness seen as the summum bonum
Examples from before the Enlightenment:
 Antiquity: Epicurus (advocated hedonism: not so much the gratification of desire as the
avoidance of pain)
 Renaissance: Pagan bacchanalia, v. pastoral painting and poetry (bucolic ‘golden age
 Feasts of the Christian calendar: ex. 12 days of Christmas, Shrove Tuesday; Saints’ days
 “Familiar themes – the revels of Bacchus and Venus, the cornucopia and the flowing
bowl – show that, both in reality and in the artistic imagination, there had always been
times and places of holiday abandonment and enjoyment.” (p. 259)
 Yet, sensualism had been decisively rejected. (v., e.g., Stoics, “Christian rejection of
carnality, true blessedness coming only through abstinence and asceticism” (p. 259)
“The Enlightenment’s novelty lay in the legitimacy it accorded to pleasure… as the routine
entitlement of people at large to pursue the senses (not just purify the soul) and to seek fulfillment
in this world (and not only in the next).” (p.259)
“Early Enlightenment philosophers endowed ethics with a new, and hopefully sounder basis in
psychology.” See complete paragraph, pgs. 261-262.
“Like Nature at large, man comprised a machine made up of parts, open to scientific study
through the techniques of a ‘moral anatomy’ which would unveil psychological no less than
physical laws of motion.” See complete paragraph, p. 262
“The natural right to pursue one’s own interests became an Enlightenment commonplace….
‘Self Love,’ asserted Josiah Tucker, ‘is the great Mover in human Nature’… (p. 263).
See also, quote from Sir James Stuart (p. 263)
See paragraph immediately following “Questions of good and evil”
By posing questions about human nature, about our free-will, about our impulses,
enlightened thinkers have come to be considered the “first modern analysts of social man, the
first sociologists and anthropologists, social psychologists, penologists, etc.” (p. 263)
Projecting man as an ensemble of stimuli and responses, activated by sense impulses, sensationalist
psychology sanctioned a new practical hedonism
The pursuit of happiness, the right to happiness, became the talk of belles lettrists.
Quote Soame Jenyns (p. 264)
Addison, Steele, The Spectator: promoted the way of the honnête homme, stressing:
Authorizing smart pursuits:
Light reading
Tea-table conversation
The pleasures of the town
“Enlightened thought thus gave its blessing to the pursuit of pleasure… Overall, the English
ideology, voiced through Lockean psychology, the Spectatorial stylistics of the self, utilitarianism
and political economy, promoted refined hedonism and enlightened self-interest within
consumer capitalism.” (p. 265)
“An entertainment industry arose, controlled by professional actors, theatre managers, painters,
sportsmen, art dealers, journalists, critics, and back-up teams of cultural brokers…” (p. 268)
The ‘consumer revolution’ (p. 268)
Homes grew more comfortable with additional of domestic goods previously available only
to the rich;
Upholstered chairs
Glassware, chinaware
Tea services
Looking glasses
Engravings and bric-a-brac to decorate walls and shelves
Toys for children (bought in stores)
Expanded print culture:
Play texts
Political pamphlets
Urban space restyled (p. 268) : the commercialization of leisure
Shops (once workshops) displaying ready-made good
Foreign visitors often remarked enthusiastically on them
Shopping as a pastime
Pleasure gardens (e.g., Vauxhall)
Theatres (dramatic and musical: now appealing to larger audiences)
Other activities previously limited to frequenters of the court and other nobles, or which
previously took place within the home became “organized, commercialized, professionalized,
nationalized, and discussed in literate culture” (p. 269)
Increased attention to, for. ex.:
Art (galleries and museums)
food and drink
sex (erotic pleasure – including literature; prostitution)
‘irregular desire’ (i.e., homosexuality) tolerated (“simply a matter of taste” (p.
old sexual taboos being challenged
“The prints of Hogarth and others provide plentiful evidence that the English did not merely indulge
in pleasures, but wanted to be recorded enjoying themselves” (p. 275)