How to write a history of philosophy? The case of eighteenth-century Britain

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 30 (6):1013-1032 (2022)
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This paper raises the question of how a history of the philosophy of eighteenth-century Britain should be written. First, it describes the usual answer to this question, which divides the period into what happened before Hume, then Hume, then responses to Hume. It notes that this answer does not correspond well with how the period saw itself. It then considers how ‘philosophy’ is defined in Britain in the eighteenth century, taking into account dictionary definitions, book titles, and university syllabi. Obvious differences between eighteenth-century and twenty-first-century philosophy are explored, including the idea that ‘natural philosophy’ is as much part of philosophy as moral philosophy, metaphysics, and logic, and the difficulty of making a distinction between philosophy and what we now call psychology. In the final section of the paper some difficulties are raised regarding the hypothesis that ‘enlightenment’ might provide an organizing concept for a more historically sensitive account of eighteenth-century British philosophy.



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James A. Harris
University of St. Andrews

Citations of this work

The Role of Philosophy in Hume’s Critique of Empire.Elena Yi-Jia Zeng - 2023 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 31 (2):136-157.

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References found in this work

An Inquiry Into the Human Mind, on the Principles of Common Sense.Thomas Reid - 1997 - Cambridge University Press. Edited by Elizabeth Schmidt Radcliffe, Richard McCarty, Fritz Allhoff & Anand Vaidya.
The Empiricists. A History of Western Philosophy, 5.R. Woolhouse - 1989 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 51 (4):730-730.

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