On the Margins of the Enlightenment: Blacks and Jews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The postmodern critique of the Enlightenment is much concerned with what it regards as the unwillingness of progressive thinkers of the eighteenth century to accept the legitimacy of national or cultural groups that differed significantly from norms in Western Europe. My aim is to examine how eighteenth-century thinkers, including Hume, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Condorcet, and the Abbé Grégoire, perceived prototypical "others" such as Blacks and Jews, by looking at the sources - from contemporary medical science to travel literature, proto-anthropology, history, biblical scholarship and reformist projects - on which these views were based. Perceptions of Blacks cannot easily be separated from the issue of slavery, nor that of the Jews from biblical history and theology. I argue that those who wanted to exclude these groups from mainstream society generally based their arguments on a one-dimensional, self-referential empirical methodology, while those who argued for their eventual inclusion usually posited a multidimensional reality in which a shift from one dimension to the other was a matter of will and planning. While the inclusionists tended to use general categories, such as humanity or a universal spiritual order, the exclusionists tended to use particularizing categories such as race or nation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-144
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Legacy
Issue number2
StatePublished - 17 Feb 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 International Society for the Study of European Ideas.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Philosophy


Dive into the research topics of 'On the Margins of the Enlightenment: Blacks and Jews'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this