The multiple national enlightenments of eighteenth-century Europe had common themes which justify the continued use of the term “the Enlightenment”. I will concentrate on one such theme and illustrate it with one man’s achievement. The theme is the culture of improvement: the widespread conviction that by the application of reason, things can be done better. One of the great achievements of the Enlightenment was the inculcation of a belief that no individual, nor society at large, was doomed by God or by nature or by fate to continue to do things the way they had always been done. I distinguish…
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