A study of the part played by the idea of convenance in the elaboration of moral theories in the opening years of the 18th century, could hardly pretend to be complete without mention of the English. The political upheavals which mark the period: the war of the League of Augsburg running into the war of the Spanish Succession; religious persecution and economic depression in France; bitter mercantile rivalry between England, Holland and France; the revolution of 1688 in England and the establishment of William of Orange on the English throne, followed by Louis XIV’s espousal of the Stuart cause; all this, and the inevitable refugee movements that accompanied it, led to a weakening of cultural barriers and an exchange of ideas, in which English influence began to play an increasingly dominant role.1 In matters of political philosophy, natural science, and economic theory, matters which closely affected the state of France, her men of science and letters began to look across the narrow seas to the country hitherto regarded by popular opinion as barbaric, but which now gave proof of the prosperity and political vigour so manifestly lacking at home. In the preceding chapters we have tried to examine the contribution made to moral philosophy by a few outstanding figures in French literary circles, and to gauge the extent to which certain ideas became embedded in the national consciousness by reference to the works of several other relatively obscure writers. But from the last decade of the 17th century onwards English ideas and theories are a factor to be considered in major as well as minor works. Of course, these theories spring from a common European tradition, and although they may be regarded as instrumental in establishing the dominance of empiricism in philosophy and science, it is often difficult, in view of the fact that some of them result from parallel developments in thought in which French influences have played their part, to estimate the extent to which they innovate as opposed to merely complementing or reinforcing notions already well established.


Moral Philosophy Moral Theory English Work Early Essay Ethical Rationalist 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1975

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  • Sheila Mary Mason

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