Towards a Metaphysical Framework

  • Sheila Mary Mason
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idees book series (ARCH, volume 79)


It is of the greatest significance for the appreciation of Montesquieu’s moral idealism that the earliest indication of the notion of “esprit général,” that combination of moral, social and physical factors determining the life and destiny of nations, should occur in the Traité des Devoirs. This idea, of seminal importance for sociology, seems to have been the direct outcome of Montesquieu’s meditations on justice and of his consequent desire to rebut the principles and practices of that “realpolitik” whose evil results were manifest in the economic and moral decay of contemporary France, and to which the political thought of Machiavelli, of Hobbes and even of the righteous Bossuet, had lent powerful but illconceived support.1 In the Lettres Persanes, using, as Roger Caillois has demonstrated,2 a relativistic sociological method of profoundly disturbing implications, Montesquieu had already achieved a caustic though not wholly negative satirical portrait of contemporary society; not wholly negative, since the notions of absolute justice, of republican virtue and of moderate government were weighed against the description of corruption and folly. The Traité des Devoirs inspired by Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, was conceived as a more systematic and comprehensive exposition of the theoretical grounds of this optimistic idealism;3 however, when he reached the point of demonstrating in antithesis the injustice of “la politique,” Montesquieu went beyond a priori argument, attempting to base his refutation on historical evidence.


Moral Idealism Human Reason Divine Nature Moral Doctrine Natural Religion 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sheila Mary Mason

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations