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Presenting a reconsideration of a proposition long accepted—that the belief in progress was the logical culmination of the eighteenth century thought—the author weighs, with special caution, the historical philosophies of the French Enlightenment, and also he examines the substructure of thought which underlay these philosophies and which often led directly not to a belief in human progress but rather to a historical pessimism.
This lively essay in ideas still vital for the world of today is at the same time a re-evaluation of a period of thought which has been vastly influential in forming the modern mind. The sociological, ethical, and aesthetic areas of man’s historical development are stressed by the author in his consideration of French thinkers, major and minor, from the age of Louis XIV to the Revolution.