How to “make the world fully capable of using the mind that the seventeenth-century revolution brought to birth”

In The Age of Genius, A.C. Grayling explains how and why “the mind-set of the best-informed people in that century changed from being medieval to being modern in so short and tumultuous a time.” It is in fact the epoch in the history off the human mind.

Several hundred passages caught my eye. These five are representative of the thrust and flavor of Grayling’s narrative:

o “The claim that I think might be made about the audience at Macbeth in 1606 and the crowds at the execution of Charles I in 1649 is that the former consisted of pre-moderns, the latter of moderns or at any rate those who were fast inventing the modern; and this is a change discernible even by the middle of the seventeenth century.” (Page 21)

o “Taken together, then, the Thirty Years War and the Anglo-Dutch naval wars, chief among all the conflicts of the century, have a role in the epoch under c consideration that equals that of the intellectual advances happening at the same time. The wars and the ideas connect in many ways, directly and otherwise. One of the direct ways is that the wars permanently freed large parts of Europe from the attempted hegemony over thought and enquiry of the Roman Catholic Church. Another direct link is the interplay of science and technology in the development of weapon s, and of the effect of war on economies.” (Pages 113-114)

o The development of the modern mind was a process that “had started in the early Renaissance with the humanistic turn to interest in things of this life in this world, and was dramatically furthered by the Reformation’s assertion of conscience, which quickly became a desire for liberty of enquiry in general. This efflorescence of thought consisted in a mixed luxuriance of what was both good and bad, weeds and crops together, the former all the c let enthusiasms, the latter — with more assiduous cultivation — resulting in the maturation of science and philosophy as we know them now.” (Page 203)

o “In the case of the growth of armies and navies required by the seventeenth century’s constant state of war, two factors were crucial: the growing wealth of the major states of Europe apart from Spain, and the increasing power and efficiency of state bureaucracies. The latter was necessitated by the task of raising revenues to fund the forces required to fight the wars, while the logistics of being at war improved the effectiveness of state administrations required to manage the complexities involved. The point off noting this is a very particular one: it shows how the emergence of modern state institutions was fostered by military exigencies, or at very least that these played a major part in the emergence of the modern state.” (Pages 273-274)

o “The power of societies in the modern world view has become the driver means that even though most people in the world, for most of the time since the seventeenth century, have in some sense remain remained pre-modern in mind-set, they are holders of what is in fact a functionally marginal view. In the few countries, and in a few places in some other countries, where this otherwise functionally marginal mind-set remains dominant, most are — if one indulges the requisite somber survey — places of religious strife and backwardness.” (Page 322)

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The Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century and the Birth of the Modern Mind was published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (2016).

A.C. Grayling MA, DPhil (Oxon) FRSL, FRSA is Master of the New College of the Humanities, and a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford. Until 2011 he was Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London. He has written and edited over thirty books on philosophy and other subjects; among his other recent The Good Book, Ideas That Matter, Liberty in the Age of Terror, and To Set Prometheus Free. For several years he wrote the “Last Word” column for the Guardian newspaper and a column for the Times

To learn more about him and his brilliant work, please click here.

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