This book is a study of the development of ideas from the Renaissance to the opening of the nineteenth century. It is intellectual history in the largest sense, not confined to ideas in one or a few fields, but covering the whole range of Western intellectual activity during these most formative centuries. The important feature of the book is its stress on the interplay of ideas from different fields. In particular, the authors give more attention than is usual to scientific ideas, developments in literary styles and innovations in the arts.
The study of ideas is an evolutionary study, and this book explains the influence of events on ideas and ideas on events. The authors, therefore, place particular stress on the background and history of these formative centuries, showing the impact of the technical and social inventions which have gone hand-in-hand with new ideas.
In general, each of the chapters focuses on the outlook of a man or a group of men who epitomize a way of thinking: such men as Descartes, Bentham, and Jefferson; groups of men such as the early humanists, or the dissenting manufacturers in the Lunar Society. The book is divided into three parts: Part One, The Expanding World; Part Two, The Age of Reasoned Dissent; and Part Three, The Great Revolution.
The Western Intellectual Tradition is a profound and vivid history of ideas placed in their full setting: of men, of groups of men, of events. Both the scholar and the intellectual general reader will find The Western Intellectual Tradition a work of permanent value.
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