ABSTRACT

This chapter covers some key concepts discussed in subsequent chapters of this book. The book examines representations of humanity in Europe during the eighteenth century. It discusses a richer history of the conceptualization of humanity in the eighteenth century, and explains the various tensions and contradictions that beset that ideal and representative claim. The book explores not just the Enlightenment, but the worldly context in which it took place. Even the non-Europeans depicted in the imagined encounters of eighteenth-century writers and philosophers, often exercised an unwieldy agency that could produce an overriding discord in Enlightenment thought. The book examines how the philosophical issues of the period were reflected and refracted across an array of cultural forms. It focusses on many cases upon lesser known individuals, and upon unfamiliar texts and incidents, in the belief that very often it is when people look from a new angle that their understanding of an era is enriched and extended.