Redeeming Enthusiasm: Enthusiasm and Reason in Shaftesbury’s The Moralists

Redeeming Enthusiasm: Enthusiasm and Reason in Shaftesbury’s The Moralists

Francesca di POPPA*

Abstract: In this paper, I will examine Shaftesbury‟s prima facie ambivalent attitude towards demonstrative reason, and its role in his discussion of “reasonable enthusiasm” in The Moralists. I will show that such attitude is heavily influenced by Epictetus, with whom Shaftesbury shares several worries about the role of reason in philosophy. In both cases, there is no real hostility against demonstrative reason; what both writers oppose, rather, is the dominant preoccupation with demonstration and analysis, which, they feel, bogs down philosophical debates in largely irrelevant technicalities. Demonstrative reason, in both philosophers, is considered a tool to analyze and test knowledge otherwise acquired.

I will confirm this reading through an analysis of the narrative in The Moralists. Such narrative will confirm that, for Shaftesbury, the role of reason is that of testing enthusiasm, rather than causing it. In other words, the reasonableness of Theocles‟ (and Shaftesbury‟s) enthusiasm does not lie in its being caused by, or based on, a flawless demonstration, but in its being open to rational scrutiny. The openness to such scrutiny is what allows the philosopher to distinguish between good and bad enthusiasm.

Keywords: Shaftesbury, religion, enthusiasm, reason, Stoicism.

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