English Literature: By this point in the course we hve explored various English perspectives on the Revolution, and have begun to deal with how these perspectives (and the conflicts between them) impact English literature of the time. Literarily, we have only dealt with Godwin and Williams so far, though we have spent a class dealing with Wordsworth and literary Romanticism by the time you really sit down to write in earnest. And the various writings of Price, Burke, Paine, et al have, as we have discussed, distinct rhetorical orientations that lend themselves to literary analysis.

Project Type:Essay
Skills:English Literature
Academic level:GraduateNumber of pages: 5 (1375 words)Spacing:double spaced

Number of sources:2
Topic: English Literature of the French Revolution
Description: R. Squibbs ENG 439 Essay Assignment
Length: 5 typed, double-spaced pages in 12-pt. font (preferably Times New Roman) w/1†margin

There have been some recurring themes in our discussions of the various readings. The role of reason in revolutionary social change is one. In his political writings, Godwin expresses confidence in the capacity of reason to make truth and justice manifest; in their own ways, Price and Paine do the same. Yet in Caleb Williams – especially as resolved in the original manuscript ending – we see the limits of such faith in rationalism as an engine of change. Williams, by contrast, offers an affective account of the Revolution-as-spectacle. The feelings of elation and common humanity that the Festival and other Revolutionary celebrations evoke in her stand as guarantees of the rightness of the Revolution, and she essentially dares her readers not to feel the same way about what’s happening in France.
One subject to explore might be the different uses of reason and/or feeling (or sentiment, in the 18th-century vernacular) as means of recognizing the justness and world-changing force of the Revolution. You could bring in Wordsworth to supplement Williams’s presentation of aesthetic means of experiencing the events in France; on the reason side, most of those pieces we’ve read in the Revolution Controversy volume can provide forceful examples.
Then there’s the role of philosophy/ideas in catalyzing the Revolution. Burke blames French Enlightenment philosophes and their English admirers for unleashing chaos and bloodshed in the name of egalitarian liberty. Paine, Mackintosh, Godwin and others regard the philosophical revolution as indispensible to human progress, however badly the French Jacobins have misunderstood their ideas. At the same time, Caleb Williams and The Prelude both represent revolutionary possibility as a vexing problem, which raises the question of what sort of force literary works might have in attempting to popularize philosophically radical ideas (something that Mackintosh, for instance, regards in much more positive terms). Does the nature of literary art, which often seems to thrive on ambiguity, make it more difficult for the effects of philosophical programs to circulate through the public in directly effective ways?

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While the society advances in its ways of interpretation of various phenomenon that surround it, the influence of philosophical programs remain as active as they were centuries ago. In essence, apart from initiating vigorous traditions, the influence of a philosophical work extends far beyond the history of thoughts to change our way of thinking about ourselves, the situation and people around us, to our relationship with the world in which we live. The preceding is what Aarsleff Hans remarks of Locke, a British philosopher, who many scholars think of as the most influential philosopher of modern time. (Aarsleff, 252).

While these thinkers’ thoughts were objective and without a preconceived opinion of positivity or negativity, the nature of their literary work remains a major determinant of how a particular school of thought influences the society. The influence may be particularly significant when the views of a literary art tends to stimulate a variety of multiple diverse interpretation, explanation, or meaning, in which the intended meaning may not be determined from the context.

Specifically, the range of perceptions a philosophical program gives the society, depending on whatever interpretation the art is given, whether accurate or inaccurate, dictates the program’s acceptance or rejection and therefore whether it will circulate through the public in directly effective ways. As Aarsleff notes of Locke, the radical nature of the philosopher’s attacks on epistemic, religious and political authority are complicated for many people to understand today. Bishop Stillingfleet, the most famous of early critics of Locke’s works, Aarsleff continues, claimed saying that Locke’s new ideologies would cause skepticism and in addition, the way Locke account on his substance sabotage the tenet of the Trinity. Locke denied the criticism, but since there were sufficient reasons to grasp that Locke was an anti-Trinitarian, there were grounds for doubts that his denial was sincere.

However, from a different interpretation of his (Locke’s) epistemological opinion and support for rational religion, Toland and Anthony Collins among some other early nineteenth century deists drew conclusions concerning religion delivering ideas which offended the orthodox church. In this illustration, the religious nature of Locke’s doctrines made it difficult for the program’s acceptance and circulation through, and direct effectiveness on, a portion of the public.

As many scholars conclude about Locke, the influence and popularity of Locke’s philosophical doctrines varied widely depending the nature of the account. While few of his works received little to no attention from and effects on the English society, there are many of Locke’s ideas which drew enormous interest. For instance, his account of personal identity was real revolutionary and a genuine contribution to the field of philosophy, notes (Gough, 252). Much of the eighteenth century saw hot debates on this account as well as Locke’s skepticism concerning whether or not the human soul was immaterial or just material. In fact, even into the twentieth century, “personal identity” continued to be considerably recapped. Much of recapitulation begins with the 1707–08 Clarke and Collin’s controversial reports. Another of Locke’s account closely related to personal identity is “free agency” which saw a notable recognition because of its nature. Locke’s free agency tended to be less controversial compared “personal identiy”.

According to Gideon Yaffe’s recent publication “Liberty Worth the Name,” The greater influence of the two accounts of Locke, given their nature, are still relevant to the current discussion about “free will” as well as “compatibilism.” This argument may well rekindle debates and supplement interest on Locke’s “personal identity” and “free agency” philosophies (Yaffe, 53).

In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Locke wrote two new accounts: one on education and another on natural and human rights. The philosophy, however, seems to thrive on ambiguity and so due to misinterpretation, the viewpoints were entirely rejected for utilitarianism to the extent that Locke’s influence and popularity dropped at its lowest ebb. He became regarded as one of the prophets of the French and American revolutions.

Another illustration of how a philosophy which can be interpreted differently may face challenges circulating through the public with direct influence concerns the French revolution. During the eighteenth century, many revolutionary thinkers were already in France. Some these philosophers included Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, and Montesquieu. The ideological nature of the works of these thinkers played a major role in the ignition of the French revolution during the time. According to Ritter, philosophers’ revolutionary ideas awoke the people of human rights thereby stimulating them to fight for their rights. Philosophers like Rousseau exposed the ineffectiveness of the Monarch and his government. This encouraged the people into challenging the authority (Ritter, 201),

Voltaire for example, believed that man had his destiny in his hands and not in heaven. As such, people started fighting for their privileges and against the church dominance without fear. Another example is John Locke’s idea of divinity and certain rights of monarchs. Also, philosophy of Montesquieu drew an outline of constitutional monarchy with a division of powers following a believe that the entire power should not be entrusted to one person.

While some people suggested that the ideas were meant to better the life of the civilian and improve the relationship with their government, others misinterpreted the suggestions as incitement to cause resistance. According to Rousseau, government needed to be grounded on the consent of the governed. He advocated for the doctrine of democratic leadership and popular sovereignty. Taking of contract between the ruled and the ruler, Rousseau implied that the ruled have the right to change form their government according to their will and even change leadership in whenever they were unsatisfied (—-).

Thus critics interpreted that the thoughts of the philosophers were nothing less than a direct attack on the rights which protected the upper social classes and their privileges. Because of the misinterpretation, it became more difficult for the effects of the philosophical programs to circulate through the public in directly in effective ways. However, the ideas of the philosophers instilled in the people courage to reject social inequalities and a desire for a government which can respond to their need. The political nature of these ideas played a central role in focusing the dissatisfaction thereby causing the Revolution.

In view of the role of philosophy in the French revolution, many scholars tend to agree with Godwnin’s political writings. Godwins argues that good and unbiased ideological reasoning has the capability of making the justice and truth to manifest. As is evident in the French Revolution, friction only results when the right idea of a philosophical reasoning is either misunderstood, misinterpreted or criticized without objective reasoning (Godwin, 83)

A conservative concept of most literary art is grounded upon a traditional distrust of synopsis philosophies and principles, born out of a skeptical disposition towards progress and rationalism. Most people view the world as endlessly complex and largely above the capacity of the human mind. One of the frontiers of this opinion was Michael Oakeshott, a British political philosopher. In the political activities he observed that in rationalism in Politics, people will always sail a bottomless and boundless sea’. From his perspective, ideologies are viewed as abstract thought system, sets of ideas, designed to distort and simplify and social reality since they tend to explain something incomprehensible.

Therefore, philosophical ideas, writes Teres, are equivalent of dogmatism doctrinaire and beliefs that are separate from the complexities of the actual world. Traditionalists have hence declined the ‘ideological politics style, which attempts to remodel the world according to a set of pre-established theories or abstract principles. Until significantly infected by the ideological politics and philosophical opinion of the new age, conservatives who are usually comprised of critics had preferred the adoption of what Oakeshott referred to as ‘traditionalist stance,’ that spurns ideology of a literary art for pragmatism. They argued that history and experience are the surest guidelines to human conduct. Such believes are a model to give a wrong meaning to liberal views, something that results in difficulty in attaining direct effectiveness and circulation of philosophical programs through the public (Teres, 243).

As evidenced in the different ways in which people reacted to John Locke’s accounts depending on the issues they address, the conclusion is that the nature of literary art, which seems to thrive on ambiguity makes it more difficult for the effects of philosophical programs to circulate through the public in directly and effective ways. The same argument is confirmed by the of philosophical concepts in the French revolution.

Works cited

Aarsleff, Hans. “From Locke to Saussure Essays on the Study of Language and Intellectual History.” (1982).

Godwin, William. “Political and philosophical writings of William Godwin.” (1993).

Gough, John Wiedhofft. “John Locke’s political philosophy: eight studies.” (1973).

Ritter, Joachim. “Hegel and the French Revolution.” (1984).

Teres, Harvey. “Notes Toward the Supreme Soviet: Stevens and Doctrinaire Marxism.” The Wallace Stevens Journal 13.2 (1989): 150.

Yaffe, Gideon. Liberty worth the name: Locke on free agency. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

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