Wat de Verlichting bijeenhield | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 133, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 0040-7518
  • E-ISSN: 2352-1163



One of the key trends in scholarship on the Enlightenment since the early 1980s has been the fragmentation of the movement into numerous strands based variously on national context, religion, or philosophical school, a fragmentation that risks emptying the signifier ‘Enlightenment’ of all meaning. This article argues that analyzing the concepts of ‘equality’ and ‘society’ in Diderot and d’Alembert’s and one of its most important successors, the Swiss , enables us to see that, in spite of the very real philosophical, religious, and political differences between Enlightenment thinkers, the movement can nonetheless be characterized as possessing thin coherence. Religion became compartmentalized in an inner sphere, ceding ground to the concept of society, which came to describe the fundamental domain of human interdependence. In the new intellectual space created by the Enlightenment, inequality came to be viewed as something artificial and in need of justification, thus demonstrating that the modern concepts of ‘society’ and ‘equality’ hang together in an intellectual movement characterized by thin coherence.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): encyclopaedias; enlightenment; equality; religion; society
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