BA -- Philosophy

 An RREO Original Review

Dictionnaire européen des Lumières [European Dictionary of the Enlightenment]. Ed. Michel Delon. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1997. xxii, 1128 p. maps. 25 cm. ISBN 2130488242: 820.00 FF

How to render an account of an encyclopedic dictionary of the Enlightenment that contains 1095 pages of text and over a million words in 363 articles? How could one person--unless it were the editor himself--absorb and master all the subjects it contains? What follows is the reasoned attempt of one blind man to organize his impressions of certain parts of a rococo elephant.

The Dictionnaire européen des Lumières is an admirable, ambitious, and problematic project to take stock of the Enlightenment in its manifold manifestations. The editor, Sorbonne Professor Michel Delon, stresses the open, Protean character of the Enlightenment and the problematic nature of recent scholarship on it. The national variations are emphasized: Lumières, Enlightenment, Aufklärung, Illuminismo are not identical; so there are major survey articles on European countries and other major regions. (The article "Cosmopolitisme" deals more with 18th-century conceptions of it than with the way the Enlighteners were cosmopolitan.)

Moreover, Delon announces that the work is deliberately "notional," covering philosophical, literary, and artistic concepts, as well as scientific developments, cultural institutions, socio-economic phenomena, "anthropological" categories, e. g., love, and a few expressive "symptoms," such as night. The only personal names as article headings are said to be fictional (though the historicity of Socrates would seem to be unquestionable). It is not here that one would look up biographical or chronological details; for a description of Law's Système, for example, one should have recourse to the Dictionnaire de l'Ancien Régime (1997) in the same series. Unexpected topics receive cogent, germane discussion; there are, for example, two articles on agriculture.

Inevitably there are lacunae, articles that could have been written, such as on mode, humanitarianism, solitude, conscience/consciousness, compassion (or sympathy), public, privacy (the last two are evoked in the article "Livre, lecture"), or at least these topics could have been given better pointers from the index. Readers looking to be titillated by accounts of 18th-century libertinage will be disappointed by the relatively cerebral coverage in "Érotisme," "Libertinage," and "Sexualité (Représentation de)." The only term that seems to be banished almost entirely is "préromantisme"--though its constituent elements are certainly present in scattered articles; perhaps the concept is considered out-of-date.

The fore-matter includes, besides the introduction, a very selective general bibliography, a list of articles (including a few see-references), and a list of contributors with their academic titles (a list of each one's contributions would have been helpful). More than 200 contributors of varying degrees of scholarly stature represent about 15 European nationalities; most of the articles were written in French--befitting its subject, a century in which that was the dominant language--with a quarter being translated from the German, and a few others from English, Danish, and Italian.

The articles--the lion's share of which (15) are by the editor--for the most part constitute états présents on the subjects they cover, and each would require a specialist to assess its adequacy. Each is followed by a brief bibliography and selected references to other articles. The key article on "Lumières" is by the editor, rather than the leading expert on the use of the term, who contributes other articles to the Dictionnaire. Other central articles on the means of communication (e. g., "Dictionnaire," "Journaux," "Littérature clandestine") are by acknowledged authorities.

There are two indices: of proper names and of themes; both are selective (there are no index entries for Sterne or Law, for example, though they are discussed in the appropriate articles), and the latter index includes some but not all of the articles listed in the front. Cross-references pose a problem: it would have been impossible or at least typographically repulsive to have marked each term within each article if it was the title of another--the first paragraph of the article on England contains 21 such headings. The cross-references at the end of the article are selective, so that if one encounters a term that excites one's tangential interest, one looks first at the end of the article, then in the thematic index at the back of book, and finally in the table of contents in the front to see if there is a further discussion. The references at the end of the article "Sensibilité" do not include all of the references listed under "Sensibilité" in the thematic index, which in turn do not include all of the references at the end of the article--and neither list includes the obviously relevant article on "Inquiétude." Similarly, "Voyages et voyageurs" briefly discusses the Grand Tour and imaginary voyages, but neither the cross-references at the end nor in the index include the articles where those topics are treated more fully. The deficiencies of the cross-references seem to affect the psychological or affective, more than the philosophical or socio-economic, dimensions: the thematic index entry for "Individu," for example, refers to "Libéralisme" and "Monadologie" but not to "Autobiographie."

The prose of the articles is dense and the syntax makes even a Ph.D. in French reread sentences to find the principal verb--and this not even in the translations from the German! The translations themselves read very much like overly literal renditions, with little care for grace or clarity. It will be interesting to see what the announced German adaptation is like when it appears. But these are quibbles in the overall accomplishment of this truly encyclopedic work.

Whether or not to recommend the Dictionnaire européen des Lumières for a reference collection is as problematic as the content of the work itself. Admirable though it is, it will not serve to answer ready-reference questions, but will appeal to advanced students who are willing to take the time to pore through the relevant articles for recent trends in scholarship.

Jeffry Larson, Yale University


Philosophielexikon: Personen und Begriffe der abendländischen Philosophie von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart [Philosophy Encyclopedia: People and Concepts in Western Philosophy from Antiquity to the Present]. Ed. Anton Hügli and Poul Lübcke. Completely rev. and expanded ed. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1997. 703 p. ill. 19 cm. (Rowohlts Enzyklopädie, 453) ISBN 3-499-55453-4: DM 29.90

This philosophical encyclopedia updates an earlier edition (1991), also published by Rowohlt. Both are translations from a Danish work aimed primarily at Scandinavian readers, and thus offering to a wider audience information not otherwise readily available. The 1997 German edition concentrates on modern and contemporary philosophers and philosophy, giving less emphasis to individuals and schools of thought of the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. The lexicon attempts to make definitions and articles on philosophical topics intelligible to the lay person as well as to the specialist. In addition to major philosophical concepts, very specific terms used by the various philosophers are defined and explained. The emphasis on current philosophy is the work's real strength and offers much to complement the existing reference works in the field. Bibliographical references include the literature up to 1996. This work can certainly be recommended for personal use, especially considering its affordable (paperback only) price, but the poor quality of its paper renders it less suitable for acquisition by libraries. A CD-ROM version has been published by Systhema in Munich (ISBN 3-634-22405-3; DM 29.90), though it, too, chiefly targets the end-user market. [jw/tk]

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