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

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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 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.<br>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

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