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Rafael E. Tarrago The Americans in Two Works of the Enlightenment Works of the Enlightenment cannot always be assumed to be the product of impartial observation. Authors of that age sometimes ignored or distorted facts in works that claimed to be devoid of irrationality and deceit, such as the Encyclopédie (Paris, 1751—1 765). An emphasis upon experience and scientific knowledge are characteristics ofthe European movement diat we call the Enlightenment, but not all ideas espoused by the leading voices ofthe Enlightenment were based on experience. A prominent example is the beliefin the inferiority—in relation to Europeans—of the population of the Americas (both Native American and the offspring of Europeans settled in what was then called the New World) held by many philosophes of the Enlightenment, and disseminated in the Encyclop édie. This essay will discuss diverging opinions on Americans as expressed in two erudite works ofthe Enlightenment: the Supplement à l'Encyclopédie, published in Amsterdam in 1776, and Friar Benito Jerónimo Feijóo's Teatro crítico universal, published in Madrid between 1726 and 1740. The Encyclopédie, edited by Diderot and other French philosophes in Paris (1 751—1764) in order to popularize modern scientific and technological knowledge (as well as their own LOGOS 3:3 SUMMER 20O0 THE AMERICANS IN TWO WORKS OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT opinions on religion, philosophy, politics, and economics) does not need introduction. It is generally recognized as a monument of the French Enlightenment, as well as the first modern encyclopedia. Friar Feijóo and his nine-volume collection ofessays on a wide array of topics—ranging from the physics of Isaac Newton to the merits of the maxim "Vox populi vox Dei"—require an introduction. Benito Jerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro was born near Orense, Spain, in 1676 and died in Oviedo, Spain, in 1 764. He was a precocious child with a religious vocation, and, after entering the Benedictine Order at age 14, he studied theology and read avidly. He had a long career teaching theology and upon his retirement from teaching began writing the collection of essays (he called them discursos) that comprise the Teatro crítico universal, and his five-volume Cartas eruditas (1741— 1 760). Friar Feijóo's erudite works were commended by Pope Benedict XIV (pope from 1 746 to 1757) and King FerdinandVI of Spain (king from 1746 to 1759), and were translated into French (1 742) and English (1 777—1 780). The Teatro crítico universal was written in order to debunk superstition and to popularize new knowledge. The impatience with ignorance and prejudice, and the appreciation for the new scientific knowledge diat Friar Feijóo expresses in diis encyclopedic work are characteristic ofa man ofdie Enlightenment. Although the discursos in the Teatro crítico universal are not arranged in alphabetical order by topic, their topical nature and their aim to disseminate knowledge make the Teatro a predecessor of the Encyclopédie, insofar as the editors ofthis work claimed to encompass all branches ofknowledge in it. The fact that Friar Feijóo was a Catholic in good standing and a priest has made some who see die Enlightenment as an essentially anti-Christian movement question whether Friar Feijóo was truly a man ofthe Enlightenment. Those who hold this opinion seem to be unaware that there were many in eighteenth-century Austria, Bavaria, and Italy, as well as in Spain and Spanish America, who believed that modern philosophy made valid contributions to human 77 LOGOS knowledge, and that the experience of the most enlightened individuals ofall nations was its only foundation, while also holding that the teachings of the Bible and what the Catholic Church and the authority ofher legitimate interpreters proposed as objects ofbelief ought to be believed. Ifenlightenment is "to have the courage to use one's own reason," as Immanuel Kant says in his essay, "What is the Enlightenment?,"dien Friar Benito Jerónimo Feijóo was a man ofdie Enlightenment. ' Insofar as the essays in Teatro crítico universal aim to debunk error and to inform, without doctrinaire stance and controversial rhetoric, this work is true to die emphasis ofthe Enlightenment on reason, human experience...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-791X
Print ISSN
1091-6687
Pages
pp. 76-86
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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