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Perhaps the chief achievement of the Enlightenment was the creation of the social sciences and the application of these sciences to the problems of human existence. The selections which follow offer a first-hand glimpse of the type of work that Enlightenment thinkers accomplished in the fields of psychology, economics, political science, and ethics. The selections are but fragments of thorough, systematic analyses of the foregoing subjects. However, our primary interest here is to understand some of the important assumptions and conclusions rather than to acquire a detailed knowledge of each of the sciences. The ideas presented may seem oversimplified and naive to the mind of a twentieth century social scientist, but that is simply the result of a perspective based on two centuries of further research and experimentation. [excerpt]


This is a part of Section X: The Eighteenth Century Enlightenment. The Contemporary Civilization page lists all additional sections of Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, as well as the Table of Contents for both volumes.

More About Contemporary Civilization:

From 1947 through 1969, all first-year Gettysburg College students took a two-semester course called Contemporary Civilization. The course was developed at President Henry W.A. Hanson’s request with the goal of “introducing the student to the backgrounds of contemporary social problems through the major concepts, ideals, hopes and motivations of western culture since the Middle Ages.”

Gettysburg College professors from the history, philosophy, and religion departments developed a textbook for the course. The first edition, published in 1955, was called An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization and Its Problems. A second edition, retitled Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, was published in 1958 and 1960. It is this second edition that we include here. The copy we digitized is from the Gary T. Hawbaker ’66 Collection and the marginalia are his.