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CPF: Sociability and Cosmopolitanism: Social Bonds on the Fringes of the Enlightenment (15 August 2009)
full name / name of organization:
Scott Breuninger and David Burrow, University of South Dakota
The editors of this collection seek essays that explore how notions of sociability and cosmopolitanism were articulated in a variety of national contexts during the long eighteenth century. We are particularly interested in soliciting studies that focus upon traditions typically overlooked by scholars of the Enlightenment.
Historians are now familiar with the explosion of intellectual fervor during the long eighteenth century in such diverse locations as Naples, Koenigsberg, Edinburgh, and London. While the scholarly task of recovering the contours of debates along the “periphery” of the Enlightenment has made great progress, there are still a number of glaring lacunas to be filled. The study of notions of sociability is one such field.
In discussing sociability, competing languages were used to explain why individuals enter into society and the nature of the bonds that unite them with one another. Enlightenment thinkers investigating this topic often built their analyses upon contrasting views of human nature. Many followed the example of Thomas Hobbes in emphasizing the power of self-love and egoism as the primary spurs of human action. By privileging the goal of self-preservation and the need for a superior power to ensure personal safety, the jurisprudential tradition on the one hand cast sociability as the result of humans rationally obeying natural laws that could ensure their survival. On the other hand, theorists such as Bernard Mandeville took a less explicitly political approach, but still saw social harmony as the result of human vices being “pitted against one another,” thus forming the basis for what Immanuel Kant would later term “asocial sociability.”
Another intellectual tradition stressed the strength of innate feelings of “universal benevolence,” “sympathy,” and “compassion” in contributing to a form of sociability. Rather than seeing individuals as solely pursuing their own interests, thinkers drawing upon this strand of thought contended that people could be motivated to achieve the common good by appealing to these pre-existing dispositions uniting humanity. The plasticity of this concept proved a boon to Enlightenment figures seeking to explain international relations. By adapting these theories of interpersonal relations to the community of nations, it became possible to articulate an early form of cosmopolitanism predicated upon shared notions of humanity.
In drawing from these traditions, visions of social bonds were forged which proved quite influential for thinkers exploring various forms of human interaction. While these issues provoked particularly fertile discussions in Scotland and France, their appeal was not limited to the drawing rooms of Edinburgh and salons of Paris; our collection seeks to expand our knowledge of conceptions of sociability in areas typically considered to be on the fringes of the Enlightenment.
Potential contributors should send a one-page proposal and a short CV to Scott Breuninger (Scott.Breuninger@usd.edu) or David Burrow (David.Burrow@usd.edu) by 15 August 2009. Authors of accepted proposals will be notified by in October and will have until January 2010 to submit completed essays.