•  1191
    In this article Johann David Michaelis’s views of language and translation are juxtaposed with his own experience as a translated and translating author, especially with regard to the translations of his prize essay on the reciprocal influence of language and opinions (1759). Its French version originated in a close collaboration with the translators, while the pirated English edition was anonymously translated at second hand. The article reconstructs Michaelis’s relationship with the French tra…Read more
  •  675
    A belief in a firm correspondence between objects, ideas, and their representation in language pervaded the works of Anne Robert Jacques Turgot

    (1727–1781) in 1750. This conviction is particularly manifest in Turgot’s sharp critique of Berkeley’s philosophical system and his remarks on Maupertuis’s reconstruction of the origin of language. During the 1750s Turgot’s epistemological views underwent a change, apparent in two of his contributions to the Encyclopédie: the entries Existence and Étymolo…

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  •  592
    In July 1759 the French philosopher Andre´ Pierre Le Guay de Prémontval (1716-1764) published in Berlin a diatribe against the excessive and incorrect use of French in the Prussian capital. Far from being a mere guide to linguistic style, the Préservatif contre la corruption de la langue françoise generated a heated debate, attested by an official threat to ban its publication. The personal animosity between Prémontval and the perpetual secretary of the Berlin Academy, Jean Henri Samuel Formey (…Read more
  •  395
    The Enlightenment revival of the Epicurean history of language and civilisation
    In Neven Leddy & Avi S. Lifschitz (eds.), Epicurus in the Enlightenment, Voltaire Foundation. 2009.
    The Epicurean account of the origin of language appealed to eighteenth-century thinkers who tried to reconcile a natural history of language with

    the biblical account of Adamic name-giving. As a third way between Aristotelian linguistic conventionality and what was perceived as a Platonic supernatural congruence between words and things, Epicurus’

    theory allowed for a measure of contingency to emerge in the evolution of initially natural signs. This hypothesis was taken up by authors as different …

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  •  43
    Epicurus in the Enlightenment (edited book)
    with Neven Leddy
    Voltaire Foundation. 2009.
    Eighteenth-century Epicureanism is often viewed as radical, anti-religious, and politically dangerous. But to what extent does this simplify the ancient philosophy and underestimate its significance to the Enlightenment? Through a pan-European analysis of Enlightenment centres from Scotland to Russia via the Netherlands, France and Germany, contributors argue that elements of classical Epicureanism were appropriated by radical and conservative writers alike. They move beyond literature and poli…Read more
  •  28
    The Arbitrariness of the Linguistic Sign: Variations on an Enlightenment Theme
    Journal of the History of Ideas 73 (4): 537-557. 2012.
    From the late seventeenth century to the middle of the eighteenth, an important shift occurred in attitudes to the arbitrariness of the first human words. While authors such as Locke and Pufendorf emphasized linguistic arbitrariness and human liberty, mid-eighteenth-century thinkers highlighted the natural aspects of language and the limited scope of freedom and reason. This change is linked to the contemporary view of the cultural world as a natural artifice, strongly molded by social and envir…Read more
  •  20
    Natural sociability and the basic features of human nature stood at the centre of Thomas Abbt's confrontation with conjectural history, the popular eighteenth-century mode of reconstructing the evolution of human culture. Abbt (1738–1766) criticised conjectural histories due to their arbitrary character, and opted for a synthetic approach consisting of both sacred and secular history. He suggested that the anthropology of Genesis should be accepted as the starting point for a conjectural history…Read more
  •  19
    What is the role of language in human cognition? Could we attain self-consciousness and construct our civilisation without language? Such were the questions at the basis of eighteenth-century debates on the joint evolution of language, mind, and culture. Language and Enlightenment highlights the importance of language in the social theory, epistemology, and aesthetics of the Enlightenment. While focusing on the Berlin Academy under Frederick the Great, Avi Lifschitz situates the Berlin debates w…Read more
  •  10
    Language as a Means and an Obstacle to Freedom: The Case of Moses Mendelssohn
    In Quentin Skinner & van Gelderen Martin (eds.), Freedom and the Construction of Europe, Cambridge University Press. 2013.
  •  3
    In Iwan-Michelangelo D'Aprile & Stefanie Stockhorst (eds.), Rousseau und die Moderne, Wallstein Verlag. 2013.
  •  1
    Book review (review)
    History of European Ideas 30 (4): 517-519. 2004.
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau has been cast as a champion of Enlightenment and a beacon of Romanticism, a father figure of radical revolutionaries and totalitarian dictators alike, an inventor of the modern notion of the self, and an advocate of stern ancient republicanism. Engaging with Rousseau treats his writings as an enduring topic of debate, examining the diverse responses they have attracted from the Enlightenment to the present. Such notions as the general will were, for example, refracted throu…Read more