European cultural history 1660-1870

George Mosse

In 1982 the University of Wisconsin recorded  Professor George Mosse‘s courseEuropean Cultural History, 1660-1870 (website), which is now available for audio download. Mosse was refugee from Nazi Germany who gained renown as a scholar of the intellectual origins of Nazism.

Mosse, who died in 1999, was an energetic and entertaining lecturer who clearly loved his subject.  Of special interest is lecture #4 in which he discussed the work of 17th-century French philosopher Pierre Bayle.  In Mosse’s view, Bayle’s work set the stage for the enlightenment by rejecting revealed religion and declaring that all virtues spring from self-love.  That is, people act virtuously because they crave praise and honor from their fellows.  Mosse pointed out that this was particularly subversive because this is tantamount to saying that the root of virtue is the chief sin in Christianity, namely pride or self-love.

Bayle’s insights are particularly interesting in light of modern psychological research into human social emotions such as empathy, which is seen by some psychologists as the likely basis for altruistic behavior.

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