The Authority of Experience, Sensationalist Theory in the French Enlightenment

The study begins by presenting the main ideas of sensationist philosophers Condillac, Bonnet, and HelvŽtius, who held that all of our ideas come to us through the senses. The experience of the body in seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching enabled individuals, as John C. O'Neal points out, to challenge the sometimes arbitrary authority of institutions and people in positions of power. After a general introduction to sensationism, the author develops a theory of sensationist aesthetics that not only reveals the interconnections of the period's philosophy and literature but also enhances our awareness of the forces at work in the French novel. He goes on to examine the relations between sensationism and eighteenth-century French educational theory, materialism, and idéologie. Ultimately, O'Neal opens a discussion of the implications of sensationist thought for issues of particular concern to society today.


"Richly evocative, this book is well worth reading. More than simply accomplishing its clearly-stated agenda, which was a complex task, requiring close knowledge of numerous, difficult texts, it refreshingly opens the door to new ideas, new questions and new possible connections."
French Review

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