Emeritus Professor David Wolfe, physicist

The spectacular success of Newton’s physics led people to believe that scientific logic and rigour could be applied equally to societal problems . Immanuel Kant said that this ‘signalled mankind’s release from immaturity’, and in many ways that was true . There was a liberation from much prejudice and restrictions on human freedom . A stress on the rights of the individual was a unique contribution . But, as with so many things we humans do, there was an over-emphasis in many areas and new, but different, restrictions on much human freedom arose . The Counter-Enlightenment reacted to this and led to the Romantic Movement . This course will discuss some of the philosophical and the scientific issues of the time.



  1. Newton’s physics and its consequences
  2. Locke to Diderot
  3. The great French thinkers and Catherine the Great
  4. Hume and the British
  5. The Counter-Enlightenment, Kant to Joseph de Maistre and ‘the crooked timber of humanity’


Recommended reading

Berlin, I.1956. The Age of Enlightenment: The Eighteenth Century Philosophers. New York: New American Library

Crowther, J.G. 1935. British Scientists of the Nineteenth Century. London: Kegan, Trench, Trubner & Co.

Ignatieff, M. 1998. Isaiah Berlin: A Life. Chatto and Windus.

Gorbatov, I. 2006. Catherine the Great and the French Philosophers of the Enlightenment. Academica Press.



Date: 13–17 January
Time:  11.15 am
COURSE FEES: Full R590 Staff & Students R295
Venue: LT2 Kramer Law Building UCT