Stéphane Van Damme

Paris, Capital of Philosophy From the Fronde to the Revolution Publication date : February 20, 2005

On the eve of the French Revolution, Louis-Sébastien Mercier wrote the following in his book Tableau de Paris:
"You will discover it [the posterity of philosophers] only within the walls of the Capital. It is there that you will find concealed a multitude of kind, well-educated men who divide their time between study and the sweetness of society, who take pleasure in all the arts, who lead calm, peaceful lives of resourceful leisure. These men are in possession of reason in all its purity."
Writing from Paris, David Hume declared that although he was a citizen of the world, if he had to adopt the capital of one nation, he would choose Paris.
The philosophers of the Enlightenment had three aspirations: to make Paris a homeland for philosophy and a universal model; to show that Paris was a privileged laboratory to study society; and to forge a new figure of the urban philosopher sharing his time between studious solitude and worldly society.
Stéphane Van Damme examines the sources of the paradox between local patriotism and universality. He describes the places where the cultured elite met before the Revolution and shows how the life of the mind affected Paris's urban geography.
This book provides an innovative angle on the history of ideas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Stéphane Van Damme, a historian, is a lecturer at the University of Paris-VII.