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Title: The philosophy of Constantin Volney and its role in history : France and Britain, 1787-1848
Author: Cook, Alexander James
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2007
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This dissertation is a study of the political, moral and religious philosophy of a French writer, Constantin François Volney (1757-1820), and the reception of his texts in France and Britain from the 1790s until 1848. More broadly, it examines the development and articulation of an under-studied species of republican discourse in revolutionary France, and traces its fate in changing political and social circumstances. The study has several goals. It offers an analysis of both the internal logic and the contemporary politics of Volney’s philosophical writings that revises conventions of previous historiography. Most modern commentary has sought to position Volney’s thought as either a variant of utilitarian liberalism or as a precursor of Comtean positivism. This analysis suggests both characterisations risk distorting features of the author’s work. It aims to illuminate Volney’s thought by situating it more precisely within a series of eighteenth-century debates about human nature, human history and the arts of government. The body of the dissertation consists of seven chapters. Chapter One analyses Volney’s first major publication, La Voyage en Syrie et en Egypte (1787). It treats it as a work of social philosophy and as oblique commentary on contemporary Europe. Chapter Two examines his political pamphlets, speeches and activities during the early phases of the French Revolution from 1788 to 1791, when the author was actively involved in reform campaigns in Brittany and as a member of the Constituent Assembly. Chapter Three analyses Volney’s most historically influential work, Les Ruines, ou Méditation sur les revolutions des empires (1791). Chapter Four studies La loi naturelle, ou Catéchisme du citoyen français (1793), a short moral treatise that was later appended to Les Ruines. Together these works were the primary conduit through which Volney’s thought influenced a mass public. Chapter Five follows Volney through various phases of his later life, studying the evolution of his views in his late works and analysing a series of significant textual changes to Les Ruines dating from 1799 and 1817. Chapter Six and Seven trace that reception in France and Britain.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available