For many years, scholars have been moving away from the idea of a singular, secular, rationalistic, and mechanistic "Enlightenment project". Historian Peter Reill has been one of those at the forefront of this development, demonstrating the need for a broader and more varied understanding of eighteenth-century conceptions of nature.
Life Forms in the Thinking of the Long Eighteenth Century is a unique reappraisal of Enlightenment thought on nature, biology, and the organic world that responds to Reill's work. The ten essays included in the collection analyse the place of historicism, vitalism, and esotericism in the eighteenth century – three strands of thought rarely connected, but all of which are central to Reill's innovative work. Working across national and regional boundaries, they engage not only French and English but also Italian, Swiss, and German writers.
Part I: History as a Life Form
1. Martin Gierl, “Johann Christoph Gatterer and History as Science”
2. Avi Lifshitz, “An Epicurean Democracy in Language: The volte face in Johann David Michaelis’s Early Career”
3. John Zammito, “From Vital Materialism to Naturphilosophie: The Question of Historical Continuity”
Part II: Translations of Vitalism
4. Keith Baker, “Was Marat a Vitalist?”
5. Frédéric Ogée, “‘That infinite variety of human forms’: The New Epistemology, Modern Identity, and the English”
6. Kris Pangburn, “Vitalist Natural Philosophy in the Political Thought of John Stuart Mill and Wilhelm von Humboldt”
Part III: Esotericism and Enlightenment
7. Annette Graczyk, “Constructions of Life Forms in Lavater’s Physiognomy”
8. Renko Geffarth, “The Preaching Philosopher: Andreas Weber (1718-1781): Between Wolffian Philosophy and Heterodox Theology”
9. Clorinda Donato, “Esoteric Reason and Occult Science: Seamless Pursuits in the Work and Networks of Raimondo di Sangro, the Prince of San Severo”
10. Helena Rosenblatt, “The Liberal Mysticism of Madame de Staél”
Keith Michael Baker is the J.E. Wallace Sterling Professor in the Humanities and a professor in the Department of History at Stanford University. Jenna M. Gibbs is an associate professor in the Department of History at Florida International University.