This chapter studies cultural invention in light of the North-Western European cultural movement called Enlightenment. Enlightenment refers, in the first place, to a description by European intellectuals of what they took to be an advanced present state of moral and natural knowledge by comparison to that of the ancients. With related self-confidence, in the heyday of their empires, some described their culture as possessed of a dynamic modernity to be distinguished from the ‘oriental' lethargy and backwardness existing elsewhere. Yet Enlightenment also originated as European self-criticism. One context for that was the comparative perspective acquired by discovery of non-European cultures. In this and in other ways the origin of Enlightenment, including its ‘conviction that progress had become unstoppable', lies in the period when Renaissance and Reformation combined with printing and natural philosophy to establish the culture of the European North-West.
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