Toleration, Enlightenment, and the Invention of Human Rights

This seminar will discuss how eighteenth-century thinkers developed and understood the idea of individual human rights. They espoused the idea, embodied in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789), that “all men are born free and remain equal in rights.” But putting this notion into practice during the age of Enlightenment proved somewhat difficult. The rights of men and women, Europeans from non-Europeans, those of differing races and religions, all posed problems for people trying to articulate their desire to tolerate differences and embrace diversity. The focus will be on authors such as Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Wollstonecraft, and Beccaria.