Chance in History: Montesquieu

Jean-Luc Guichet

Away from a picture of Montesquieu as a mere deterministic philosopher, we try in this paper to bring to light the central place Chance plays in his vision of history. Indeed, through his work, four levels of Chance can be drawn out: fi rstly, Chance with regard to initial conditions of societies such as for example location on earth, soil quality, climate and so on;
secondly, Chance of historical evolutions, regarding demography, mix of diferent populations etc.; thirdly, contingent data of individual personalities as for instance the exceptional Charlemagne’s feature which enabled him to run a very smart policy and to build an empire; fourthly, the unexpected event, for instance the accidental General’s death which changes the issue of a battle. Nevertheless, this wide recognition of the irreductible place of Chance in human affairs does not mean in Montesquieu’s mind the renunciation of a global determinism. Indeed, Chance is integrated into global processes and only has the capacity to accelerate or slow down them. Th erefore, in the same time, Montesquieu’s thought of history ensures intelligibility of history and includes a concrete vision of a historical reality never absolutely foreseeable.

DOI: 10.37240/AHFiMS.2020.65.5


Keywords: Montesquieu · chance · freedom · determinism · history

Jean-Luc Guichet — full professor in Literature (1650–1800) at the University of Picardie Jules Verne (UPJV), located in Amiens, France. His works focus on Rousseau, the different aspects of the Enlightenment, the relationship man-animals and contemporary issues in anthropology, education and philosophy of the environment. Main books: Traité des animaux, Condillac (commentaire de l’oeuvre), Ellipses, 2004; Rousseau, l’animal et l’homme. L’animalité dans l’horizon anthropologique des Lumières, Cerf, 2006; Usages politiques de l’animalité (dir.), L’Harmattan, 2008; Douleur animale, douleur humaine. Données scientifi ques, perspectives anthropologiques, questions éthiques (dir.), Quae, 2010; De l’animal- machine à l’âme des machines. Querelles biomécaniques de l’âme (XVIIe–XXIe siècles) (dir.), Publications de la Sorbonne, 2010; “L’animal des Lumières” (codir. with J. Berchtold), Dix-Huitième Siècle n° 42, 2010; Problématiques animales. Théorie de la connaissance, Anthropologie, Éthique et Droit, PUF, 2011; “Sensibilité et nature humaine chez Locke et Rousseau” (codir. with T. Ménissier), Annales Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 2012; La question sexuelle. Interrogations de la sexualité dans l’oeuvre et la pensée de Rousseau (dir.), Garnier, 2012. His last book: Figures du moi et environnement naturel au XVIIIe siècle, éditions de la Sorbonne, 2020.   »  

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