Men of Letters

In the article “Men of Letters,”, Voltaire posits that men of letters are peoplee who dedicate themselves not only to proper grammar and eloquence, but also to a wide range of studies, including philosophy, the sciences, and history. This leaves readers with the idea that men of letters are polymaths, or people who devote themselves not only to studying language, but to any number of topics. However, the purpose of these people is not merely to become literary scholars or polymaths, aimlessly seeking to gain more knowledge. When Voltaire writes “It is sometimes astonishing that what in the past upset the world, no longer troubles it today; for this we are indebted to the true men of letters,” readers find perhaps the most accurate description of this group. Their purpose, as Voltaire’s words indicate, is to advance the paradigm of humanity, to make accessible those ideas and concepts which were at one time deemed inappropriate for mass consumption. In this way, Voltaire is suggesting that it is the job of these men of letters to assist in raising the value of the ‘every-man,’ and to make available to him knowledge which will increase his understanding of the world around him. Voltaire writes that “The course of History is a hundred times more vast than it was for the ancients,” and in his terms, under the guidance of men of letters, the course of history will continue to expand before humanity.

One Response to “Men of Letters”

  1. Kim Sasser says:

    An illuminating post! I appreciate the way you draw out the Enlightenment agenda behind the definition of this term.

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