The Limits of Optimism
Thomas Jefferson's Dualistic Enlightenment
The Limits of Optimism works to dispel persistent notions about Jefferson’s allegedly paradoxical and sphinx-like quality. Maurizio Valsania shows that Jefferson’s multifaceted character and personality are to a large extent the logical outcome of an anti-metaphysical, enlightened, and humility-oriented approach to reality. That Jefferson’s mind and priorities changed over time and in response to changing circumstances indicates neither incoherence, hypocrisy, nor pathology.
Valsania’s reading of Jefferson, the Enlightenment, and negativity helps to make sense of the many paradoxes typically associated with that eighteenth-century thinker. At the same time, it provides a corrective to the common though erroneous equation of Enlightenment thinking with rationalism and shallow optimism.
"Valsania sees Jefferson, as no one else has done with such sophistication, in the context of the European Enlightenment project, and he sees him as the Virginian saw himself, as an eighteenth-century philosopher. Valsania has written a book with a distinctive point of view that will command attention and even stir a bit of controversy. More than that, he has written it from a distinctive perspective and with uncommon verve and grace. His work bursts with illuminating insights, arresting images, and striking turns of phrase.""
"Every once in a long while, a scholar comes along who is able to reframe the conversation about Thomas Jefferson and the American Enlightenment. Maurizio Valsania has performed a rigorous dissection of the mind of that Jefferson, a 'builder of hopeful narratives,' who though guided by imagination was every bit a realist. This lively, thought-filled book should not be missed.""
Maurizio Valsania is Professor of the History of Philosophy at the University of Torino, Italy.