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Into the Abyss Marquis de Sade and the Enlightenment We are no guiltier in following the primitive impulses that govern us than is the Nile for her flood or the sea for her waves - La Mettrie The eighteenth century embraced a secularized France in which the idea of utility and not of salvation were the principles by which one lived Nature and reason in many ways replaced God What this change left however was a vacuum for the motive of morality in society What would compel men to behave if not an omnipresent and all-powering God The utilitarian idea that the greatest pleasure for the greatest good was able to reconcile the concept of a society questioning her religion but still looking to affirm her old values and moral codes Many enlightened thinkers like Montesquieu argued for an emphasis on social over individual welfare and presented it as a solution left open by this vacuum This concept eventually evolved to a redefinition of morality in general Prior morality and social laws were frigid and prone to the dictums of the Church Now they were accountable to general society and not the individuals demands Voltaire writes Virtue and vice moral good and evil is then in any country what is useful or harmful to societyVirtue is the habit of doing those things which please men and vice the habit of doing those things which displease men Consequentially virtue and vice were not set in stone decrees but rather arbitrary notions assigned to the whims of society This idea left no universal law of good and evil The right of the individual to pursue pleasure and his notions of right and wrong were secondary to his obligation to society Voltaire explains To be good only for oneself is to be good for nothing Rousseau also argued that the ambition of the
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