The Introduction takes up the debate over whether it is preferable to conceive of ‘the Enlightenment’ or several ‘enlightenments’. Through a survey of recent scholarship on this topic this chapter provides a tentative working definition: the Enlightenment is not a single project or agenda, but rather a shared sensitivity to the ongoing project of ‘civilisation’ in Europe and European colonies (including America), and a series of questions and issues based on this historical awareness. It also explains why the term ‘Sceptical Enlightenment’ is adopted to delineate the essence of Hume’s social thought, and how it differs from Forbes’s ‘Sceptical Whiggism’. The concept of the ‘Sceptical Enlightenment’ is necessarily counterpoised to the over-simplistic dichotomy between the moderate and radical Enlightenment claimed by Jonathan Israel, and the ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ reading of Hume by various scholars.
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