Western philosophy is now two and a half millennia old, but a great deal of it came in just two staccato bursts lasting some 150 years each. The first was in the Athens of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, from the middle of the fifth century to the late fourth century BC. The second was in northern Europe, in the wake of Europe's wars of religion and the rise of Galilean science. It stretches from the 1630s to the eve of the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century. In those relatively few years, Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz, Hume, Rousseau and Voltaire - most, that is, of the best-known modern philosophers - made their mark. All these people were amateurs: none had much to do with any university. They explored the implications of the new science and of religious upheaval, which led them to reject many traditional teachings and attitudes. What does the advance of science entail for our understanding of ourselves and for our ideas of God? How is a government to deal with religious diversity? What, actually, is a government for? Such questions remain our questions, which is why Descartes, Hobbes and the others are still invoked and argued with today.
- From The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy by Anthony Gottlieb