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Literature of Liberty: Progress

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The continuing significance of Anne Robert Jacques Turgot (1727–1781) is both as a founder of modern economic science and as a powerful shaper of the Enlightenment idea of progress. The youthful Turgot was deeply moved by the liberal temper of Montesquieu’s L’Esprit des Lois (1748). Turgot, however, found Montesquieu’s determinism uncongenial; he was deeply impressed by the role of the human mind in molding history. This conviction, Turgot later expressed while a theological student at the Sorbonne (1750), in two major dissertations: On the Benefits which the Christian Religion has conferred on Mankind, and On the Historical Progress of the Human Mind. On related themes, he wrote the Recherches sur les causes du progrès et de la décadence des sciences et des arts, and the Plan de deux discours sur l’histoire universelle…