The enlightenment and “pleasure”

“The Enlightenment was convinced, as Bayle wrote, that basic to the human temperament was ‘our natural inclination to seek pleasure.’ In reaction to the religious view that in this life and under its veil of tears a virtuous person lived a life of self-denial and privation, Enlightenment writers emphasized enjoyment and happiness, not the least of which was sensual pleasure. How better to ridicule the asceticism and self-denial preached by religion than to mock it in sexual fantasy. So it was that the eighteenth century is the fountain of modern pornography, be it the Marquis de Sade or John Cleland’s Fanny Hill. Montesquieu, Diderot, and even Franklin wrote their share as well. In his Encyclop├ędie entry on ‘Enjoyment’ (jouissance), Diderot praised sexual pleasure as the most noble of passions. To the ‘perverse man’ who takes offense at this praise ‘I would evoke Nature before him, I would make it speak, and Nature would say to him: why do you blush to hear the word pleasure pronounced, when you do not blush to indulge in its temptations under the cover of night.'”