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Burke, Edmund (1729–97)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DB011-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 17, 2018, from

Article Summary

Edmund Burke’s philosophical importance lies in two fields, aesthetics and political theory. His early work on aesthetics, the Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), explored the experiential sources of these two, as he claimed, fundamental responses, relating them respectively to terror at the fear of death and to the love of society.

Active in politics from 1759, and Member of Parliament from 1765, he wrote and delivered a number of famous political pamphlets and speeches, on party in politics – Thoughts on the Causes of the Present Discontents (1770), on the crisis with the American colonies – On Conciliation with America (1775), on financial reform and on the reform of British India – Speech on Mr Fox’s East India Bill (1783). While clearly informed by a reflective political mind, these are, however, pièces d’occasion, not political philosophy, and their party political provenance has rendered them suspect to many commentators.

His most powerful and philosophically influential works were written in opposition to the ideas of the French Revolution, in particular Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), which has come to be seen as a definitive articulation of anglophone political conservatism. Here Burke considered the sources and desirability of social continuity, locating these in a suspicion of abstract reason, a disposition to follow custom, and certain institutions – hereditary monarchy, inheritance of property, and social corporations such as an established Church. His Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791) insisted on the distinction between the French and Britain’s revolution of 1688; while his final works, Letters on a Regicide Peace (1795), urged an uncompromising crusade on behalf of European Christian civilization against its atheist, Jacobin antithesis.

Citing this article:
Hampsher-Monk, Iain. Burke, Edmund (1729–97), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DB011-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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