In chapter 3, Wilson traced the history of the original enlightenment, which took place in the 1700’s, mostly in France. This revolution was based on several principals: unity of knowledge, individual human rights, natural law and indefinite human progress. He outlined the progress of several key figures in history who achieved pieces of this unity of knowledge.
For instance, the Marquis de Condorcet was important in that he began to apply mathematical principles to the social sciences. According to Wilson he was one of the last great French philosophers and he believed strongly in the principle of indefinite human progress, and was ironically murdered by an angry mob made up of his former supporters.
Francis Bacon was an important figure during this time because he denounced classical learning. He was a strong supporter of the scientific method and inductive reasoning instead of learning a set curriculum deemed appropriate.
Descartes was also interested in scientific methods- he thought that systematic doubt was the most important characteristic of learning. While Descartes believed to some extent in the phenomenon of the Ghost in the Machine, he otherwise believed in a separation of mind and matter.
All of the historical figures outlined in chapter 3 were important, but they still failed- the enlightenment did not take and these ideals that we are striving towards now—such as consilience—were put on the back burner from that time until very recently.
I think that what Wilson was going for in this chapter was a kind of set up for what he's going to go into next. He summed it up pretty well with the quote at the end of the chapter (he seems to like to do that):
"We must know, we will know"
I wonder what anyone (anyone?) thinks about this idea of inevitable social progress as a main principle of the Enlightenment, especially in the context of Pinker's Blank Slate arguments.