What good came of all this exploration? It was a question philosophes found irresistable. Progress was their almost irresistable answer. But Diderot, the secular pontiff of the Enlightenment, the editor of the Encyclopédie, did not agree. In 1773 he wrote a denunciation of explorers as agents of a new kind of barbarism. Base motives drove them: 'tyranny, crime, ambition, misery, curiousity, I know not what restlessness of spirit, the desire to know and the desire to see, boredom, the dislike of familiar pleasures' - all the baggage of the restless temperament. Lust for discovery was a new form of fanaticism on the part of men seeking 'islands to ravage, people to despoil, subjugate and massacre.' The explorers discovered people morally superior to themselves, because more natural or more civilized, while they, on their side, grew in savagery, far from the polite restraints that reined them in at home. 'All the long-range expeditions,' Diderot insisted, 'have reared a new generation of nomadic savages ... men who visit so many countries that they end by belonging to none ... amphibians who live on the surface of the waters,' deracinated, and, in the strictest sense of the word, demoralized.
Certainly, the excesses explorers committed - of arrogance, of egotism, of exploitation - showed the folly of supposing that travel necessarily broadens the mind or improves the character. But Diderot exaggerated. Even as he wrote, the cases of disinterested exploration - for scientific or altruistic purposes - were multiplying.
If the eighteenth century rediscovered the beauties of nature and the wonders of the picturesque, it was in part because explorers alerted domestic publics to the grandeurs of the world they discovered. If the conservation of species and landscape became, for the first time in Western history, an objective of imperial policy, it was because of what the historian Richard Grove has called 'green imperialism' - the awakened sense of stewardship inspired by the discovery of new Edens in remote oceans. If philosophers enlarged their view of human nature, and grappled earnestly and, on the whole, inclusively with questions about the admissability of formerly excluded humans - blacks, 'Hottentots,' Australian Aboriginals, and all other people estranged by their appearance or culture - to full membership of the moral community, it was because exploration made these brethren increasingly familiar. If critics of Western institutions were fortified in their strictures and encouraged in their advocacy of popular sovreignty, 'enlightened despotism,' 'free thinking,' civil liberties, and human 'rights,' it was, in part, because exploration acquainted them with challenging models from around the world of how society could be organized and life lived.