The belated European rediscovery of the Pacific helped to test, modify, extend, or otherwise realize the critical, collecting, and conjecturing ethos of the Enlightenment. Whether official philosophers or not, voyagers found in the “new” space of the Pacific more data about the natural and social worlds than they had known before, which led to more empirical comparing, more systematic speculation, and more secular self-questioning. Most scholarship on Enlightenment and Pacific voyaging, however, focuses on relatively elite or well-educated thinkers who were already on the path toward an Enlightenment mindset before they even saw the southern hemisphere. A different story about Enlightenment and the Pacific emerges for less-obviously philosophical voyagers. For these travelers—most of them destined for a maritime but not necessarily an intellectual life—the Pacific could prove to be the primary or originary field for creating an Enlightenment disposition. More particularly, interactions with Pacific people were the means by which some Europeans apprehended what their “philosophical betters” typically discovered via texts. Pacific spaces prompted Enlightenment practices in ordinary mariners more readily or more evidently than they originated them in the educationally advantaged. This article surveys the experiences of a handful of ordinary voyagers to the Pacific Ocean. It aims to move forward discussions about the role the Pacific region and Pacific people played in developing so-called Western modernity.

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