In eighteenth-century Europe, ritual performance behavior was consciously used for philosophical purposes. The richest documented instances of this involved Freemasonry, a voluntary fraternal order that drew tens of thousands of men, across Europe and beyond, into a secretive ritual practice. Masons understood ritual, the core of Masonic “craft,” as a philosophical activity in itself. Supporting this claim requires a critique of the prevalent view that Freemasonry was uniquely compatible with specific Enlightenment philosophical constructs—constitutional monarchism in political thought and deistic Newtonianism in natural philosophy. Rather than expressing these specific philosophical views, Masonic ritual effectuated philosophical reflection apart from the outside world. John Toland's proto-Masonic ritual document Pantheisticon shows how early modern rituals fostered thinking in lodge settings and distinguished between Masonic and “profane” entities. On this basis it can be argued that performance in this era and beyond should be understood as the generative containment of knowledge.

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