Keywords: French Enlightenment; People; Instruction; Education; Imposture.
The essay is concerned with the concept of people in the eighteenth-century France. The main aim is to show how the need to outline and frame the figure of the “peupleµ arises from the Enlightenment debate on popular “instructionµ and, more broadly, from the reflection on appropriateness and legitimacy of the «useful errors». To this end, I will take into account two closely related debates, both revolving around two main issues: 1) Is it useful to deceive the people? 2) Is it possible and necessary to enlighten – and educate – the people? The intent is not only to analyse the different stances taken in this regard, but to point out the implicit limitations also present in the reflections of those who openly supported the enlightening of the popular classes.