The Enlightenment: Inception of Autonomous Human Reasoning

Enlightenment thinkers believed in the power of human reason to understand and improve the world.

The Enlightenment: Inception of Autonomous Human Reasoning
Photo by Júnior Ferreira / Unsplash

The Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, was an intellectual and philosophical movement that swept across Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. It brought about significant changes in various aspects of society, including politics, science, philosophy, and culture. Here is a brief article explaining what the Enlightenment was and its key characteristics:

1. The Inception:

The Enlightenment emerged as a response to the religious and political authority that dominated Europe at the time. It was spurred by a desire to promote reason, individualism, and progress over traditional beliefs and institutions. The movement found its roots in the scientific revolution of the 17th century, which emphasized observation and experimentation as the basis for knowledge.

2. Core Ideas and Values:

The Enlightenment was characterized by a set of interconnected ideas and values that challenged the prevailing orthodoxy. These included:

· Reason: Enlightenment thinkers believed in the power of human reason to understand and improve the world. They emphasized epistemology more so than metaphysics-based inquiry to challenge what they saw as superstition and dogma.

· Individualism: The Enlightenment celebrated the worth and autonomy of the individual. It championed the idea of natural rights, including freedom of thought, expression, and religion. This is most certainly enjoyed the most by those who have been touched by the Western world.

· Secularism: Enlightenment thought sought to separate religious authority from political and social life. The king and ecclesial authorities had blurred lines. The Protestant Reformation created a huge wedge to that. Some might say that it was just fixing the order of things. This led to the rise of secular governance and the promotion of religious tolerance.

· Progress: Enlightenment thinkers believed in the capacity of humanity to progress and improve society through the application of reason and scientific knowledge. They advocated for reforms in various areas, including education, government, and human rights.

3. Some of the Key Thinkers and Contributions:

Numerous influential philosophers and thinkers emerged during the Enlightenment, each contributing to its development and legacy. Some prominent figures include:

· John Locke: Known for his ideas on natural rights, government by consent, and the social contract. This is the real liberalism not that American confusion for anybody considered "left wing".

· Voltaire: A proponent of freedom of speech, religious tolerance, and criticism of authority. Mr “Fools have a habit of believing that everything written by a famous author is admirable. For my part I read only to please myself and like only what suits my taste.”.

· Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Emphasized the importance of popular sovereignty and the general will. Think nationalism and modern democracy. Did you think that always existed? Can't imagine a world without borders and voting when you come of age.

· Immanuel Kant: Developed the concept of moral autonomy and the categorical imperative. Attempted to answer skeptics like David Hume by getting all transcendental on 'em.

· Adam Smith: Pioneered modern economic theory and advocated for free markets. The most misunderstood man. "Invisible Hand of the Market" is not a neoliberal dog whistle!

4. Impact and Legacy:

The Enlightenment had a profound impact on various aspects of society. Its ideas spurred political revolutions, such as the American and French Revolutions, which aimed to establish more democratic and egalitarian systems. Autonomous human reasoning was chased by many of the great thinkers. A mistake that leads down to arbitrary roads as shall be discussed in another article. The scientific advancements of the Enlightenment laid the foundation for modern scientific inquiry and technological progress. Moreover, the emphasis on reason and individualism influenced art, literature, and architecture, leading to the development of newer bolder, and edgy styles.

The dark side is that we didn't replace corrupt kings, lords, and priests with some clean, rational, do-gooders but we just got demagogue politicians, pseudo-intellectuals, and harmful political ideologies like scientific racism and fascism.

People can broadly say that they enjoy the benefits of authorities being challenged, championing reason, individual rights, and progress. We can also bemoan the crisis of meaning, destructive technologies, and dangerous ideologies. Enlightenment ideas continue to shape our understanding of society, politics, and human rights today... we call it the Modern era.