Is the Enlightenment Dead?

1 03 2010

Modern generations have always compared and contrasted themselves to the older ones.  It’s always good to know where we are currently and how we got here.  That’s an aspect of history.  Universal questions like this can be difficult if not impossible to completely settle where all parties agree, but I suppose that’s human nature.  Usually a question like this ends up creating more confusion than answers.  The Enlightenment was a period in time that most people look at with pride in the human development, so it is only natural to compare the living generations with these past successes.

What makes the Enlightenment important?

When someone mentions the Enlightenment, usually the first word to describe it is “reason”.  This reason really is the theme of the Enlightenment through different facets of society and geographic locations.  Even religion and politics were affected by reason.  They moved towards individualism.  Religion in particular focused on the power of reason, sensibility, and emotion.  People began to have freedom of choice and travel.  This time period’s goal was to recognize and accept individuality.  Oh, and of course be reasonable why doing so.  Science was also booming with these new methods of reason.  All of this background on the Enlightenment is nice and all, but the overall question is if the Enlightenment still exists in some fashion, or if it has ceased completely.

I understand the arguments for why the Enlightenment is dead in the world now, but I truly think that the Enlightenment, in some forms, exists in our present society. Rather than continuing scientific beliefs from traditions, scientists began to start asking questions and so did the civilians.  People were more willing to hear and agree with ideas if they were founded in reason and individualism.  In current day, I feel that the basis of many the ideals of the Enlightenment still exist.  Scientists still operate in the same means, religion focuses on individualism, and the common man desires understanding for others and their search for truth.  There are still ongoing issues that go against what those in the Enlightenment believed, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t events occurring then that they also didn’t support.  I believe that the Enlightenment helped change the way the general mind worked, which in the case of the French eventually turned to cause the revolution.  The intent of the revolution was not necessarily against what the Enlightenment taught (they probably would have preferred no violence… but, not much that could have been done), but later the killings of those that didn’t believe exactly how they thought was very much against it.  This time period wished to embrace the differences in others, but the beliefs of the past still seeped into groundwork to taint it a little.  That’s a problem with people.  It’s impossible sometimes to be unaffected by past beliefs.  This held true in the Enlightenment.  So regardless of some of the atrocities that have occurred within recent years, I think that we need to understand that hatred and fear are an aspect of human nature.  By understanding that, it can be looked at as an Enlightenment goal.

An essential thing to know about the Enlightenment is its immense influx of knowledge.  In my opinion, human culture and understanding really flourished during this time.  Science, religion, and politics took a step in a more positive and eye-opening direction.  Since then, we have continued with these steps and have made some altercations to them.  To better them of course.  Some of the ideas in the Enlightenment were too idealistic towards society.  As nice as they sounded (for example: the noble savage), they had little value in truth.  At this time, idealism was needed for hope with many people.  The class system was so incredibly divided and difficult to permeate another, which left many people dissatisfied at the situation.  A shiny idea of hope was what they needed.  They needed to believe in individualism, freedom, and the goodness of human nature.  Today there are still those ongoing beliefs, but there is more caution behind the thoughts.  Many believe in the innate good of humans, but they also realize that it is not always the case.  In such a society with the fears surrounding terrorism, it can be difficult to understand that men are good, like those who were a part of the Enlightenment period did.  I think that is a main difference about the mindsets of the current generation versus those who lived during that time.

The main explanation why I can’t believe that the Enlightenment is dead is our current flood of knowledge using reason.  The speed that we’re learning and growing in technology is absolutely astounding.  By using the scientific method and sharing knowledge, more and more discoveries have been made. The limits are truly endless.  I feel as if reason is the leading advocate nowadays when searching for new knowledge and ideas.  With these new technologies other principles have been met.  The thought of having a more global understanding and communication is more prevalent than it ever has been.  This is thanks to communication outlets like telephones, televisions, and most importantly the Internet.  This all creates a global village and it is more than easily accessible to be in contact with someone from another culture but also to learn more about any given culture at almost any given time.  With such a vast amount of knowledge at our literal fingertips, our acceptance for other cultures and beliefs are more possible.  The Enlightenment thinkers wanted unity through acceptance of others from everywhere.  Although, there are still qualms with that in current day, it is more easy to obtain and more prominent than it was back then.

To say that the Enlightenment is completely dead, in my opinion, is incorrect.  Maybe certain areas of it no longer exist in our culture, but there are ideas that still exist and are still practiced.  Although there are a lot of things that are wrong with the world (let’s be honest, when has there NOT been?), I think that we’re getting closer to what the Enlightenment thinkers desired for people.

For some reason this blog has the wrong date on when I wrote it.  I finished editing this on March 1 at 9:15 p.m.


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