Positive And Negative Aspects Of Enlightenment

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According to Kant enlightenment is the freedom and courage to use one’s reason without being steered by others in a direction. It is laziness that acts as a barrier to using one’s own reason, as people don’t want to take responsibility of their decisions (Kant and Wood, 1784). It is always easier to rely on others to make our choices and then blame them for the consequences. Enlightenment will liberate people from this self-decaying practice and everyone can and will make conscious, independent choices for themselves. In this reflection I will argue for positivity of enlightenment and how it helped the society form a new, modern way of thinking, resulting in the birth of social sciences.

Enlightenment philosopher like Kant have argued that it is only possible when there is freedom. The main characteristic of this modern way of thought was rationality and a belief that freedom precedes this (1784). People are numb creatures just following others, who have made them believe in their superiority. It is assumed by people that they are not capable of doing anything themselves and must rely on others who have better knowledge. This discourages them to use their own reason and makes them cowards. Enlightenment emerges for people to escape from this. The belief is that all humans are equally capable if they use reason, and no one is superior to another. If complete freedom is granted people can use rationality to make accurate choices for themselves. Once people are free to critically evaluate all beliefs and publicly use reason, they’ll liberate from unquestionably following others. {Kant argues in all public spheres use of reason to justify choices is a must precondition for enlightenment, while privately it is not that necessary always (1783).} This resulted in a new way of thinking about society, a positive way using rationality as key. As outlined by Hamilton, writers such as Comte, Durkheim, and Simon put forward this theory of critical rationality as enlightenment’s mode of thought. This focused on application of reason to all domains of life like social and political. Thus, portrayed society as open to change and transformation which Durkheim highlighted. Furthermore, based on reason society can evolve, improve and break free from problems like status quo. This is what eventually resulted in positivism of Comte as he argued, reason will remove prejudice, ignorance, superstition and intolerance. Also, many of Marx’s ideas were influenced by the enlightenment principle (Hamilton, 1992). This effectively proves how enlightenment is a positive for society which has helped improve it. This has further resulted into the birth of social sciences which looks at society in a scientific way, therefore, is a more accurate way of studying it.

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Before enlightenment there was a traditional world, based on blindly following religious ideas. Due to lack of freedom, people could not challenge the church or even clergy. As enlightenment emerged and philisophes rose to power, they were now in a position to challenge Christianity. Previously church had monopoly and people could not go against it. Kant gave an example of this; the clergyman has to align his teachings and sermons in accordance to the church. He himself is not free to preach his teachings on a public platform given by the church (1784). This led to dogmatism, where the Church and other people in position of power could force their opinions on others as the ultimate truth. Enlightenment came to free people from these deteriorating practices. Enlightenment brought about new cultural and technological innovations made its path to a modern, scientific world. The philosophes made secular, intellectual life a normality and for the first time were powerful enough to overthrow the clergy. Moreover, the 2nd generation of philosophes, like Hume and Diderot, were the ones who particularly widespread anticlericalism and interest in scientific method. Thus, resulted in looking at the world in a modern way (Hamilton, 1922). Therefore, this effectively shows how enlightenment brought society to a new phase of reason and scientific method. Rationality replaced dogmatism. Using reason and critically analyzing things now became the norm of the society, instead of blindly following the church’s views. Eventually, this led to science of the social world and studying society with scientific methods. Sociology and other social sciences emerged.

On the contrary, some philosophers have critiqued enlightenment, namely Foucault and Gadamer. There is a general criticism that it completely removes God out of the equation. Humans replace God as the center of the world, hence, develop a superiority complex leading to colonialization. This shows enlightenment having negative impacts, which are hard to critically analyze while being a part of it. Dostal in his paper outlines the criticism of Kant and enlightenment by Gadamer. Gadamer calls it ‘Bad Enlightenment’, and thinks Kant is an embodiment of it. Furthermore, Gadamer is concerned with rhetoric tradition reviving with authority and tradition gaining significance again. Kant, on the opposite end, dismisses rhetoric and sees it as merely a deception tool. Enlightenment completely rejects rhetoric, as it is a constraint to freedom and use of reason. Gadamer contradicts this, arguing that although rhetoric may appeal to feelings, in no way does it go against reason (Dostal, 2016).

In conclusion, the above arguments in favor of enlightenment outweigh its critiques. Many positive implications resulted from enlightenment, such as the birth of social sciences outlined in this reflection. The world started to be looked at and studied in a scientific way based on reason and empirical methods. Moreover, enlightenment also sowed seeds for revolutions, leading to equality and freedom. Monarchy replaced by democracy. An article by Toothman, talks about how the principles of enlightenment created skepticism around unquestionable authority of church and monarchy, resulting in several revolutions, fighting for individualism, freedom and change. Result was democracy and equality removing status quo. One such was the French revolution. The change spread throughout the world like South America, with modern science and culture emerging (Toothman, 2010). Spread of enlightenment’s impact continued to the east and Islamic world.

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