Legacy and Interpretation

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  • Created on: 06-05-20 14:28

The Case for the Enlightenment

  • It has provided the basic concepts of liberal democracy 


  • ‘Enlightenment is defined by a modification of the pre-existing relation linking will, authority, and the use of reason’ 

The Enlightenment and the Revolution 

  • Anti-Christianity and belief in the sovereignty of the will of the people were among the chief causes of the Revolution
  • The Enlightenment is inextricably connected with assessment of the Revolution
  • Hostility to Christianity, and to all traditional sources of moral and political wisdom 
  • Rejection of history and thus a new start in morals and politics, using only principles of reason, and a wholly abstract conception of human beings as bearers of rights
  • Supremacy of the will of the people 
  • Tocqueville 
    • The French Revolution was conducted in precisely the same spirit as that which gave rise to so many books expounding theories of government in the abstract 
  • It is what happens when reason is elevated above religion, sentiment, custom and tradition; above nature
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The Case for the Enlightenment

Liberal Enlightenment 

  • Pro-democracy, but against populism; not anti-religion, but pro-separation of church and state; pro-commerce, but in the name of the public good, not in the name of an absolute right to economic liberty 
  • The source of the core values of moderate, secular, liberal society
  • Porter 
    • The world they were making is the one we have inherited 
  • Pagden 
    • Most of what we have gained since the end of the Second World War we owe to its legacy'; the idea of human rights and universal justice; agreements on climate change and global warming; the concept, and prosecution, of crimes against humanity; opposition to forced marriage, honour killings, and female circumcision 
  • Pinker 
    • We take the enlightenment's gifts for granted 
    • More than ever, the ideals of reason, science, humanism, and progress need a wholehearted defence as our progress is human accomplishment and we need to protect it so we do not slide back into primitive conditions 
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The Case against the Enlightenment

  • Is Enlightenment ‘reason’ just a name for the prejudices particular to men belonging to the rising bourgeois class?
  • There is no mathematical proof that the right to property or free speech exists 

Enlightenment and Women 

  • O'Neill 
    • While there were many women philosophers and many of their works were published, it is as if their works were ignored by historians, and the idea that a woman philosopher was an ‘oxymoron’ went largely unchallenged.
    • Since the franchise was being extended to people on the basis of reason, and there were social forces working towards the exclusion of women, there was a new political motivation to argue for the irrationality of women, which hadn’t existed previously.
  • Schiebinger 
    • The “poetic” style in the eighteenth century was identified with the feminine, at the same time that it was being ushered out of the domains of philosophy and science
    • Consequently, numerous men, as well as women, came to disappear from our historical memory. 
    • The alignment of the feminine gender with the issues, methods, and styles that “lost out,” together with a good deal of slippage between gender and sex, and the scholarly practice of anonymous authorship for women, led to the almost complete disappearance of women from the history of early modern philosophy
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The Case against the Enlightenment


  • Regarded a core Enlightenment doctrine, the doctrine of natural rights, as the pure ideology of the rising bourgeois
  • Claimed that human rights were abstract and formal unless certain institutional economic changes were introduced to make the expression of that right possible

Enlightenment and Totalitarianism 

  • Todorov 
    • The enlightenment unwittingly produced the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century


  • Formulated the ambivalent relationship of the enlightenment to power. Enlightenment must be “drummed into the people so that the priests all turn into priests with a bad conscience – and likewise with the state. That is the task of enlightenment: to show up the pompous behavior of princes and statesmen as a deliberate lie
  • Making people small and governance is hailed as 'progress'
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The Case against the Enlightenment

Adorno and Horkheimer 

  • The enlightenment aimed at liberating human beings from fear and installing them as masters, but it instead made people radiant with triumphant calamity and instead produced totalitarian regimes 
  • Enlightenment stands in the same relationship to things as the dictator to human beings. He knows them to the extent that he can manipulate them
  • in the Enlightenment, to control nature by understanding it, and understand it only insofar as it can be controlled, so we learn to understand ourselves only insofar as we can be controlled

Enlightenment and myth 

  • Enlightenment was born as an ambition of control over nature through a process of demythologisation, however it reverted to mythology because: 'By tabooing any thought which sets out negatively from the facts and from the prevailing modes of thought as obscure, convoluted, and preferably foreign, that concept holds mind captive in ever deeper blindness.’
  • The narrowness of Enlightenment standards of though end up being restrictive rather than empowering 
  • The programme of demythologisation becomes a project of controlling the human subject through the fear of natural phenomena that humans may become 
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The Case against the Enlightenment

Enlightenment and Myth 

  • What began as a project of liberation from nature, through the control of nature, ends as a project of enslavement through dictatorships and industrialisation 
  • The enlightenment is mythological because it prevents us from seeing what is happening.
  • For enlightenment, anything which does not conform to the standard of calculability and utility must be viewed with suspicion. … Enlightenment is totalitarian
  • individuals to themselves, have themselves been bewitched by the objectification of mind. Individuals shrink to the nodal points of conventional reactions and the modes of operation objectively expected of them
  • The culture industry of mass entertainment and advertising thus manipulates our reason
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