Friday, 18 January 2019

My Doubts About The Age of Enlightenment

Weimar's Courtyard of the Muses
Several historians claim that the period between 1715 and 1789 is the Age of Enlightenment. But what is so special about this period? Is the enlightenment which they claim to find in this period philosophical, scientific, technological, artistic, or political? Is the Age of Enlightenment only about France and Germany or are we also considering the achievements of other parts of the world (including the USA)? How can we be sure that there weren’t any periods before and after the Age of Enlightenment that were more enlightened?

In the area of philosophical thought, the period from 1715 and 1789 was not the best in human history. Much better philosophy was developed in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. In science and technology too, this period was not the best—Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, and several other great scientists did their work much before 1715. As far as technological advancements are concerned—the movement towards modern technology began after the 1840s, and gained momentum after the First World War. In art, this period has not produced anything comparable to the great art of the Renaissance period. In politics, the greatest innovation happened in the USA after its independence in 1776, but the historians who talk about the Enlightenment seldom refer to the USA—they mostly talk about France and Germany.

In my view, mankind has seen tens of thousands of Enlightenments in the past—and we will have millions of Enlightenments in the future. The first Enlightenment (perhaps the greatest enlightenment in human history) happened about 40,000 years ago when human beings began to give up their nomadic way of life and started growing crops. The rise of agriculture led to the establishment of the first settled communities. Since then there have been several other Ages of Enlightenment during which human beings have gained the knowledge of domesticating cattle and dogs, using horses for riding and warfare, building better houses, and much else. There were Ages of Enlightenment that led to the emergence of innovative ideas in language, mathematics, science, history, art, and philosophy, and of new methods for improving healthcare, education, commerce, and governance.

The trend of awarding fanciful names to certain periods of history often leads to incorrect historical analysis. Once a fanciful name like “the Age of Enlightenment” has been popularized and propagandized, the historians are obliged to cook up some kind of data or analysis to support the general idea that enlightenment happened during this period. They write historical text which do not take cognizance of the tens of thousands of enlightenments that mankind has experienced in the past 40,000 years — their enlightenment begins and ends in the 18th century. Today we have a surfeit of history books which support the idea that modern civilization owes a great debt to the achievements of the Age of Enlightenment, but none of them care to elucidate what these achievements are.

I can see no reason why the period between 1715 and 1789 is known as the Age of Enlightenment. This label is fake. It is leading to a large-scale falsification of history. It should be rejected.


Unknown said...

So Kant's Elightenment essay is rubbish?

Anoop Verma said...

Immanuel Kant was a very competent philosopher and he had a good sense of history. His view of Enlightenment is perfect--I agree with his 1783 essay. In his essay, he never gives any time limit to Enlightenment — he merely defines what is Enlightenment. He does not say that Enlightenment started in 1715 and it will end in 1789. His Enlightenment may as well have started 3000 years ago, he does not qualify the start date; and it may go on for next 1000 or 10,000 years, he does not offer an end date. So his view of Enlightenment is broad, inclusive of all human achievement, and is therefore correct.