This Week’s Mtg: The Enlightenment – Under Siege?

This was Gary’s topic, so I’ll make an educated guess what he had in mind.  By the Enlightenment, we mean the 18th century and since idea that nature and even human behavior can be understood through science and human reason.  That is, that how the world works fundamentally is knowable, with the right process and the right attitude of openness to empirically based evidence.

Maybe Enlightenment values are so central to modern thinking that we don’t even notice them – it’s the air we breathe.  On the other hand, maybe scientific reason is under assault.

From whom?  I would ID three possible culprits, each quite distinct and each of which would make an interesting conversation:

  1. Religion;  You could argue that the new century is seeing a rise of fundamentalism all over the world, including, in the U.S., with religion-based assaults on evolution, climate science, etc.
  2. Postmodernism:  The Left’s view that objective truth, especially in the social sciences, does not really exist; that all truths are just social constructs designed to perpetuate the existing power structure and the dominance of whichever group is on top.  This way of thinking has permeated many academic disciplines in social science in the last 20 years,  and even the hard sciences.
  3. Popular culture:  The dumbing down of popular culture and the shortened attention span  of the younger on-line generation.  If no one knows who Hume or Bacon were, how can we still be in an enlightened age?

I don’t see a need for any opening presentation for this one.  This group knows what the term Enlightenment is.  I’ll just open up with a minute or two summarizing what I’ve just written here, then ask Jim Z., our actual historian, if he wants to add anything. then open it up.


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