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Old 10-25-2011, 05:58 AM   #1
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The Enlightenment

Recently I finish reading this book: A Wicked Company, The Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment, by Philipp Blom [Basic Books, New York, NY, 2010]

http://www.amazon.com/Wicked-Company...9530868&sr=1-1

The book was immensely interesting and informative, well written, scholarly but not pedantic, and has nary a single illustration, picture, graph, or logarithm table. The author does have an agenda and probable bias as can be gleaned from the title. Whether his overall thesis is justified and his conclusions backed by evidence, I leave to any future readers of the book. My judgment will remain as mysterious as the sirens song. The main cast of wicked characters is: Diderot, Baron Holbach, Voltaire, Rousseau, Hume and a few other lesser deities and hangers-on of the whole enlightenment movement.

Since I’m now plowing into a book about the artist Caravaggio, I wanted to take a brief timeout to give opportunity for discussion on some conclusions from the above book. To wit, from: Epilogue: A Stolen Revolution (p 316-317).



While the moderate, deist Enlightenment became both a justification and a means of molding society into a machine geared towards productivity and control, the vision of the radicals among those who assembled at Holbach’s salon was very different. Because they lived in a time yoked under the often cruel authority of the church, strident, combative polemics dominated parts of their writings, but beyond the immediate political battle was another, kinder voice, encouraging all people to delight in life and demanding the right to live in dignity and freedom.

The friends around Holbach’s table had not invented these ideas. They had collected the lean tradition of Western freethinking, from Epicurus and Lucretius to Spinoza and Bayle, and had developed them. Arguments grew and intensified during their debates and found new ammunitions in scientific discoveries, making them stronger and better supported by observation than they had ever been before. The radical humanism emanating from their works was read and understood by a small band of exceptional minds, among them not only the poets Goethe (who loved Diderot but detested Holbach), Heinrich Heine, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, but also Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud.

With characteristic insight, Nietzsche intuited Diderot’s modernity when he wrote that Voltaire was “the last mind of the old France, Diderot the first of the new”……………

Sigmund Freud, whom the critic Peter Gray calls “the philosophes’ most distinguished disciple,” regarded it as his personal mission to destroy all illusions. He found the groundwork already laid by the critiques of Holbach and Hume. But it was Diderot whose exploration of the passions and of the irrational founts of personality had the deepest influence on him………...

A little over two centuries after Holbach’s salon closed its doors for the last time, we still face the choice among Rousseau’s cult of sentiment and secularized self-hatred, Voltaire’s worldly cynicism, and the ethics of Enlightened hedonism advocated at the rue Royale. Long banished to the margins of history by society unwilling to listen, its message was drowned out by other voices; works written by its proponents were first burned in public and then read only by a select few. The triumphal transfer of the bodies of Voltaire and Rousseau to the Panthéon set a symbolic seal on their victory over their philosophical adversaries in the public imagination.


_________________________________________________


Below is a link to an article on the Enlightenment from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It is a very worthwhile read, however long it may be, which serves as a guide through this most important philosophical era that still reverberates and permeates our own time.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/enlightenment/


The above can provide fodder for a very enlightening and lively discussion (I do not plan on participating, unless needed). Requirements are honesty and some knowledge of the group and movement under discussion. Trolls not welcome. Any post that mentions IQ will be deleted, period. My judgment is final and there is no recourse. Make an attempt to be intelligible and intelligent; agenda-driven political drivel and/or pontifications will mean banishment to the Politics Forum for all eternity.


There is an abundance of information to digest; regurgitate wisely and succinctly.

Begin—(but only if you must)


-Zeno

Last edited by Zeno; 10-25-2011 at 07:54 PM. Reason: Typo
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Old 10-25-2011, 10:11 AM   #2
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Re: The Enlightenment

i find social contract theory interesting and read hobbes and locke years ago in addition to more modern attempts like rawls.

hobbes made no sense to me to because the emergence out of the state of nature made no sense to me. the transforming from chaos to order was never properly articulated in my opinion. if anything, chaos was just centralized when the government was formed, if we take hobbes' premise.

the notion of "consent of the governed" bothered me a lot too because the key to this is what is meant by consent. Is consent implied or granted? Is consent contingent or unlimited? to what degree does a person need to purposefully act before consent is legitimate (like can kids consent, can someone with altzheimers consent)? Also is consent a societal thing or an individual thing? Is consent passed down by generation or does consent need reaffirmation? To me there ideally should be apodictic answers to the questions but i see a possible need for positive feedback. None of these philosophers of that period adequately addressed these questions to my knowledge.

The development of "rights" during these periods also has been misinterpreted in modern times IMO. the main theme was not positive rights but negative rights. The emphasis of the era was showing what one could not do to another rather than what one could. Today we hear people say right to health care, right to a job, right to choose to abort etc. and these seem to make no sense in a context of negative rights.

my 2 cents.

Last edited by Zeno; 10-25-2011 at 07:55 PM. Reason: Typo in title
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Old 10-25-2011, 07:12 PM   #3
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Re: The Enlightenment

I have read D'Holbach's "Christianisme dévoilé," and I'm surprised he's not as often listed with the others in the OP. I cant recall their names now, but It seems like many of the great minds who we might say would be right at home in the age of enlightenment tend to have these sorts of 'salon meetings.' I hope forums dont take the place of these because they seem to be a common theme among enlightenment thinkers.

Last edited by Zeno; 10-25-2011 at 07:56 PM. Reason: Typo in title
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Old 10-25-2011, 08:33 PM   #4
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Re: The Enlightenment

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I hope forums dont take the place of these because they seem to be a common theme among enlightenment thinkers.
Why? It allows for the same sort of things, except more conveniently.

Nowadays, we can discuss ideas from the comfort of our homes. We are pressed by masses of people to clarify ourselves, rather than just having to do for to a few.
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Old 10-25-2011, 08:44 PM   #5
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Re: The Enlightenment

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Why? It allows for the same sort of things, except more conveniently.

Nowadays, we can discuss ideas from the comfort of our homes. We are pressed by masses of people to clarify ourselves, rather than just having to do for to a few.
Totally agree.

Though we shouldn't underestimate the optimality of such venues as smokey pubs serving real ale, or cafe's serving good red wine or the finest drugs.
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Old 10-25-2011, 10:00 PM   #6
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Re: The Enlightenment

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Totally agree.

Though we shouldn't underestimate the optimality of such venues as smokey pubs serving real ale, or cafe's serving good red wine or the finest drugs.
I've found those places to be excellent to find common ground amongst disparate ideas.

Unfortunately*, you lose the better minds to more practical pursuits in such places.

*I mean the word in the loosest of sense.
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Old 10-26-2011, 11:17 AM   #7
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Re: The Enlightenment

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Totally agree.

Though we shouldn't underestimate the optimality of such venues as smokey pubs serving real ale, or cafe's serving good red wine or the finest drugs.
+1
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Old 10-27-2011, 07:19 PM   #8
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Re: The Enlightenment

Okay, how about ... I hope that they do not replace them. I mean forums are good but I think there is an important difference between the two (the meetings between a relativity small number of people, and the discussions that take place on forums between a relativity large number of people) and I think it hinges on two points.

The first is the difference between discussing something with people in person and on forums. If you have a group of people who meet once every two weeks to smoke cigars and discuss theology, philosophy, science, all the good enlightenment topics, these people would grow on you as friends. I think the conversation would be much more friendly, much more helpful (in the sense of trying to help someone understand as opposed to typing gtfo etc), and would likely lead to long term relationships which were started by discussing enlightenment topics (cant be bad friends to have imo). I think these are all lacking in forums.

The second is the value / importance of individualism. When someone is discussing such topics there is great room for error; this isnt math where if you make mistake in a long line of reasoning you can easily go back and find / correct it. I guess the best way to describe what I mean here is if you imagine taking SMP and dividing it into small groups the size of those that met at D'Holbach's salon and imagine these groups of people met once every couple weeks to smoke cigars and discuss theology, philosophy, science, and all the good enlightenment topics. If after a couple years you put all these groups back into SMP they would have come to many different conclusions about many different topics such as ethics, theology, and many other different subjects. So now when you put them all back on SMP I think the discussions would be so much better.

Not only would there be many differing opinions but I think they would be supported much more than they would have been otherwise. What I mean is if someone shoots out an argument to a large number of people, five counter arguments are likely to be ready at hand, and so the original argument ends there. But in a small venue, maybe only one counter argument is found so the discussion is allowed to continue back and forth, getting deeper and deeper into the validity of the arguments proposed. I guess what I think would be similar to this is talking about atheism in the 18th century. If you were doubting your faith and told this to a large venue, you would end up trying to remove your doubt. But if you told it to a small venue, I think there would be a greater chance that the discussion could continue.

Thats about all I can say in one sitting but dont worry, I know my view on topics such as these is romanticized


edit: just to clarify, when I said room for error I mean that in the sense of error according to what is held to be erroneous. if you were to believe evolution in 15th century France you would be in error, but to do so in 21st century France you would not be in error. So I'm not talking about absolute or objective error as in from the standpoint of an all knowing oracle.

Last edited by Ryanb9; 10-27-2011 at 07:27 PM.
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Old 10-28-2011, 02:39 AM   #9
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Re: The Enlightenment

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The development of "rights" during these periods also has been misinterpreted in modern times IMO. the main theme was not positive rights but negative rights. The emphasis of the era was showing what one could not do to another rather than what one could. Today we hear people say right to health care, right to a job, right to choose to abort etc. and these seem to make no sense in a context of negative rights.
True, but also bear in mind that pre-Enlightenment, "rights and liberties" traditionally meant specific powers given to the elites to exercise over the commons. Liberalism (the Enlightenment variety) transformed this meaning into liberties in the face of arbitrary exercises of power. So yes, "negative rights" as we understand them developed first. "Positive rights" simply would not have made sense in a pre-industrial society where most people were just trying to stave off starvation (though certain entitlements, like grain allotments, go all the way back to the Roman era).

Some conception of positive rights can be seen in this era, though. Thomas Paine famously argued that because society and property rights as they existed deprive some individuals of "wealth" (perhaps an imperfect term) that they might otherwise acquire, every man upon reaching adulthood should receive a type of public inheritance to establish himself. This line of thinking doesn't really fully take off until the rise of utilitarianism, though, when Mill lays the foundation for the modern democratic state as most of us know it (some variation on a welfare state, somewhat minimized in the US, much more robust in Scandinavia). But Mill was responding directly to the Enlightenment and liberalism in the context of the industrial society that had developed in Britain.

So I wouldn't say the modern conception of "rights" is a misinterpretation per se, so much as the result of an ongoing dialogue.
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Old 10-28-2011, 12:32 PM   #10
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Re: The Enlightenment

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True, but also bear in mind that pre-Enlightenment, "rights and liberties" traditionally meant specific powers given to the elites to exercise over the commons. Liberalism (the Enlightenment variety) transformed this meaning into liberties in the face of arbitrary exercises of power. So yes, "negative rights" as we understand them developed first. "Positive rights" simply would not have made sense in a pre-industrial society where most people were just trying to stave off starvation (though certain entitlements, like grain allotments, go all the way back to the Roman era).

Some conception of positive rights can be seen in this era, though. Thomas Paine famously argued that because society and property rights as they existed deprive some individuals of "wealth" (perhaps an imperfect term) that they might otherwise acquire, every man upon reaching adulthood should receive a type of public inheritance to establish himself. This line of thinking doesn't really fully take off until the rise of utilitarianism, though, when Mill lays the foundation for the modern democratic state as most of us know it (some variation on a welfare state, somewhat minimized in the US, much more robust in Scandinavia). But Mill was responding directly to the Enlightenment and liberalism in the context of the industrial society that had developed in Britain.

So I wouldn't say the modern conception of "rights" is a misinterpretation per se, so much as the result of an ongoing dialogue.
in the sense you're describing they cannot be rights. Rights are inalienable and are non relevant to how rich a society is. In my view, some people just became entitled. Proof of this is that rights should be inherent to beings, but people's expectations of such rights are non universal. No one thinks a government should give health care to all in need across the world, for example. They only think within their rich nation its a "right".
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