Enlightenment Essay

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17th century and our contemporary world began with an early, optimistic outlook of hope and promise of a better future, exemplified by movements like the Enlightenment, the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, culminating in the Information Age, environmental awareness and globalisation. It is during this period that a paradigm shift from faith (religion) to reason as the principal source of legitimacy and authority occurred (Badger). The shift occurred against the backdrop of ideals such as science, tolerance, liberty, democracy, secularism, free will and humanism. However, the period is also scared with false starts and failures, violent schisms, world wars, imperialism, terrorism, irrational nationalism, extreme religious war, information overload, pollution and the threat of nuclear annihilation that indicate failure of the rational model promised by the Enlightenment. On the premise of this dichotomy of hope and failure, this essay critically demonstrates the failure of the Enlightenment project, especially from a social and moral perspective. The essay particularly considers how Enlightenment has led to the destruction of morality.



In his book, After Virtue, Scottish philosopher Alasdair Macintyre presents a strong assertion that the Enlightenment project has not succeeded in fulfilling its promise and has caused the disorder of moral values in the modern Western society. Macintyre particularly argues that overemphasis on individualism and free choice has resulted in a shift from virtue ethics to rule-governed ethics; and from communitarianism to a social individualism, thereby destroying morality.
In a similar vein, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno argue in their book Dialectic of Enlightenment that humanity, instead of advancing towards a truly human state, has been descending into a new version of barbarism, and that Enlightenment is largely to blame (p. xi). The reason for this is that though Enlightenment has inculcated a culture of reason, it has simultaneously undermined morality (Rasmussen 3).



Rasmussen further points out that Enlightenment has weakened religion and tradition without providing alternatives save for what he terms as a "misguided confidence in reason" (p. 3). Instead of championing for a reformation of the existing traditions, advocates of Enlightenment envisaged a new society where faith and tradition would have no place. While the contribution made by reason to the advancement of the world in all spheres - from political to economic and social -- cannot be undervalued, the danger of such a viewpoint is that it ignores the historical and social context in which mankind is embedded (Bunnin and Yu 210). In fact, as explained by Rasmussen, this viewpoint often results in precarious social engineering (p. 3). The danger inherent in replacing….....

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Works Cited


Badger, Phil. What's wrong with the Enlightenment? Philosophy Now, 2010. Web. 9 September 2016.

Bunnin, Nicholas and Jiyuan Yu. The Blackwell dictionary of Western philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. Print.

Gray, John. Enlightenment's wake: politics and culture of the modern age. New York: Routledge, 1995. Print

Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans John Cumming. London: Verso, 1997. Print.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. After virtue: a study in moral theory. 3rd ed. London: Bloomsbury, 2007. Print.

Rasmussen, Dennis C. Contemporary political theory as an anti-Enlightenment project. Brown University, n.d. Web. 9 September 2016.
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