my ad unit

Sunday, January 1, 2012

UNIT 2 THE ENLIGHTENMENT

Structure

2.1 Introduction

2.2 The Idea of Progress

2.3 Science and Knowledge

2.4 Science Versus Religion

2.5 Of Man and Society

2.6 Summary

2.1 INTRODUCTION

Eighteenth century Europe witnessed very wide sweeping changes in all spheres of life. Although these changes did not occur at the same time or at the same pace in all countries, they structured a distinct historical era – one that laid the foundations of the modern age. The Enlightenment or the Age of Reason, as it came to be known subsequently, marked a sharp break from the past. Even though its anti-clericalism echoed the sentiments of the Renaissance and the Reformation it neither endorsed the paganism of the former nor did it share the faith of the latter. It clearly identified two enemies: religion and hierarchy, and attempted to displace the centrality accorded to both in social and political life. The Enlightenment men were not irreligious or atheists but they were bitterly opposed to and intolerant of the institutions of Christianity and they sought to challenge them by articulating a conception of man, history and nature that relied heavily upon the world-view expressed by the new discoveries in the natural sciences. At the most general level, the Enlightenment used the scientific method of enquiry to launch a systematic attack on tradition per se. They questioned blind obedience to authority, whether that of the priest or the ruler. Nothing was any longer sacred and beyond critical scrutiny. The new social and political order that the Enlightenment thinkers aspired for expressed the optimism that came with the advancement of material and scientific knowledge. They strongly believed that human beings were in a position to create a world in which freedom, liberty and happiness will prevail over all else. Even though this vision was very widely shared it was most clearly evident in the writings of Voltaire, Diderot, d’Alembert and Condorcet in France, Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith and David Hume in Scotland, Christian Wolff and Immanuel Kant in Germany and marchese di Baccaria in Italy. The writings of these theorists best express the spirit of the Enlightenment and its influence upon the modern age. In this Unit we are going to discuss some of the essential features of the enlightenment.

2.2 THE IDEA OF PROGRESS

The idea that is constitutive of the Enlightenment and central to this historical epoch is the idea of progress. Through it the Enlightenment expressed the twin belief that – a) the present was better and more advanced than the past, and b) this advancement has resulted in the happiness of man. Both these claims about progress in history were based on the assessment of the changes that were taking place around them. The scientific discoveries of Copernicus, Kepler and Newton and their applications by Galileo led them to believe that human beings could fully understand the functioning
20 of the universe and gain an unprecedented degree of control over their natural and

physical environment. This sentiment was further reinforced by the changes that were taking place in the traditional organization of life. The incorporation of new technologies in the field of agriculture and in the manufacturing of goods had meant significant increase in the sphere of production. Coupled with improved communications, development of roads, canals, and the growth in internal and foreign trade, they believed they were standing on the threshold of a new era: an era that would be marked by abundance, perfectibility of man and the institutions of society. At the most general level there was a feeling that we are now moving towards a condition in which, to quote Gibbons, ‘all inhabitants of the planet would enjoy a perfectly happy existence’.

Theorists of the Enlightenment were convinced of the achievements and superiority of their age. They saw in history a movement from the dark ages to the civilized present. This did not mean that human history was slowly but steadily moving in one direction or that every stage marked an improvement over the previous one. While pointing to progress in history they were primarily saying that there was a marked improvement in the quality of life in the present era. More specifically, the Philosophes (philosophers who espoused this vision in France) were claiming that there has been a tangible and undeniable advancement in every sphere of life since the Reformation. For Chastellux, flourishing agriculture, trade and industry, the rise in population and the growth in knowledge were all indicators of the increase in felicity. The latter meant that their age was a much happier one. It was marked by peace, liberty and abundance. It was, to use Kant’s words, the best of all possible worlds.

Unlike many of his contemporaries Kant was however of the view that happiness was not the main issue. It was not simply a question of increase or decrease in the levels of happiness because civilization, even in its most perfect form, could not bring about the happiness of men. Hence it was not to be judged in those terms. Civilization, according to Kant, provided a setting in which men can test and prove their freedom. The present merited a special place in so far as it had created conditions in which men can encounter the most important category of reason, namely, freedom.

The belief that man had advanced from the ‘barbarous rusticity’ to the
‘politeness of our age’ was characteristic of the Enlightenment. Indeed, this reading of the past and the present marked a sharp break from the earlier conceptions of history. The Greeks, for instance, saw history as a cyclical process comprising of periods of glory followed by periods of decline and degeneration. The Middle Ages, under the influence of Christianity, had little place for mundane history. Nothing in real history mattered because hope and happiness lay in the other-world. Man’s fall from grace had meant the loss of idyllic existence. Consequently, for them, it was only through redemption that men could hope to improve their present condition. The Renaissance broke away from this Christian reading of history but it had a pessimistic view of human nature. The Renaissance men believed that the achievements of antiquity, in particular, of Greek and Roman civilization, were unreachable. They embodied the highest achievements of humankind that could not be surpassed. The Enlightenment, in sharp contrast to all this, focused on the ‘here’ and ‘now’ and saw in it unprecedented growth, accompanied by moral and intellectual liberation of man. Johnson is reported to have said, “I am always angry when I hear ancient times being praised at the expense of modern times. There is now a great deal more learning in the world than there was formerly; for it is universally diffused”. The Scottish philosopher Dugald Stewart was even more unequivocal in affirming the progress in the present world. He argued that the increase in commerce had “led to the diffusion of wealth and ‘a more equal diffusion of freedom and happiness’, than had ever existed before”. Technological innovations that accompanied capitalism
The Enlightenment











































































21

Theories of the
Modern World










































































22
meant that men were “released from the bondage of mechanical labour and…free to cultivate the mind”. The present was thus seen as the age of progress where there was unprecedented advance in every sphere of life.

While the present was seen as ‘spreading the light’ of reason, the Enlightenment designated the past as `primitive’ and `barbaric’. It was, in its view, riddled with superstition and dogma, and guided by religion and blind obedience to authority. Above all, it was marked by the absence of individual freedom. The present, by comparison, was designated as `civilized’ and `enlightened’: an era in which reason was expected to prevail. The theorists of Enlightenment believed that there were primarily two obstacles to progress – wars and religion. Both these could be, indeed they needed to be, destroyed by reason. Once that was done then the world would be a better place. It would, in the words of Condorcet, move from bondage to ultimate perfection of freedom and reason.

Reason was, in a sense, the key to the earthly utopia. It was an instrument that individuals could use not only to interrogate all received forms of knowledge but also to lead a virtuous, rational and happy life. For the Philosophes, reason was an ally of experience. It embodied a non-authoritarian source of knowledge that can be tested and proved. In the Preface to The System of Nature, Holbach wrote: “[R]eason with its faithful guide experience must attack in their entrenchments those prejudices of which the human race has been too long the victim…. Let us try to inspire man with courage, with respect for his reason, with an indistinguishable love for truth, to the end that he may learn to consult his experience, and no longer be the dupe of an imagination led astray by authority…”. Theorists, such as Holbach, believed that reason could liberate men from the oppressive power exercised by religion and, at the same time, provide them knowledge of the truth. Men had therefore to be taught to use reason and to act in accordance with its potentialities. This was the main Enlightenment project.

2.3 SCIENCE AND KNOWLEDGE

The growth in scientific knowledge had given the Enlightenment grounds for being optimistic about the present and the future. Its spokesmen asserted with conviction that civilization was moving in the right direction and that it must continue to move in that direction. The apparent progress in material and social life also gave them a sense of grandeur. They felt that there were no limits on what human beings could know and accomplish. The development of human faculties and the advance that had been made by the sciences and by civilization as a whole, gave them enough reason to assert that nature had placed no limits on our hopes. The belief that human beings could achieve whatever they set out to do was closely linked to the Enlightenment idea of progress. Progress indicated the increasing ability of individuals to control their natural and social environment. According to the Enlightenment thinkers, the visible improvement in human life was the result of active and effective application of reason for controlling physical and social environment. Vice-versa, the success that their generation had in controlling their environment and harnessing the forces of nature for the betterment of humankind affirmed the belief that scientific application of reason would lead to the liberation of man. It could create an ideal world in which individuals could strive to combine the virtues of knowledge with liberty.

Three points need to be emphasized here. First, the Enlightenment thinkers linked knowledge with the natural sciences. The method of systematic observation, experimentation and critical inquiry used in the physical sciences was, in their view,

the only viable basis of arriving at the truth. Knowledge must be demonstrable. It must be backed by proof that is accessible through reason and the faculties of the human mind. Based on this conception of knowledge, the Enlightenment posited a dichotomy between metaphysical speculation and knowledge. The Middle ages, under the influence of Christianity, had assumed that the world created by God could not be known by human beings. It was, by definition, inaccessible to human reason. The truth about man and the universe could only be ‘revealed’, and hence, known through the holy scriptures. “Where the light of reason does not shine, the lamp of faith supplies illumination”. This was the avowed belief of the Middle Ages. The Enlightenment rejected this view and maintained that things that could not be known by the application of reason and systematic observation were chimerical. What could not be known must not even be sought for it constitutes the realm of the metaphysical, if not the non-sensical.

Second, the Enlightenment began with the view shared by the leading scientists of their times: namely, that the secrets of the universe could be apprehended completely by man. These theorists were convinced both of the intelligibility of the universe and of the ability of individuals to understand it completely. They believed that while discussing nature we ought to begin not with the authority of the scriptures but with sensible experiments and demonstrations. In Les Bijoux Indiscrets, Diderot compared the method of experimentation to a giant who could in one blow destroy the grand systems created by metaphysics and idle speculation. The latter were simply buildings without foundations so they could easily be knocked down by the power of scientific reason.

Third, science had provided a new and fairly different picture of man and the universe. Instead of positing a world of things that are ordered by their ideal nature or by some prior purpose, it presented nature as a self-regulating system of laws. The Enlightenment theorists embraced this world-view and like their counterparts in the natural sciences they aimed to discover laws that govern society and human nature. Identifying laws and establishing patterns entailed the study of cause and effect relationships. It required the search for an antecedent event that is necessary and sufficient for explaining an occurrence. The Philosophes abandoned the search for final causes and focussed instead on the examination of an efficient cause; that is, they tried to specify an antecedent event whose presence is necessary for the occurrence of a given phenomenon and whose absence would imply the non- occurrence of that phenomenon.

The study of cause-and-effect relationships was central to the Enlightenment conception of science. According to Francesco Algarotti “things are concealed from us as though by a heavy fog especially those things that are most often before our eyes. Nature has hidden from us the primary and elementary effects almost as thoroughly, I should say, as she has hidden the causes themselves. Thus, if we cannot find the order of mutual dependence of all parts of the universe, nor discover first causes, perhaps…you will think it no small achievement to show the relationship among effects that appear to be very different, reducing them to a common principle, and to extract by observation from particular phenomenon the general laws which nature follows by which she governs the universe”. This conception of scientific enquiry marked a sharp departure from the Aristotelian world-view that had dominated the study of nature before this. In place of using observation as a tool for categorizing and classifying things, it now urged the discovery of causes in an attempt to explain `why’ certain things happen and also to predict the occurrence of such events in the future. Discovery of causes, in other words, was a means of increasing man’s control over his environment – both natural and social.
The Enlightenment











































































23

Theories of the
Modern World










































































24
While endorsing this conception of science the Philosophes were nonetheless aware that knowledge would have to be built from small foundations. Yet, they were firm in their belief that the little that we had learnt by method of observation and causal analysis had vastly extended our knowledge; and, that it alone could reveal to us the truth about the world. “[T]hanks to observations with the microscope our vision has penetrated into the deepest recesses of bodies, and that by observations with the telescope it has scanned the breadth of the heavens to enrich natural history and astronomy with a thousand wonderful discoveries. Only through the study of observations has Chemistry been perfected so that it is now succeeding in analyzing bodies into their component elements and is on the verge of being able to put them together again. Only in this way has nautical sciences made such progress that now we can speed from one hemisphere to the other in great safety. It is undeniable
…that in Medicine, where hypothetical systems are dangerous, only sober reason
and ... passionate observation can bring improvement and development. What then remains for us? Nothing but the responsibility to observe ourselves attentively….” for this alone will lead our “mind towards truth”.

Working with this conception of knowledge the Enlightenment thinkers attempted to observe and systematically explain the world around them and the society in which they lived. They focussed on the observable and attempted to understand the complexities of individual and national character by relating them to other physical and social elements that are given to empirical investigation. Montesquieu examined the connections between political and civil laws of a country and its physical character
– the climate, temperature and other demographic configurations. Adam Ferguson
and David Hume undertook a scientific analysis of the mind by examining empirically the process of socialization. The manner by which individuals internalize moral, social and intellectual ideas and come to acquire a notion of virtue and propriety was a subject that received their attention. Even as they studied the process of ‘moral education’ they believed that men of reason could only accept data that is given in observation. Hence, almost all of them focused on the empirical manifestations of objects and in their work they tried to build relationships between observable dimensions of different phenomena. Through systematic observation of concrete particulars, these philosophers sought to arrive at the general principles and laws by which nature and society are governed.

Theorists of Enlightenment believed that the world was like a machine, controlled by and functioning in accordance with certain general laws. Consequently, by discovering these underlying laws they hoped to understand the mysteries of the universe and gain control over them. Knowledge was intended to serve, what Habermas calls, a technical interest. Its purpose was to enable individuals to gain greater control over their environment so that they can protect themselves against the ravages of natural forces and, at the same time, harness the energies of nature in a way that is advantageous to humankind.

To the Enlightenment mind, increasing degree of control over physical and social world, and the success of technological applications indicated progress and truth. Indeed, they signified scientific knowledge and validated its claim to truth. Although technical success was favoured for the sake of improving human condition, what was desired above all was freedom and happiness. It was believed that the ability to explain and control natural and social environment would enable individuals to construct a world in which these twin goals can be realized. To quote Hume, “happiness was the end to which all human life was directed and as society provides men with these ideas which made life intelligible and happiness possible, men can find happiness in society”. Hume was not alone in claiming this. Most of his

contemporaries maintained that expanding knowledge of the laws of the universe would enable humankind to fashion their lives and create a perfect society. At the very least, it will give men the satisfaction of knowing that they have the correct methods of enquiry, consequently they will never `relapse into barbarism’.

What needs to be reiterated here is that the Enlightenment thinkers did not simply associate knowledge with science, they wanted to apply the “experimental method” used in the physical sciences to the study of society. Like the natural scientists they searched for laws of human nature and laws of social development. Montesquieu maintained that “[E]verything which exists has its laws: the Diety has its laws, the material world its laws, the spiritual beings of a higher order than man their laws, the beasts their laws, and man his own laws…. As a physical being, man is governed by invariable laws in the same way as other bodies”. However, as an intelligent being he continuously violates those laws and creates new ones. With this basic understanding he analyzed two kinds of laws: those that are common to all men and all societies, and those that are peculiar to a society. While both were to be analyzed and discovered, the former was regarded to be particularly important. In fact, by identifying and enumerating the qualities that are common to all men they hoped to determine those customs and institutions which were in harmony with the universal natural order and sort those that did not have a place in that order. Discovering the constant and universal principles of human nature was thus of the utmost importance, especially for the task of reconstructing a better and more perfect world.

2.4 SCIENCE VERSUS RELIGION

Science was, for the Enlightenment, more than a method of enquiry. It was synonymous with a rationalist orientation. In the attempt to create conditions in which men would be free to explore their potentialities to the fullest, the theorists of Enlightenment launched a thorough critique of the institutions of Christianity and, with it, of existing religions and sects. Almost all of them, from Voltaire to Holbach, wrote about the harmful effects of religion over individual and social life. Voltaire pointed to the violence engendered in the name of religion. “It is asked why, out of the five hundred sects, there have scarcely been any who have not spilled blood?” And why “there is scarce any city or borough in Europe, where blood has not been spilled for religious quarrels’. He noted further, “I say that the human species has been perceptibly diminished because women and girls were massacred as well as men…. In fine, I say, that so far from forgetting these abominable times, we should frequently take a view of them, to inspire an eternal horror for them; and that it is for our age to make reparation by toleration, for this long collection of crimes, which has taken place through the want of toleration, during sixteen barbarous centuries”.

The Enlightenment critique of religion stemmed from the understanding that religion has been a source of oppression in history. It was the basis of intolerance and hatred among men. It promoted inequality and ‘unfreedom’ of man. “It is as a citizen that I attack religion, because it seems to me harmful to the happiness of the state, hostile to the mind of man, and contrary to sound morality’, wrote an Enlightenment thinker. What was perhaps equally important for the Enlightenment was the role that religion played in the Medieval Ages. Under the hegemony of the Established and Unified Roman Catholic Church men were expected to renounce reason and place their faith instead in revealed truth. Religious authorities spoke of the limits of human reason and asked individuals to listen passively to the voice of tradition as communicated by the Church. Theorists of Enlightenment were particularly critical of this world-view. The attempt to propound a doctrine that could not be questioned by men and that gave men a fixed view of the world and their role in it was, in their
The Enlightenment











































































25

Theories of the
Modern World










































































26
view, inimical to reason. “Instead of morality the Christian is taught the miraculous fables and inconceivable dogmas of a religion thoroughly hostile to right reason. From his very step in his studies he is taught to distrust the evidence of his senses, to subdue his reason…and to rely blindly on the authority of his master”.

The Enlightenment thinkers attacked the Church for promoting superstition and ignorance. On the one hand, its doctrine was anchored in miracles and mysteries that were irreconcilable with reason, and, on the other, it was intolerant of true knowledge. This perception of religious institutions and religion was reinforced by the hostile attitude of the Church towards the new thinking that came with the Copernican Revolution. The persecution of the scientists and the philosophers for their beliefs led Voltaire to comment that “those who persecute a philosopher under the pretext that his opinions may be dangerous to the public are as absurd as those who are afraid that the study of algebra will raise the price of bread in the market; one must pity a thinking being who errs”. It is to break free of a “frantic and horrible” persecutor that the Enlightenment thinkers derided the Church and all existing religion.

Anti-clericalism and rejection of existing religions does not however imply that the Philosophes were atheists. Indeed many of them provided rational grounds for accepting the presence of a supreme creator. Diderot went a step forward. He rejected atheism. To quote him: “Atheism leaves honesty unsupported; it does worse, indirectly it leads to depravity”. Thus, while their critique of Christianity led them to question the belief that the world was created in seven days, they nevertheless believed that the world was a “beautifully crafted machine” and it must have been designed by a Supreme Being according to some rational plan. Belief in a creator did not however imply an acceptance of a religious orientation or the faith that a religion embodies. Voltaire wrote, “He who recognizes only a creating God, he who views in God only a Being infinitely powerful, and who sees in His creatures only beautiful machines, is not religious towards Him any more than a European, admiring the King of China, would thereby profess allegiance to that prince. But he who thinks that God had deigned to place a relation between Himself and mankind; that He has made him free, capable of good and evil; that He has given all of them the good sense which is the instinct of man, and on which the law of nature is founded; such a one undoubtedly has a religion, and a much better religion than all those sects….”.

While pointing to the injustices perpetrated by existing religions, theorists of the Enlightenment presented a new ‘natural religion’ – Deism – that did away with rituals and supernatural elements and anchored itself in the principles of tolerance and equality of all persons. Explaining the distinctiveness of a person who affirms this new faith Voltaire writes, “ It is he who says to God: ‘I adore and serve you’; it is he who says to the Turk, to the Chinese, the Indian, and the Russian: ‘I love you’. He doubts, perhaps, that Mahomet [Mohammad] made a journey to the moon and put half of it in his pocket; he does not wish that after his death his wife should burn herself from devotion; he is sometimes tempted not to believe in the story of the eleven thousand virgins, and that of St. Amable, whose hat and gloves were carried by a ray of the sun from Auvergne as far as Rome. But for all that he is a just man. Noah would have placed him in his ark, Numa Pompilius in his councils; he would have ascended the car of Zoroaster; he would have talked philosophy with the Platos, the Aristippuses, the Ciceros….”. Philosophers like Voltaire cast the true believer of this new religion in their own image.

Deism expressed the beliefs and the vision of the Philosophes, and through it they articulated their belief that there is a Supreme Being, that all creatures in the world were His creations and they deserve to be treated with kindness and without cruelty.

The natural religion was thus a religion of humanity. It was expected not to be a source of derision and hatred among men, instead it was to incorporate true principles of human nature and a universal system of morality that arises from the latter. Although tolerance was central to the new religion, the Philosophes denounced all those creeds of Christianity that claimed a right to destroy all those that differed from them. These theorists showed no signs of tolerance towards those who perpetuated religious intolerance. Indeed their main aim was to destroy all traces of religious fanaticism that were visible in their world.

2.5 OF MAN AND SOCIETY

The Enlightenment demolished the Heavenly City of St. Augustine but they never lost faith in the ability of human beings to construct a new society in which peace, liberty and abundance would prevail. While they denied the possibility of miracles happening, they continued to believe in the perfectibility of the human species. With complete confidence in rationalist will and a humanist pride in the capacity of human beings to overcome all hurdles they hoped to construct a world in which there will be a steady increase in felicity. They were aware that this was a difficult task. “To prolong life, clear the roads of assassins, keep men from starving and give them hope of enjoying the fruits of their labour” would, they knew, require more than just political stability. It would need a moral and intellectual revolution and it was this that the Philosophes hoped to accomplish through their writings. Their belief in scientific rationality and the accompanying critique of the institutions of the Church and existing forms of religion, were essential components of this bigger agenda of social and cultural revolution.

The Philosophes saw scientific knowledge as power, consequently, those who tried to challenge it were identified as men who wished to keep everyone in ignorance. They were seen as the ‘enemies’ of humankind. However, the Enlightenment did not merely target religious institutions. Anti-clericalism may have been the predominant sentiment but it was blind obedience to authority per se that they were most critical of. Whether the authority was that of the priest or the ruler, tradition or custom, each was subject to the same critical gaze. To put it in another way, fighting the dogmatism of religion and its institutional structures was an important pillar in their struggle for freedom but it was by no means the only one. Challenge to religious authority was supplemented by a parallel attack on the absolutist monarchies that existed all over Europe in the post-reformation period. Writing in defense of the liberty of the individual, Diderot asserted that “no man has received from nature the right to command others…. Liberty is a gift from heaven, and every person of the same species has the right to enjoy as much liberty as he enjoys reason”.

Theorists of Enlightenment cherished liberty and freedom. For them, these were the highest and the most cherished values, and they were critical of despotism for not sufficiently safeguarding these values. Liberty required, on the one hand, a government in which one has the freedom to depose a tyrannical ruler and, on the other, the option to elect people whom one is expected to obey and be governed by. A democratic regime based on the principle of popular sovereignty followed from their defence of liberty. Although many of them were skeptical of the possibility of establishing a popular, democratic government, they maintained that power that comes from the “consent of the people” alone is legitimate, and advantageous to society. Montesquieu added another dimension to the discussion on political liberty. He maintained that liberty entails two elements: 1) a moderate government and 2) not being compelled to do anything other than what one should do. Experience shows that individuals are easily tempted to misuse their power for personal ends.
The Enlightenment











































































27

Theories of the
Modern World










































































28
It is therefore essential to place limitations upon the exercise of power. Montesquieu spoke of the need to curb the power of each wing of the government. “When legislative power is united with the executive power in a single person, or in a single body of the magistracy, there is no liberty, because one can fear that the same monarch or senate that makes tyrannical laws will enforce them tyrannically. Nor is there liberty if the power of judging is not separated from the legislative and from executive power. If it were joined to legislative power, the power over the life and liberty of the citizens would be arbitrary, for the judge would be legislator. If it were joined to executive power, the judge could have the force of an oppressor. All would be lost if the same man, or the same body of leading men or of the nobility or of the people, exercised all these powers, to make the laws, to carry out public decisions and to judge crimes or disputes among individuals….”.

A government in which the three aspects of government – namely, formulation of laws, execution of laws and arbitration or interpretation of laws – are separated and each wing checks the powers of the other is only one dimension of a system committed to protecting the liberty of its citizens. It had to be supplemented by the privilege of being governed by one’s own laws or by people of one’s choice. A democratic government was regarded to be important for giving power to the individual. Most Enlightenment theorists recognized that power to the people may not translate into freedom of the people. The latter entailed “doing what one should want to, and in not being compelled to do what one should not want to”.

Liberty did not however imply the freedom to follow one’s whims or to do that which is not permitted by law. Almost all of them accepted the importance of law. For them, obeying laws was a necessary condition of protecting liberty. If individuals were to follow their own impulse by infringing the law then there would only be anarchy in society. Political liberty could exist only when individual citizens acknowledge the centrality of law and subject themselves to its command. Indeed, the presence of political and civil laws was seen as a continuous reminder to the individual of his duty to his fellow citizens. Some theorists of Enlightenment even represented law as an embodiment of reason. For them laws place the necessary restraint upon passions of individuals to violate the natural order and, at the same time, they induce men to channel their sentiments in a direction that facilitates social and civil life in the world. Individuals, in their view, can enjoy liberty only when public safety is ensured and crimes of all kinds are reduced, if not eliminated. It was regarded to be the task of the legislature to ensure this; in particular, to ensure that crime of all kinds becomes less frequent, even if that means using powerful means at its disposal to prevent disorder in society.

The point that needs to be emphasized here is that the Enlightenment men accepted that individuals tend overwhelmingly to pursue their own interest and this can be a cause of political disorder. Laws were, for this reason, considered necessary to place certain restraint upon unchecked pursuit of one’s own private interest. However, they felt that it was equally important to see that punishments for defying the law are in proportion to the evil produced by the act. Marcese di Baccaria in fact spoke of the need to devise a universal scale for measuring crime and for determining the punishment proportionate for it. If we could have a universal scale of this kind, Baccaria believed, it would be possible to measure the degree of liberty and slavery, humanity and cruelty that exists in different nations. What must also be mentioned here is that the Enlightenment was concerned not only with the excesses perpetrated by despotic regimes but also by the inhumanity of man to man, and it was the latter that they hoped to minimize. Reforming the system of government and the practices incorporated in existing laws was but a means to realize this end. In other words,

civility for the Enlightenment meant something more than rule of law. Obeying laws was necessary but what was equally necessary was that laws reflect the principle of general reason. Indeed, obedience was emphasized because laws were supposed to create conditions in which individual liberty is protected and enhanced.

The discourse on crime and punishment formed a part of the Enlightenment’s larger concern for creating a free and enlightened society. Just as the natural scientists hoped to achieve greater control over the physical elements through their knowledge, the social scientists believed that their understanding of the laws of human nature and society would enable them to eliminate evil and create a better world. Theorists of Enlightenment were full of optimism in this regard. They felt that all limitations could be overcome and a free world could be created. In part this optimism was fostered by the new forms of production introduced by the capitalist economy and the technological innovations spurred by the growth of scientific knowledge.

The Enlightenment thinkers favoured freedom of enterprise. Adam Smith argued that even though individuals seek this freedom to further their own private gain, nevertheless the pursuit of self-interest is likely to promote the interest of society as a whole. Freedom of enterprise would lead to growth in production, more employment opportunities, and this would benefit all citizens. Although these philosophers defended capitalist enterprise and argued that a life of virtue did not entail forsaking commercial society, they created space for themselves away from the world of business, politics and fashion. In the salons, coffee-houses and taverns of the emerging modern cities they would meet, discuss and express opinions that would be among the most influential ideas of their times. More importantly, men, and sometimes even women, would meet as friends and as equals. Addison and Steele saw coffee-house conversation as a form of social interaction that “taught men tolerance, moderation and the pleasure of consensus. It also taught them to look at their own behaviour with a critical detachment which was difficult to acquire in public life”. The Enlightenment theorists placed considerable stress on the spirit of critique. For them virtue lay in teaching ourselves to be critical of our beliefs and in learning how to review our opinions in the light of experience. Cultivating skeptical habits of mind would, according to Hume, help to release men from the bondage of myth and prejudice which corrupts the mind and generates enthusiasm that can stand in the way of human happiness.

Education was to play an important role in this regard. The Enlightenment had tremendous faith in the power of human beings brought up rationally from infancy to achieve unlimited progress. They also entrusted the state with the responsibility of changing the structure of laws and institutions, and undertaking the work of reform. Surrounded by a world that was full of promise for a better tomorrow, the Enlightenment thinkers wished to instill the spirit of tolerance and minimize crime and torture. They were of course aware that knowledge about human nature and society would not automatically create virtue, but they believed that it could certainly shed light upon ignorance and warn us against the misuse of power.

2.6 SUMMARY

The ideas of the Enlightenment, in particular, its faith in scientific method of investigation, its optimism that the new era of scientific-technological advancement and industrialization would lead to a world filled with happiness for all and its attempts to create a social order based on the principles of human reason, tolerance and equality, effected a profound social and intellectual revolution. Although votaries of Enlightenment had little political clout in the first half of the 18th century, theirs was
The Enlightenment











































































29

Theories of the
Modern World
perhaps the most popular voice by the end of that century. Certainly it was the most effective in determining what constitutes a ‘modern’ outlook. The distinction that they posited between tradition and modernity, religion and science, their reliance on reform and state initiatives for re-structuring society provided a model of development that would be endorsed not only in the advanced industrialized societies but also in the colonized world. Indeed, all over the world Enlightenment was to become synonymous with modernity.

The influence of Enlightenment is evident as much in the modernization theories that dominated the study of societies in the mid-twentieth century as it is in the social reform movements of the nineteenth century in India. The former invoked Enlightenment’s understanding of the past and present, tradition and modernity to rank societies and to construct a model of a modern, democratic polity. The latter drew upon the humanist liberalism of the Enlightenment and attempted to bring religion and custom in line with the principles of human reason. They subjected traditional practices to critical scrutiny and struggled to change those that violated the fundamental principles of equality and tolerance. So strong was the impact of the Enlightenment upon these reformers that they welcomed the new ideas that came with the British rule and believed that when they ask for self-government it would be granted to them. Although the exploitative nature of the colonial rule is readily acknowledged today, the Enlightenment conception of individual and its faith in scientific knowledge and free enterprise continue to dominate the popular imagination even today.












































30

No comments:

Post a Comment