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Enlightenment is termed as the man’s ability to use sense without influence from another or the man’s ability to reason which is in most cases self- incurred. Some authors have been characterized by their ardent desire to deny the power experienced through enlightenment. They are much against it since its conception in the seventeenth century.
Therefore, Enlightenment as a process has faced mixed reactions from different people from different places. Most of the European writers have been for the idea while German writers on the other hand have opposed the idea terming it as beneficial to some people and detrimental to others.
The three by-words of the Enlightenment are Reason that is a belief that employs common sense or reason that the world would improve; Autonomy, which is a belief that people would realize freedom and natural rights and Progress, which is a belief that the future would be better and better. This paper gives some of the authors that have challenged the process of Enlightenment and their views as far as Enlightenment is concerned.
What Enlightenment entails
Enlightenment is in various ways the defining cerebral question of our time. It is a major component of our cultural and intellectual tradition even as we put our feet forward to advance our knowledge in schools as we enhance self worth and proclaim self-liberty.
Many have written on ways to overcome Enlightenment terming it as a bad omen to their societies by providing vituperative criticism of the Enlightenment. Examples include Friedrich who fights foot and nail to crucify the works of authors like Descartes and Kant, just to mention but a few.
Concerning reason, science and even human progress, Descartes and Darwin showed sincere faith by promoting the same in their scholarly works. Mill and Rousseau on the other hand had their positive focus on freedom and liberty. All of these were for Enlightenment, which Nietzsche opposed greatly. He was stoutly opposed to the ideas of the elites and stood firmly on his ground to defend his ideologies to an extent that they held much water to be watered down with ease by other authors of the time.
Friedrich on Enlightenment
The principles indispensable for the Enlightenment as far as Friedrich is concerned are that human beings are rational beings capable of existing primarily on their own without any help from any supernatural being like God. Back in the eighteenth century, people knew power in terms of reason. If any was to reason and make their own decision then they had power.
This was a unifying factor back in the days and called for criticism as far as universal reasoning was concerned from Friedrich. It had a great impact on the nature of science and politics. It is evident that if all used their reason without fear, then anything opposing their decisions would have no power other than to submit to their authority. This applies too in the political arena where if people were to use reason, they would achieve the best that politics would ever have in store for any generation.
This would mean autonomy and freedom from oppression. There would be more unity as opposed to the fights sparked by discontent of the leaders who happen to embrace dictatorship and oppression, which seems to be their only way of making known their leadership. According to Peter Gay (1966) enlightenment is a program that comprises of three major aspects (p. 56).
They include secularism, humanity and freedom. Humanity’s demand is that it should be recognized as a responsible being. This claim is also true in that other authors wanted a community that lurked in freedom even as they relinquish their rights to the entire society. Therefore, human beings should be allowed to have the benefit of freedom on individual basis without interception from the unjust state. Knowledge to the thinkers that understand the natural world of freedom is used in the best possible manner.
Enlightenment thinkers had a lot of confidence in the use of coherent principles to exterminate social problems that invaded the societies and thus making utopian society.
This is termed by Hampson as “unprecedented optimism concerning the nature of man and his ability to shape his material and social environment to his own convenience” (1968, p. 67). The Enlightenment of progress would ensure that human beings advance in their endeavors. Nietzsche opposed this kind of Enlightenment terming it as naïve and out of order. He was not for the idea of people living their own lives without fear.
Nietzsche attacked the seventeenth, eighteenth and the nineteenth century Enlightenment. Even with all this, he did not escape it for in many aspects did he find himself embracing it though with a slight change from the founders of the Enlightenment. He saw Enlightenment as wide and bold, authoritative and startling at the same time. According to him, Enlightenment made disconcerting widespread assertions of human subsistence and society.
Reason as an Enlightenment pillar
Reason is one of the pillars of Enlightenment that is accorded precedence over all the other sources of knowledge and reliably can lead to absolute assurance of situations. Nietzsche attacked it from the roots when it was founded in the earlier centuries up to the practitioners of the same in his time. To him, the practitioners were more dangerous than the founders and this made him more aggressive in dealing with it.
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Nietzsche begins his criticism by criticizing rationality, which in the book, Will to Power, calls “Logical certainty, transparency, as criterion truth” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 56). He maintains that the world is not an epitome of eternal rationality. According to the Cartesian science, some truth will definitely lead to the growth that Enlightenment promises. According to Nietzsche, there is never a science in the first place and that there is nothing called thinking for a thought simply happens.
Nietzsche continues to oppose the political freedom arguing that there is nothing like liberalization instead, there are only danger, war and slavery in his school of thought and this is what matters in the political arenas. This in itself favors an agonistic representation of the human political conduct.
Additionally, Nietzsche is against any forms of social unities saying that the state of nature is terrible and that man is a beast of prey. Actually, he refers to the thought of nature as stupid and non-existent. To some extent, he likens the understanding of nature with the Christian ethics that he whole-heartedly hates.
He sarcastically undermines nature in a quote that says “….as if nature were freedom, goodness, innocence, justice, an idyll- still a cult of Christian morality fundamentally” (Nietzsche, 1984, p. 37). He indeed claims that the nature of the state of humanity is nothing but viciousness and salvage. He fails to acknowledge the value that civilization brings about. Corruption is dead thriving in his mentality and he maintains that it should be allowed to take course for according to him, it brings about some real development of the human order.
Nietzsche is one person who never believes in any form of intelligence. To him, intelligence of character, freedom and the world at large never exists and in its place lies experience- the world of experience. He is very much against freedom and criticizes progress with passion. Nietzsche believes in a form of progress that is different from the ruling norm that he resists passionately. He outwardly criticizes this kind of progress:
Whoever is superstitious is always, compared with the religious human being, much more of a person; and a superstitious society is one in which there are many individuals and much delight in individuality. In this perspective, superstition always appears as progress and as a sign that the intellect is becoming more independent and demands its rights.
Those who then complain of corruption are the adherents of the old religion and religiosity, and they have determined linguistic usage hitherto and given superstition a bad name among the freest spirits. Let us realize that it is actually a symptom of enlightenment (Nietzsche, 1984, p. 100).
From the excerpt, it is evident that Nietzsche is for the idea that Enlightenment challenges progress. He opposed every other political system Enlightenment. He consequently attacked the autonomy and the social Enlightenment that made working of the political systems easier.
According to him, this was a form of cultural decay and wanted everybody to be anti-political for them to live in the nineteenth century. To achieve this, he attacked the state by claiming that it was an institution meant to protect its individuals from each other. He claimed that if the state was over perfected it would eventually do away with the individuals. That is why he calls it destructive and merciless to its people.
Nietzsche did not support a democratic society because according to him it promoted modern decadency as well as the liberal democracy. In his argument, Nietzsche maintains that democracy was solely for mass protection and not individualized protection. In his book Twilight of the Idol, Nietzsche (1984) says that “the human being has become free—and how much more the spirit has become free—spits on the contemptible type of well-being dreamed of by the shopkeepers, Christians, cows and other democrats” (p. 18).
The use of cows in this case primarily depicts democracy as the ideology of the herds. It is nothing more of a political language that ought to be cast away. The belief in free will does not appear in his dictionary too. Nietzsche too had a view on progression and advancement that did not settle on the evolution of man but an Overman. He acknowledged that man evolved but failed to settle on him as the result but rather had another being past man.
Dostoevsky on Enlightenment
Another author that challenged Enlightenment is Fyodor Dostoevsky who believed in the totality of a person and the heart too. According to him, there was nothing as rationalism but rather a person’s experience brought about knowledge. He could not acknowledge the rule of law that governed human existence and coexistence with fellow beings.
Actually, Fyodor happens to be among the few that literary believed in themselves and stood their ground irrespective of the outcome thus causes him to flaw the fundamentals of Enlightenment. Fyodor believes that anything can be rationalized thus there is nothing as reasoning. He calls it flawed and foolish origin for knowledge.
He goes on to destroy the law of nature that makes justice claiming that it beats the purpose of forgiveness and personality, which is a self-centered endeavor. He believes that the heart reigns over the nature of law and that it controls the manner in which people act. He depicts man as a biped ungrateful being who even if you give him all the earthly possessions, all the happiness that there could ever be to an extent that the only thing that he should worry himself with is sleep; he will definitely not be satisfied.
Man will even when worrying about keeping historical records alone play the ingratitude game. He will destroy and set ablaze everything as he sets his mind and heart on the most extravagant and destructive nonsense, “for the sole purpose of proving to himself (as though that were so necessary) that men are still men and not keys on a piano” ( Dostoevsky, 1992, p. 35).
He brings out the fact that men prefer irrational thinking to reasoning. Freedom is a fundamental aspect in his metaphorical book, The Underground Man, but appears to contradict it by having the character in a secluded area where there is nothing as coexistence with others. He claims that authenticity is the main thing that calls for the desire to be a full human being and fulfils ones desires. He claims that the sole purpose of life is desire and it is not reason.
He claims that reason gives peace to the man’s reason power whereas desires are an expression of the human life, which includes reason at its entirety. He says that “I quite naturally want to live in order to fulfill my whole capacity for living, and not in order to fulfill my reasoning capacity alone, which is no more than some one-twentieth of my capacity for living” (Dostoevsky,1992, p. 31). He sees the law of nature as nothing that can answer any of his questions.
Mary on Enlightenment
Mary Shelley on the other side neither endorses nor discards Enlightenment fully. She poses a challenge to the reason in Enlightenment by bringing a monster as a character. Human proceedings are also in dilemma here. Frankenstein is a critique of justice that examines the influential powers of the rationalism and the Romanticism appeal to emotions.
She forms a concept of justice that is based on rationalism and emotions. She claims that emotional qualities should play a major role in administration of justice. According to her, objective justice is impossible as long as people will always be real and until they can conceal the subjective and emotional individualities.
Godwin, her father, maintains that human beings are social beings as opposed to Shelley who in essence brings a monster as a character that eventually kills its companion. She brings up the story to imply that justice is not about rationalism but rather the heart has the most natural power over justice.
Enlightenment has faced multiple challenges from the elite as far as Reason, Progress and Autonomy are concerned. As discussed above, the great thinkers and writers ought to curb the Enlightenment era and activities by airing their voices in black and white. This does not mean that it never occurred in the nineteenth century. Enlightenment is still embraced in the current century.
Dostoevsky, F. (1992). Notes for the Underground. New York: Bantam Books, 31-5.
Hampson, N. (1968). The Enlightenment: An Evaluation of its Assumptions, Attitudes and Values. New York: Penguin Books.
Nietzsche, F. (1984).Twilight of the Idols. In The Portable Nietzsche. New York: Penguin Books.
Peter, G. (1966). The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf