As Jonathan Haidt puts it,. Societies that forego the exoskeleton of religion should reflect carefully on what will happen to them over several generations. We don't really know, because the first atheistic societies have only emerged in Europe in the last few decades. They are the least efficient societies ever known at turning resources of which they have a lot into offspring of which they have few.
Historiography of the enlightenment
Is reason really so useful where premises and goals are not already shared? To be sure, in nearly all cases, moral value, as people endeavor to realize it, is not the product of rational deliberation, but of intuition. As Pinker knows very well, our moral judgments tend to be unconscious, automatic, reflexive: the head is put to work, post hoc , to advocate for what the heart or character feels. Again, where we do not start out from a position of agreement or, anyway, of deep sympathy, is not reason more likely to be a vehicle of disagreement, and of strife, in many instances? Ask yourself, common reader, whether with respect to some vital subject, in your own experience, it is typically the case that you come to agree with another, despite starting out from opposite poles.
Or is it not rather more common—indeed the norm—for such situations to begin in hostility, whether mild or intense, and end in the same? Or again, does it not often happen, even when people set out to argue with good intentions, that the affair quickly devolves into rancor? For my own part, I am often struck by how futile it is to try to persuade my friends and family to agree with me, let alone those who are indifferent to my existence or worse.
But history shows such plans to be untenable.
Benjamin Franklin: the Enlightenment Figure Essay
After all, men and women must be answerable to some collective moral principles, and if they do not issue at the local level, in the form, to at least some degree, of a shared tradition, where are they to come from? It is here in this debased and debasing Christianity, as much as anywhere, one could argue, that we find what is likely to come from a secular liberal rationalist morality. The pseudo-religion of political correctness is not, I think, any less robust or less likely to last than the vague, thin, diffuse secular humanism Pinker cherishes.
The American public, to be sure, can never have too much optimism. All the world, thanks to reason, being as liberal as the Harvard professorate? One may well question, as Nietzsche did, the long-term tenability of this project—that is, to what extent and for how long people will be disposed to act on this Christian inheritance. Historically, our species has relied on more affecting sources of deep value. Yet what if one wants more from life and mankind than increased prosperity, longer lives, greater safety, and the like materialistic goods? What if one is not convinced that universal suffrage is a good thing?
Indeed, this last item is especially apt. And yet, given the intrinsic struggles and difficulties between the sexes, that is actually no wonder. Nor is it a wonder that Pinker, with his general blind spot for incompatible values and interests, has nothing insightful to say about the battle of the sexes. Unlike more searching liberals of the past, he does not see that excellence and equality are in intrinsic tension. Concerned as he is with individuals, Pinker overlooks the vexed state of the American family. In a recent essay for Vogelin View , I cited a number of statistics showing just how bad things are in the fundamental and most important social unit.
At the end of the work I observed:. The marriage script consisted of customs that were born of need and reflected the collective, organic wisdom of the species.
Why believe that enough people, through mere reason, will elect to follow the marriage script, which, needless to say, is not itself the product of reason? Cheap sex ends when women collectively stop yielding to men's non-committal advances, whereupon men must collectively commit to women. But this situation is now a matter of personal, rationalistic choice, not of expected, enforced submission to organic customs borne of practical necessity.
The debasement of marriage therefore seems likely to continue. It is by no means clear that mere reason can improve the declining family. Unlike religion, humanism elevates personal autonomy as the highest good. Very well, one might say, but social cohesion bears the cost of that elevation, and nowhere is the ensuing social dysfunction more significant than in the family, the implications of whose debasement cannot be overestimated, for where the family goes, culture and politics follow.
In my life I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, and so on. Political liberty is not possible in a despotic political system, but it is possible, though not guaranteed, in republics and monarchies. Generally speaking, establishing political liberty requires two things: the separation of the powers of government, and the appropriate framing of civil and criminal laws so as to ensure personal security. He took the view that the Roman Republic had powers separated so that no one could usurp complete power.
In the British constitutional system, Montesquieu discerned a separation of powers among the monarch, Parliament, and the courts of law. He also notes that liberty cannot be secure where there is no separation of powers, even in a republic. By the time he left school, Voltaire had decided he wanted to be a writer, against the wishes of his father, who wanted him to become a lawyer.
In , his father obtained a job for him as a secretary to a French ambassador in the Netherlands, but Voltaire was forced to return to France after a scandalous affair.
From early on, he had trouble with the authorities over his critiques of the government. These activities were to result in two imprisonments and a temporary exile to England. He mainly argued for religious tolerance and freedom of thought. Voltaire was a versatile writer, producing works in almost every literary form, including plays, poems, novels, essays, and historical and scientific works. He wrote more than 20, letters and more than 2, books and pamphlets. He was an outspoken advocate of several liberties, despite the risk this placed him in under the strict censorship laws of the time.
As a satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize intolerance, religious dogma, and the French institutions of his day. Most of his prose, including such genres as romance, drama, or satire, was written as polemics with the goal of conveying radical political and philosophical messages.
The book was quickly banned. In it, Voltaire is concerned with the injustices of the Catholic Church, which he sees as intolerant and fanatical. At the same time, he espouses deism, tolerance, and freedom of the press. It represents the culmination of his views on Christianity, God, morality, and other subjects.
Voltaire had an enormous influence on the development of historiography through his demonstration of fresh new ways to look at the past. Voltaire broke from the tradition of narrating diplomatic and military events, and emphasized customs, social history, and achievements in the arts and sciences. The Essay traced the progress of world civilization in a universal context, thereby rejecting both nationalism and the traditional Christian frame of reference.
Voltaire was also the first scholar to make a serious attempt to write the history of the world, eliminating theological frameworks and emphasizing economics, culture, and political history. He treated Europe as a whole, rather than a collection of nations. In his criticism of the French society and existing social structures, Voltaire hardly spared anyone. He perceived the French bourgeoisie to be too small and ineffective, the aristocracy to be parasitic and corrupt, the commoners as ignorant and superstitious, and the church as a static and oppressive force useful only on occasion as a counterbalance to the rapacity of kings, although all too often, even more rapacious itself.
Voltaire distrusted democracy, which he saw as propagating the idiocy of the masses.
The 50 Most Influential Living Philosophers
His mother died several days after he was born, and after his father remarried a few years later, Jean-Jacques was left with his maternal uncle, who packed him away, along with his own son, to board for two years with a Calvinist minister in a hamlet outside Geneva. Here, the boys picked up the elements of mathematics and drawing. After his father and uncle had more or less disowned him, the teenage Rousseau supported himself for a time as a servant, secretary, and tutor, wandering in Italy and France.
He had been an indifferent student, but during his 20s, which were marked by long bouts of hypochondria, he applied himself to the study of philosophy, mathematics, and music.
Kant’s Social and Political Philosophy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Rousseau spent his adulthood holding numerous administrative positions and moving across Europe, often to escape a controversy caused by his radical writings. His relationships with various women had important impacts on his life choices e. Rousseau died in In common with other philosophers of the day, Rousseau looked to a hypothetical state of nature as a normative guide. The Social Contract outlines the basis for a legitimate political order within a framework of classical republicanism.
Published in , it became one of the most influential works of political philosophy in the western tradition. Rousseau claimed that the state of nature was a primitive condition without law or morality, which human beings left for the benefits and necessity of cooperation. As society developed, division of labor and private property required the human race to adopt institutions of law. According to Rousseau, by joining together into civil society through the social contract, and abandoning their claims of natural right, individuals can both preserve themselves and remain free.
This is because submission to the authority of the general will of the people as a whole guarantees individuals against being subordinated to the wills of others, and also ensures that they obey themselves because they are, collectively, the authors of the law. Although Rousseau argues that sovereignty or the power to make the laws should be in the hands of the people, he also makes a sharp distinction between the sovereign and the government.
He posits that the political aspects of a society should be divided into two parts. The second division is that of the government, being distinct from the sovereign. This division is necessary because the sovereign cannot deal with particular matters like applications of the law.
Doing so would undermine its generality, and therefore damage its legitimacy. Thus, government must remain a separate institution from the sovereign body. When the government exceeds the boundaries set in place by the people, it is the mission of the people to abolish such government, and begin anew.
Rousseau felt that children learn right and wrong through experiencing the consequences of their acts, rather than through physical punishment. Rousseau became an early advocate of developmentally appropriate education. The private sphere as Rousseau imagines it depends on the subordination of women, in order for both it and the public political sphere upon which it depends to function as Rousseau imagines it could and should.
Rousseau anticipated the modern idea of the bourgeois nuclear family, with the mother at home taking responsibility for the household, childcare, and early education. Nicolas de Condorcet, known also as Marquis de Condorcet, was a French philosopher, mathematician, and early political scientist. Condorcet was born in and raised by a devoutly religious mother. From to , he focused on science. In , he published his first work on mathematics, launching his career as a mathematician.
In , he was elected to the French Royal Academy of Sciences. Condorcet worked with Leonhard Euler and Benjamin Franklin. He soon became an honorary member of many foreign academies and philosophic societies, but his political ideas, particularly that of radical democracy, were criticized heavily in the English-speaking world, most notably by John Adams. In , Condorcet wrote a pamphlet, Reflections on Negro Slavery , in which he denounced slavery.