Pienso y Existo

noviembre 4, 2012

The Enlightenment and the boundaries of vision

Filed under: Pensamientos — Wilmar Perez @ 11:06 pm
Tags: , ,

The Enlightenment was a cultural movement that first appeared in Europe in the XVIII century as a consequence of several factors but mainly because of the eagerness of the European literate middle class to reason for themselves  (Wikipedia, 2012). After a century of crisis people started to look for alternative ways of thinking and alternative ways of development that, also, encompassed the expansion of literacy and the decline of religious prosecution (Tignor, et al., 2011, p. 542). The raising of the Enlightenment was, in part, possible because of the possibility given by the new tea and coffee houses as places to gather and discuss about the problems of the time (Tignor, et al., 2011, p. 542). It can be said that this cultural flowering was truly a product of its time.

People of the Enlightenment embraced ideas that had existed for a long time already but that owing to the political turnarounds of Europe could not had been discussed before (Wikipedia, 2012).  The world was started to be seen through the eyes of the scientific method rather than through the light of religion. It was conceived that the universe followed physical rules that applied to everybody, everywhere, disassociated of their origin or beliefs (Tignor, et al., 2011, p. 549). The the search for these universal laws can be exemplified in two of the most well-known works of the time: The wealth of the Nations, by Adam Smith, that constituted the foundation stone for the free market in which most occidental governments have based their economic development up to now; and the Philosophiae naturalis rincipia Mathematica , by Isaac Newton, which was actually written long before the time of the Enlightenment, but constituted the exemplification of the scientific method of thinking followed during the time where the arguments were founded on reasons (Wikipedia, 2012).

Even though the Enlightenment didn’t immediately change the live of the common people, it was the foundation for the development of further political ideas later on the XIX and XX centuries. For instance, rulers were not all thrilled by the idea of offering liberty and sovereign to all the people; women were not considered to be worthy of a political opinion as neither were men without property of education (Tignor, et al., 2011, p. 548). Some governments embraced the scientific part of the movement without committing for the individual and group liberties and rights. The book industries also experience a high level of development. Owing to the possibility of massive printing, allowed consumers to have access to not only book but also newspapers and journals that further helped in the spread of the ideas. Since there was increasingly more population in the big cities, there was also an incremented demand for information of all kinds: scientific, political, social and commercial (Wikipedia, 2012).

However, possibly the most important consequence of the Enlightenment was the general believe that was spread among Europeans that their way of thinking and society were superior to any other culture. This had strong consequences around the world for the Europeans had contact with societies in every corner of the planet. Europeans started to try to impose their ideas (not that they have not done it before, but now they had a systematic approach based on scientific convictions) especially on those societies that they deterred as inferior: all colonies and natives. Native religions were standardized as superstitions and their cultural background was simply disregarded as folklore. As a consequence, an important part of the cultural heritage of colonialized societies was lost and replaced by the systems imposed by Europe in a process now known as Eurocentrism. (Wallerstein, p. 4).

The Enlightenment helped Europe to rediscover knowledge they have lost centuries before, it shaped the basics of the scientific view of the world that holds foundations of the technological development that drives the current model of society followed by the majority of nations; it led the way for the recognition of all individuals as integral part of society, in spite of the long time that it has taken to integrate women, children and multiethnic representation into the skeleton that constitutes the political bodies of representation of most modern countries.

However, the Enlightenment also set a narrow view of the world. It drove society to disregard the richness of knowledge, scientific experience, music, cultural background and religious views of people that were in disadvantage with respect to Europeans. Even nowadays, most occidentals do not recognize alternative points of view different to those framed in its boundaries.

Reference Notes:

  • Tignor, R., Adelman, J., Aron, S., Brown, P., Elman, B., Kotkin, S., et al. (2011). Worlds Entangled, 1600-1750. Dans Worlds Together, Worlds Apart (p. 484). New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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