Individualism and life in common


III. The Enlightenment and Its Influence in Today



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III. The Enlightenment and Its Influence in Today

Along with Paul Ricoeur we can say that the Enlightenment went through two different periods. There was a first and a second Enlightenment: 1) the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and 2) the one that began in the nineteenth century and flourished in the twentieth. Both began with doubt, methodological doubt. However, the first Enlightenment retrieved consciousness and found certainty (Descartes: Cogito, ergo sum) while the second, in retrieving consciousness found only suspicion. The first is characterized by excessive confidence in a certain type of reason and by the exaltation of the subjective consciousness of the person (Kant). For the second the consciousness itself is a creator of illusion, maker of masks, and the great impostor. The consciousness itself had to be unmasked, especially when it takes shape in the religious (Mark, Freud, Nietzsche).


There are two important elements in this evolution. Atheism (and agnosticism) presents itself as related to ethics. It is morally attractive, in as much as it wants to be “honest,” eliminating the lies and masks (faith in God seen as “bad faith”). Hypocrisy is the great sin, sincerity the great virtue. Seen in this way, consciousness is able to save itself, when it surprises itself with its own tricks.

The second characteristic is interest in meaning more than truth. There is more concern for usefulness (personal and social) than for truth.


Modern culture has been called the irruption of secularization. It is as if in the second half of the twentieth century, the Enlightenment reached the masses. What had been, up to that time, ideas of intellectuals, philosophers and eccentric atheists, now was becoming a universal culture, thanks to better communication and more widespread education. The cultural revolution that has been spreading since the 60’s, seems to be a quantitative extension of ideas that had been floating around since the eighteenth century. Then there is the phenomenon of globalization, which in large part is the exportation of western cultural models, accompanied by a new system of colonizing. Even though of a different nature, the present phenomenon of the “Arab Springtime” is never the less connected with the expansion of enlightenment ideas. Some see this as the thing that has come closest to the experience of the Enlightenment in the Islamic world.




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