Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Enlightened Tolerance

A thought:

[T]he Enlightenment [arose] out of a complex mixture of cultural-social and intellectual causes. The direct intellectual causes were what I call the "Philosophical Revolution" of the late seventeenth century and what historians have long referred to as the Scientific Revolution. The effects of the latter in changing notions of nature and natural causes are well known ... [T]he Philosophical Revolution ... has been underestimated but is of the greatest importance. At least six great philosophers—Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz and Bayle—stipulated, all within a very short space of time, that both the basic assumptions of centuries of previous thought and most men's actual beliefs and ideas at the time were fundamentally wrong. Furthermore, if it were possible to improve men's thinking and ideas this would considerably improve human life by making society safer, more tolerant, and better governed. ... Spinoza's contribution [was] foremost in crystallizing Radical Enlightenment ... primarily because his thought goes further than the others in undermining belief in revelation, divine providence and miracles, and hence ecclesiastical authority, and because he was the first great democratic philosopher.

Besides the Philosophical and Scientific Revolutions, there were also other fundamental cultural and social factors at work in preparing the ground for the Enlightenment ... [especially] the role of religious stalemate, with the Protestants and Catholics fighting each other to a draw at the end of the Thirty Years' War (1648). Surely God had to be on one side or the other, yet neither side won. How could this be? The psychological effect was tremendous, and the pressure to develop notions of tolerance and justifications for co-existence of religions much increased.

-Jonathan Israel, "What Samuel Moyn Got Wrong in His Nation Article," History News Network

The trouble with all such analysis is where do you draw the line over antecedent causes?

Arguably before the philosophical and scientific enlightenment could start there needed to be a thorough debunking of the spiritual power establishment.

You can choose an early start to the Scientific and Philosophical Enlightement (Newton and Descartes) of around the middle of the 17th century.

But prior to this the Christian church had gone through a harrowing loss of spiritual authority - the Great Schism, the failure of the Crusades, the impotence during the Great Pestilence, vernacular translations, loss of temporal power (e.g. Henry VIII), and then Protestantism. All of this, together with other social changes, broke the idea of the 'magical' way of life managed by the Church. That left the way open for new ways of thought.

History, one damn thing after another.
Yes, the 'history of ideas' is, itself, just an idea.
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