In this essay, I will be discussing the elements of two opposing movements, the Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment, in order to argue that the Enlightenment is better than the Counter-Enlightenment. The main philosophers of the Enlightenment are Kant, Diderot, Descartes, and many others. The main Philosophers of the Counter-Enlightenment are Vico, Hamann, Herder, and many others. I will use their examples to help further my argument and to explain the differences between the Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment. I will use examples from the texts to strengthen my argument, and make my paper flow by using transitional phrases.
To prove that the Enlightenment makes a better case, I need to first present both sides of the argument. The Enlightenment values are mainly about universality, natural laws, free exercise of reason, adulthood, rationality, permanent solutions, and maturity. Vice versa, the Counter-Enlightenment is about imagination, subjectivity, no permanent solutions, and particularity. But to fully understand all of these terms, I need to better define and examine them in depth. I will start first with the Enlightenment ideals. Universality is the idea that no matter how many different views or opinions that all different cultures have, they can all be put into a set of truths or laws that define human nature and what we all agree on.
A good example of this was the theorist Kant and how he discusses the definition of Enlightenment. He talks about the ideas of how everyone in the world needs to reach Enlightenment, and that most people are held back from their own thinking by other people. This also brings in the idea of maturity, since Kant’s definition includes maturing to reach Enlightenment. Maturity is the idea that you grow as a person and are more adult-like in nature. You become a more just and enlightened person in the process of maturity. Kant also talked about adulthood and free exercise of reason. Adulthood is just the idea that you have matured, but you can still be an adult and be non-mature, so you are not at true adulthood.
To be a true adult, you need to reach Enlightenment, and speak your own mind, which is what the free exercise of reason is all about. In the view of the Enlightenment thinkers, if people have no free exercise of reason, then everything is destroyed, tyranny and destruction result and there is no hope anymore. There are also the term natural laws, which is talking about laws that everyone can follow, such as freedom of press or speech, but it can also refer to laws such as gravity or inertia, where they are constant and unchanging. These can be used to determine a framework of humanity in the view of Enlightenment thinkers, or how humans have a general set of rules that they follow across cultures and civilizations. The last two terms in the Enlightenment sphere are permanent solutions and rationality. Permanent solutions are ideas such as curing cancer or creating the polio vaccine, you use rationality to make these solutions and think broadly about problems to find the solution. Rationality is the idea that you need to be un-biased and think objectively about things, trying not to bring in biased opinions, to make the most worthwhile solution from just pure logic. All of these terms are stated to serve as my anchor of my argument, to build upon it is to create a strong argument.
Now, the Counter-Enlightenment has a few terms as well which makes up the base of their philosophy and theory. It embodies the ideas of imagination, subjectivity, no permanent solutions, particularity, and also a sense of control and cynicism and suffering is inevitable. The term imagination used by the Counter-Enlightenment thinkers is defined as more of freedom to not stick to one set of laws or values that bring us together, which then brings a few problems in which I will address later in this essay. Laws and values need to change in order for people to think clearly and with freedom of imagination, according to Counter-Enlightenment thinkers.
This also brings up the term of subjectivity, because Counter-Enlightenment thinkers want everyone’s opinions and differences to be in account. The whole Counter-Enlightenment movement is an amalgamation of different theorists and viewpoints that widely differ, which shows their true subjectivity. There is also the idea of no permanent solutions, so no one cure to cancer, no one peace treaty, which makes some sense in terms of one solution can’t fix it all, but it brings a certain cynical lens that makes life seem depressing and unchangeable. This will also be addressed later within the paper. Now, there are also the definitions of particularity and realism. Look at the hard facts, and look at them closely in order to correctly think about something.
The last important view of the Counter-Enlightenment theorists is the idea of suffering and how it is inevitable, but it also builds strong character if we endure it. It is seen as more of an individualistic approach compared to Enlightenment thinkers, less about the whole and more about the parts. Now that I have all the definitions in order, I will try to argue against supporting the Counter-Enlightenment ideologies and poke holes in their arguments and theories.
The Counter-Enlightenment ideology has quite a few problems, including their conflict between imagination and law and order. The Counter-Enlightenment thinkers have this notion of imagination, freedom of opinion and thought, but if there is too much of that, it will get out of control and be ruined. I think it is a conundrum because you can’t be heavy-handed and also support imagination and free thought. If say you will feed a horse all the food it wants, but then decide on restrictions of its food intake, you are breaking your earlier promise and ideology, and not being true to your original ideas.
So, I believe that the Counter-Enlightenment thinkers make a weaker argument and that the Enlightenment thinkers have a better grasp at supporting freedom of speech and freedom of imagination. In the Enlightenment view, there should be no barriers, no way to block speech, which is noble because everyone gets their say, no authority is stopping them or restricting them, as the Counter-Enlightenment theorists would like to have. Another idea of restriction comes to mind when thinking about the idea of suffering and how everyone suffers in the view of Counter-Enlightenment thinkers. If everyone suffers and life sucks, how does providing the idea of no permanent solutions make it any better? It fails to prove the 100 percent rule, there are exceptions to this, many people could say that they have never really suffered, depending on their environment and life-style.
Socrates enjoyed most of his life, and never really complained much, as from the apology, he discusses how them killing him is only hurting them, not himself. That he has not really suffered, he has lived a life full of questioning and inquisitiveness and isn’t afraid of death. Another problem with the Counter-Enlightenment theorists is their wide range of opinions. Yes, it is good to have a wide range of opinions, but when there is too many to make a whole opinion, it creates disorder. It is much simpler to use the Enlightenment way of thinking because it brings forth the universal laws, which are really complex in themselves, so we don’t need a massive amount of others opinions to explain things. The Enlightenment thinkers also have a more positive view of the world, viewing humans as naturally good and that everyone can change and become enlightened. I agree with that thinking because even with Socrates or Plato, they argued against people and won, even when they were ignorant or didn’t want to listen to them.
Now you may be thinking, well what did the Counter-Enlightenment thinkers do to rebuttal this? Well, they had a few things to say about the Enlightenment thinkers, such as the idea of a universal truth is bad and creates too rigid of a law. But, I see it as just a framework, all because one person has a law or truth, doesn’t mean that you can’t expand on that truth. It isn’t all black and white, there is a grey area that can be addressed using the Enlightenment thinking processes that isn’t in the Counter-Enlightenment processes. Another issue brought up by the Counter-Enlightenment thinkers is that the Enlightenment view is too high up in the clouds and too idealistic to work in the real world. While there is a good point in that argument, it is still flawed because idealism isn’t always a bad thing.
All because Enlightenment thinkers use idealism does not mean that they are not realistic and mix that in with their views. Counter-Enlightenment thinkers are very critical and hypocritical, their views being incongruent to each other which makes their argument even less valid in the process of it all. I see the Enlightenment theorists as making a better argument, because of all the reasons I just stated in this paper: better viewpoints, more accessible and flexible, easier to argue with and against because their viewpoints are together as one, there are grey areas, and the world isn’t always a terrible place of suffering and disorder.
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