in Is Enlightenment humanism a coherent world view?, Winton Bates has continued his discussion on streams in Western thought. He concludes:
Over time, it seems to me that the values espoused by Enlightenment humanism have developed the status of a coherent world view in the democracies that is often, but not always, supported by public opinion. The process seems to be one in which disparate political philosophies, often going back centuries, act as tributaries to the broad streams of thought that flow into the rivers of public opinion. Enlightenment humanism is one of those broad streams of thought. The colour of the water in the streams and the rivers changes over time, depending on relative contributions from the different tributaries.
Winton's piece is worth reading.
Surely, words like civilisation and progress themselves need acceptable definitions before we can arrive at a consensus?
These two words have gained a lot of notoriety because of the heavy slant towards the Western idea of them. That other parts of the world could have different ideas need to be recognised and accommodated.
Ramana's comment bears upon both Winton's discussion and my own musings around concepts like civilisation and progress. I agree with Ramana's point about the importance of definitions, I have argued this myself, although I* am not sanguine about the second point, the arrival at a consensus.
Ramana's second paragraph raises some complicated issues. At least I find them complicated!
The loose cross-blog discussion going on at present is in part about the history of certain ideas, their evolution and diffusion.
Winton's post refers to in part to the difference the British and continental especially French views linked to the Enlightenment. I have always thought of the Enlightenment with its focus on the importance of reason in advancing knowledge as being very French or, to a lesser degree German, and not always rational.
I say the last because I found the theoretical structures erected by the rational application of thought based on certain premises both opaque and increasingly divergent from reality. The great secular religions of socialism and communism can be traced back to European thought associated with the Enlightenment.
The English and, to a lesser extent, British tradition was different. The industrial and agrarian revolutions that formed the base of the current global economy began in Britain. The loss of the American colonies, the Napoleonic Wars, the demands of managing a global mercantile Empire acquired almost by accident, all tempered English thought. The practical rather than theoretical was in demand.
Earlier I said the difference between the British and continental view. I used the word British rather than English because of the importance of the Scottish contribution. There is a remarkable but little known story here that skepticlawyer (Helen Dale) has traced through in some of her posts.
I first visited Edinburgh straight after Paris and was struck by it's French feel. The "auld alliance" between Scotland and France exercises influence to this day. In her writing, Helen traced the way in which concepts from Rome and more broadly Europe influenced Scottish thought. The Scottish Enlightenment was one result. Wikipedia describes it in this way.
Sharing the humanist and rationalist outlook of the European Enlightenment of the same time period, the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment asserted the fundamental importance of human reason combined with a rejection of any authority which could not be justified by reason. They held to an optimistic belief in the ability of humanity to effect changes for the better in society and nature, guided only by reason. It was this latter feature which gave the Scottish Enlightenment its special flavour, distinguishing it from its continental European counterpart. In Scotland, the Enlightenment was characterised by a thoroughgoing empiricism and practicality where the chief virtues were held to be improvement, virtue and practical benefit for both the individual and society as a whole.
Scotland's population was relatively small, but it was highly educated by then standards, with an estimated 75% of the population literate by 1750. Local opportunities were small, so the Scots were forced to seek opportunities elsewhere. The result was a pragmatic, outward looking, approach. It is no coincidence that Adam Smith was a key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment.
I said that the loose cross-blog discussion going on at present is in part about the history of certain ideas, their evolution and diffusion. Inevitably, that discussion extends to the impact of those ideas. Adam Smith is an example, for non-one could deny his continuing influence even among those who have not read a word written by him! However, the discussion extends further into the continuing validity of the ideas in question. Here I want to reintroduce Ramana's point.
Ramana noted that these two words- progress and civilisation - have gained a lot of notoriety because of the heavy slant towards the Western idea of them. He also said that other parts of the world could have different ideas that need to be recognised and accommodated.
The ideas of civilisation and progress are deeply embedded in Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thought. They do have a particular impact today because they manifest themselves in the activities of Governments. The constitution of, and approach adopted by, the US is still linked to its Enlightenment foundation.
You can see this if you watch West Wing, a show my family is addicted too. The Democratic Party President and especially staffers express Enlightenment views. But then, so do their opponents, for the Enlightenment was actually a broad church. Both sides display another Enlightenment position, a certainty that their position is right!
I don't actually know to what extent ideas such as progress and civilisation manifest manifest themselves in different cultures. When Ramana says that they have gained a lot of notoriety because of the heavy slant towards the Western idea of them, I can understand the political context. I am just not sure what the alternative is.
I suppose, and this is a bit of a challenge to Ramana, I need to understand the concepts embedded in alternative views. My feeling is, and I stand to be corrected, that it's actually the way of application rather than the concepts that are the problem.