Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tzvetan Todorov - The Defence of the Enlightenment - Philosophy Bites audio


Crabsallover Summary: The philosopher Tzvetan Todorov was born in Bulgaria and lives in France. His new book "The Defence of the Enlightenment", is a very difficult read, but this podcast with Nigel Warburton of Philosophy Bites is an easy summary of his ideas. The core ideas of the The Enlightenment were:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Humanity
  3. Universiality
  4. Criticism 

  • The Enlightenment (TE) was the period (17/18th century) during which modern identity was forged
  • TE arose in several European countries
  • TE is idea of Autonomy 
    • we decide as humans, 'within a certain sphere', what action to take. 
      • but individual has to protect himself from the invasion of the collective will
    • Autonomy includes the collective body of society (The State) - The Sovereignty of The People
  • Almost none of TE ideas was born in age of Enlightenment - it was a new combination - most TE ideas date back to ancient Greeks etc 
  • in that period TE integration into social life eg French Revolution / America Indepandance. 
  • Christianity dominated European society between period of ancient greeks and 18th century.
  • Autonomy gave 
    • freedom of: knowledge 
      • did not have to submit to religion authority
    • freedom of The Arts 
      • no need to sing praise of kings or nobles or to illustrate religion
  • Humanity is the final goal of human action
    • St Augustine 4th - only action, to enjoy for itself, was worshipping God
    •  TE - human beings are the final goal - the 'saving' of humanity was not the aim - it was the happiness of humanity which was now the goal
    • legacy of Renaissance Humanism
      • civil law was changed so that religious sins were not punished - only crimes of society were punished
  • Universality
    • Natural Right Theory - 1) general universal rules AND 2) plurality of cultures eg Montesquieu wrote 'The Spirit of Laws'
  • Defence of TE
    • Enemies of TE: TS Elliot, The Pope - John Paul 11, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 
      • believed that without a transcendent basis, human societies were condemned to endless war and no values could be defended
      • contemporary enemies are theocracies and fundamentalist states (mostly islam) but also sects of christians and jews and other religious fanatics
    • Contemporary critics say TE was the parent of:-
      • Colonialism  - TE was justification - but just a facade - not just enlightening distant people - but showing power & pride of country ['macho' behaviour]
      • Communism - totalitarian empires - was suppression of personal freedom and elimination of bourgeois society so that 'equality' could be established
        • cf TE did give us individual freedom, universality, equality of members of society
      • Modernity (reason) has given nuclear bombs, The Holocaust - not a product of TE
        • TE shares only some features, not all, of modernity
        • today we aspire to emancipation, progress, freedom, equality, universiality.
    • Optimistic ideas are not necessarily a product of TE (eg Rousseau) - destruction of nature and human society. Also David Hume, Immanuel Kant - balance between care for common good and individual interest
    • 'Work more to gain more' is anti TE (ideal of French president)
    • Criticism - is spirit of TE - open criticism and debate
    • Are we winning the battle for The Enlightenment? I'm not sure.

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