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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bring back the Enlightenment

In the process of reading The God Delusion, I became aware of Richard Dawkins' new initiative, The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason. I went to the Foundation's site and was suitably impressed by both the Foundation's mission and the quality of the site itself.

Dawkins says on the site, "The enlightenment is under threat. So is reason. So is truth. So is science, especially in the schools of America." This is absolutely correct. Indeed, one of the things that concerns me about the field of political philosophy - where I claim a degree of expertise - is its retreat from the values of the Enlightenment. Communitarians seek to preserve traditional mores and beliefs that surely deserve corrosive sceptical scrutiny. Even philosophical liberals, such as the late John Rawls, go out of their way to assure us that they do not espouse Enlightenment liberalism.

Well, why not? The world needs more Enlightenment liberalism.


Anonymous said...

A friend of mine uses the phrase 'The Endarkenment' to represent the current phrase of virulently anti-science religious and corporate propaganda - a phase from which hopefully we are beginning to emerge.

That said, I don't like the sound of Dawkins book. Philosophy that takes aim at the easy targets and then crows victory and proceeds to lecture the world.

Russell Blackford said...

I don't think that what Dawkins is doing is exactly like shooting fish in a barrel, though. Many of the points he makes are against the grain of intellectual fashion.

It's not just religion and corporations that have done a lot of damage. I think the political Left has a lot to answer for in its repudiation of Enlightenment ideals and the succour it has given to anti-science irrationalism and socially conservative attitudes. I mean, I'm very much a child of the Left ... but I often feel betrayed by it in many ways.

Blake Stacey said...

It wasn't until recently that I realized the Enlightenment was more than yet another period tabulated in the dustiest of my high-school textbooks. While I was raised on a diet of Asimov, Feynman and Sagan, I never connected the worldview I had developed with that wonderful word, Enlightenment. I have always seen rational inquiry as important and too often sorely lacking, but connecting myself to a movement and a history, aha, that's an intoxicating feeling.

This might explain why I've taken to hanging around David Brin's blog so much these days. (We met at a complex-systems conference this past summer; thanks to our prior interactions online, we had the oddest feeling we had met before.) At one point, I provided a guest post on anti-science irrationality and the political axis.