What the Age of Enlightenment brought about
One of our basic beliefs is that the human condition has improved over the course of history and will continue to improve thanks to the accumulation of human knowledge.
The belief in progress stretches back to the 18th century when the intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment started in a full-fledged manner in Europe.
The Age of Enlightenment, which has exerted a tremendous force during the past three centuries, has mankind really progressed a lot?
In their book “Dialectic of Enlightenment” published in the 1940s, Frankfurt School philosophers of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno came up with the above question.
Their suspicions were understandable because they have seen the tragedy of two world wars and the rise of fascism and totalitarianism, including Nazism and Stalinism, as well as the development of nuclear bombs.
Against this backdrop, the authors appeared to lose their belief in the positive power of human reason, or the backbone of enlightenment.
“Reason serves as a universal tool for the fabrication of all other tools, rigidly purpose-directed and as calamitous as the precisely calculated operations of material production, the results of which for human beings escape all calculation,” they said.
“Reason’s old ambition to be purely an instrument of purposes has finally been fulfilled.”
Of note is that the two authors are quite critical of Friedrich Nietzsche, possibly due to the suspicions that the 19th-century philosopher helped lay the theoretical foundation for the German national socialism, or Nazism.
Still, some believe that Nietzsche helped paved the way for such extreme worldviews as Nazism. Even some experts support such understanding.
But Nietzsche has been cleared of such charges as more in-depth studies were carried out about his work. And I also think that Nietzsche deserves better treatments than those of Horkheimer and Adorno.