What is Enlightenment?

In dictionary terms, “enlightenment” means to give intellectual or spiritual light to; instruct; impart knowledge to. In a recent humanities core lecture I attended, I learned of three enlightenment values- reason, skepticism, and progress. Enlightenment is the max of always thinking for oneself. It is the freedom from segregation and prejudice. But, when one hears and thinks about enlightenment, they would think of this definition and some ancient enlightenment philosophers such as Rousseau.

(Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81KfDXTTtXE)

This video shows that Rousseau believed that man was good in the presence, or state, of nature. He saw a divide between society and human nature; that man was corrupted by society and social independence. In the presence of nature, man was good and free, but when influenced by society, became bad, have a spurt in pride and be forced to compare himself to others, therefore creating an atmosphere of fear and allowance of man to take delight in the pain of others.


(Source: http://shc.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/styles/600x350_force/public/news/072814_shc_aggression.png?itok=vK9qoY-8)

Rousseau held that reason is a derivative capacity necessitated by society and he criticized reason, society, and progress. He thought that society, not the individual, is responsible for the fundamental vice of vanity or self-love; a corrupt, competitive desire to be perceived as being better than others and envied. Rousseau believed that the destruction of empires, not progress, brought enlightenment. For example, there were number of paintings of the ruins of empires. All paintings were painted by people who were looking around Europe. Rousseau believed that the destruction of empires, not progress, brought enlightenment; pictures of empire ruins brought light and awakening moments to the people. Why is that? Why and how would pictures of empire ruins bring “enlightenment?”


(Source: https://heartofaleader.files.wordpress.com/2008/07/lightbulb-head.jpg)

Ruins are the mess, the damage, and the leftovers of something that was once built and firm. And empire can be interpreted to be an individual and the damage as the aftermath of getting involved in society’s events. This is what Rousseau was bringing to attention. Since Rousseau believed that if man got involved in society’s affairs they would become tainted beings, he was called a “noble savage.” Rousseau was also tagged this because of his belief of comparing human’s ancient relatives (calm and in tune with the natural world) to modern-day civilians who are corrupted.

Nowadays, the word “enlightenment” is a broad term. People use it in a sense where if someone or something gave one a new and fresh perspective or idea about something, that they have been enlightened. For example, science has brought new knowledge into the world. The fact the fluorescent DNA from a jellyfish is visible when injected into marmoset embryos shows progression of knowledge and human abilities. I believe that enlightenment can be used just when one gains new insight in life and other lessons that they will incorporate into their lives. Enlightenment is knowing oneself and how different one is from society- knowing the difference between their own natural being and how society can affect the emotions of oneself.


One Comment Add yours

  1. hectorgu117 says:

    I find your interpretation of the term enlightenment to be interesting because everyone has a different view on what being enlightened is. When I think of Rousseau, I see the relevance of his ideas today and it really does affect us everyday. The concept of society has made all of us try to stand out in a big world where we are so small in scope, and the feeling of trying to be relevant in a society has caused all of us to try to be individuals which can lead to lots or problems. In my opinion, being enlightened is rejecting this train of thought of trying to stand out in society for the sake of being relevant. To be enlightened, you should just be yourself and not care about society, but that’s just my interpretation on what it means to be enlightened.


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