Thursday, September 22, 2016

The myth of the Enlightenment

As I mentioned in the previous article, in my unpublished work Quantification of history and the future of the West I applied an objective quantitative method (not dependent on my preferences) to give points to the main creators in various fields of human activity in the Greco-Roman and Western civilizations: science, philosophy, literature, plastic arts and music. The next figure represents the global cultural evolution of our civilization over the centuries. It can be seen that:
Global cultural evolution of Western civilization

  • The horizontal axis represents time. In the ninth to fourteenth centuries, a single point represents a whole century. In the other centuries, the figure shows the data every half century. The point of the curve located above the year 1700 corresponds to the first half of the eighteenth century.
  • It is clear that the 12 centuries of evolution of Western civilization are divided naturally into three very distinct phases: the first, until 1400, corresponds to the Middle Ages; the second, from 1400 to 1700, to the Renaissance and the Baroque; the third, from 1700 to the present. The Middle Ages are undervalued in this study, since the method used does not apply to anonymous works, which played a very important role for the technology, art and music of the time.
  • Between the second and the third phase, a marked decrease is observed, in which the sum of all the cultural activities in the West seems to have decreased. This is not surprising, since the seventeenth century was exceptional in the culturally most active countries in Europe, especially Spain, France and England. It is their golden age. This not only applies to the arts, also to science, some of whose practitioners were among the most important in history: Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Leibniz, Descartes, Pascal, Harvey, Boyle, Fermat, Huygens, Hooke Halley...
  • In contrast, the first half of the eighteenth century shows a general decline in all the arts and sciences, in all the major European countries. The most important scientific figures are the Bernoulli brothers, Euler, Linnaeus and Franklin, who were born in new countries for science: Switzerland, Sweden and the United States. Only Euler can be compared with the giants of the previous century.
It is curious that the myth of the Enlightenment, asserting that we were just entering the era of science and reason, was cooked precisely by people who were not scientists and lived in a time of scientific stagnation. I will cite three of the most important, two French and one English:

  • Voltaire, a second-rate novelist. I’ve read three of his novels and liked none.
  • Diderot, whose greatest contribution to the history of thought is having convinced other writers to participate in his Encyclop├ędie.
  • David Hume, the philosopher who introduced in the West skepticism, which has led to the decline of philosophy.
It is clear that the Enlightenment is a myth. Remember that the greatest cultural success during the first half of the eighteenth century was imposing enlightened despotism all across Europe, a form of dictatorial government that delayed for almost a century the progress of democracy.

The same post in Spanish
Thematic Thread on Science and History: Previous Next
Manuel Alfonseca

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