Could science and the methods of rational and empirical inquiry help us in knowing the nature and the destiny of humanity? Could we extend scientific methods into every field of inquiry? Could we find truth and reality as an external experience or is it visualized entirely in the realm of intuition and conscience?
ENLIGHTENMENT – THE AGE OF REASON
Enlightenment is a European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries in which ideas concerning God, reason, nature and man were synthesized into a world view. The thinkers of the Enlightenment were committed to secular views based on reason or human understanding only, which they hoped would provide a basis for beneficial changes affecting every area of life and thought.
The Enlightenment was based upon a few great fundamental ideas- such as the dedication to reason, the belief in intellectual progress, the confidence in nature as a source of inspiration and value, and the search for tolerance and freedom in political and social institutions. Central to Enlightenment thought were the use and the celebration of reason, the power by which man understands the universe and improves his own condition. The goals of rational man were considered to be knowledge, freedom and happiness. It instigated revolutionary developments in art, philosophy and politics. Sir Issac Newton is considered to be the true father of Enlightenment. He established the basic idea of the authority and autonomy of reason.
The Enlightenment Movement eventually broke up under the impact of new evidence and new insights. Nature, once considered a synonym of reason and visible proof of the existence of God and His benevolence, broke up into something to be studied with scientific objectivity and something to be enjoyed in romantic indulgence. The most significant contribution of the Enlightenment came in the field of social and political philosophy.
ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES – THE ROLE OF INTUITION
JEAN-JACQUES, ROUSSEAU (b.JUNE 28, 1712, GENEVA, SWITZERLAND-d. JULY 2, 1778, ERMENONVILLE, FRANCE) FRENCH PHILOSOPHER, POLITICAL THEORIST WHOSE IDEAS INSPIRED THE LEADERS OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.
Rousseau is the least academic of modern philosophers but in many ways he is the most influential. His thought marked the end of the Age of Reason and the birth of Romanticism.
Rousseau had a profound impact on people’s way of life. He opened men’s eyes to the beauties of nature and he made liberty an object of almost universal aspiration.
He is credited with having introduced a great discovery about the nature of freedom and he emphasized the primacy of individual liberty. The other Enlightenment thinkers pursued the nature of humankind empirically in physiological and psychological studies or in historical and anthropological researches, whereas Rousseau sought the nature of humans in the wholly private realm of intuition and conscience. He looked inward for the fundamental source of moral obligation. Enlightenment has faith in reason which is understood as abstraction from external experience, Rousseau has emphasized that the inner life as a source of truth.
Rousseau had shared the Enlightenment view that society had perverted natural man, the “noble savage” who lived harmoniously with nature, free from selfishness, want, possessiveness, and jealousy. In his essay, ‘ A Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts ‘(1750), he argued that the history of man’s life on earth has been a history of decay. Man is good by nature but has been corrupted by society and civilization.
One of the first principles of Rousseau’s political philosophy is that politics and morality never be separated. The second important principle is freedom, which the state is created to preserve. The state is a unity and as such expresses the general will. The general will is to secure freedom, equality and justice within the state and in the Social Contract, individual sovereignty is given up to the state in order that these goals might be achieved.
In his political book called ‘ Du Contrat Social ‘(The Social Contract) published in 1762, Rousseau begins with the opening sentence; ” Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains “. He proposed a society able to cultivate the individual’s moral stature without injury to his freedom. He had expressed freedom and equality of citizens in the idiom of natural and inalienable rights. Rousseau had believed that man has to find his way to his pure nature and to achieve this , man’s duty is to look for his most deep interior feelings and follow them.
Gautama, at the age of 35, attained the Enlightenment or Awakening. In Buddha’s own recorded words : ” My mind was emancipated…. Ignorance was dispelled, science(knowledge) arose, darkness was dispelled, light arose.”
Science and scientific methods bring us knowledge about life, nature and the universe that we live in. But, intuition provides us with the insight to improve the way we live this life. My Guru, Shankara has spoken a word of caution:
maa kuru dhana jana yauvana garvam
harati nimeshhaat kaalah sarvam
brahmapadam tvam pravisha viditvaa