A Light Too Bright

The Enlightenment Today

An Assessment of the Values of the

European Enlightenment and a Search for New Foundations




Chapter 1 Getting Oriented


Getting Oriented

One of the major struggles in the modern world today is the struggle between the secular and the religious world views. Though science seldom states its world view, modern science stands on naïve realism, which is the same as the secular world view.

Religious world views are diverse and incompatible with each other, but they all agree in rejecting the naïve realism. Where science openly agrees that scientific knowledge is only operational, and that it has no access to the ultimate nature of reality, religion and science can co-exist peacefully. However in our civilization, science has taken the seat of authority. Many people think that science has the last word on everything.

There is a conflict between the secular and the religious. A dialog between them is not possible if the secularists force their framework on the other side.

Religion, Culture, and the secular: Concepts to be clarified

Before European enlightenment and the resulting process of secularization, religion was the all-pervasive basis of human existence. It is now reduced to something simply useful, functional, a utility for social integration, identity and maintenance and crisis confrontation. We act as if the whole world were secular. In fact less than 20% of all the people in the world profess no religion. Should the 80% allow this minority to decide the destiny of the humanity?

This, along with the justice conflict, is the central conflict of our world. The justice conflict and other conflicts cannot be settled until religion is healed and restored to its proper place ­not as a tool for secular politics, but as a transcendent power.

In our pluralistic world where people in each society follow either varying religions or no religion at all, it is unthinkable to impose one particular religious education or morality on all people by law. What then is the justification for making the secular education mandatory for all? Is this not a totalitarianism almost as bad as that of medieval Christendom? The state legislates compulsory education for all, and imposes one particular form of secular education, whether in the socialist countries or in liberal democracies.

What is European Enlightenment?

Immanuel Kant defined it as follows:

³Enlightenment is the coming of out of Man from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the lack of will to serve one¹s own understanding without direction from another. ŠDare to think! Wake up! Take courage to serve your own understanding.

The Germans saw enlightenment as the assertion of humanity¹s adulthood and its revolt against all external authority outside one¹s own understanding. This repudiation of all external authority and of any debt to tradition, and the use of reason without presuppositions, seems to constitute the essence of ³modern² thought or philosophy as well.

Europe: Adventure and Expansion

Europe¹s sense of triumph at its domination of the world played a key role in generating the basic idea of the enlightenment. That idea is that humanity is sovereign over the world. The ultimate end is to conquer the reality itself, using critical rationality. In that basic hubris of human race lies also the root of the human tragedy of the European Enlightenment.

Ideas: Hegel

Hegel tried in his ³History of philosophy² to provide a comprehensive picture of the whole world development of philosophy, religion, and thought in general. He seeks to comprehend the whole of reality as a historical process of development, at the center of which he sees what we call humanization.

The philosophy of Enlightenment comes basically from the secularization of Western Christianity, and its remodeling after the pattern of Greek civil religion.

The dialectics of enlightenment: Knowledge its function and foundation.

Theory for practice, or the other way round?

Justice, human rights, and the state in European civilization

Science, technology, and the enlightenment: will they go on reinforcing each other indefinitely?

Reasons unreason: Ten questionable assumptions of enlightenment rationality.

Naïve realism about the nature of reality.

It is the assumption that there are subjects and objects, that subjects can know the objects as they are, and what cannot be known is unreal.

It also assumes that individual minds exist, and they are located in the body.

Reality, both at microphysical level and at the megacosmic levels is not visualizable or conceptualizable. The concept of object can exist only at the macro level of our perception. When we speak of the universe as a mega object, we are just transferring a category that applies only at the macro level. Really, the universe cannot be made an object of our thought or perception.

Since we don¹t have a satisfying description of the universe, we still cling to naïve realism and to its individualistic, subject-object dualism and its atomism. Our politics, economics, sociology, anthropology, as well as a large part of modern science are still based on naïve realism. Our cultural creativity remains stunted and unproductive. This light, which is too bright, has blinded us to the glorious potentialities inherent in us.

Truth, concept, idea, and proposition

Truth is a quest, not a concept. It is a state of being, not a statement of fact.
Western metaphysics has always been on the quest for an idea of the ultimate being, but that being is not an idea or an object about which ideas can be formed.

Language as a vehicle of truth

The tragedy of western civilization is its tragicomic attempt to grasp all truth with the conscious mind and its favored instrument, language. Truth lies beyond language and logic, and we need to seek liberation from the prison that enlightenment rationality has fortified.

Epistemology as a guarantor of veracity

Every attempt in modern western thought to impose an epistemology as an absolute validation criteria falls under the criticism that no epistemology can be validated by itself. Epistemology is an arbitrary absolutization. The attempt to absolutize epistemology as an unquestionable first, and then make it the unshakable foundation of all knowledge, seems doomed from the start.

Conscious reason as the instrument of knowing

Some other cultures tell us that we need to go beyond the conscious mind to experience the ultimate reality. For example, Sankara recommends concentration in a single object ­something that begins with conscious mind, but soon leaves it behind.

Causality as explanation

Modern science depends on causality, and once we question the principle of causality, the whole scientific enterprise becomes shaky. Science looks at the world as a machine with interconnected and interacting parts. Causality is unable to explain the behavior of quantum phenomenon.

Measurement-based science as a way to precise knowledge

If causality is the principle of explanation in modern science, precise measurement seems to be its other claim to truth. Measurement is alright in the macro level of the universe, but when it comes to micro level, it doesn¹t work.

The universe as self-existent

The self-dependence of the universe is an unexamined dogma of science. God is thus an unnecessary hypothesis.

Time and space as given

Secularism absolutizes time-space reality as the only kind of reality that we can deal with. We need to understand it as window through which we can get to a transcendent apprehension of a higher level of reality.

Change, evolution, development and progress

EE sees the universe as a machine. However, the cosmic process cannot be understood in terms of an eternal law. The cosmos acts like an organism, which has both memory and personality. Secular civilization has made a heroic but rather pathetic decision to accept the presently perceived futility of the world as somehow final. The effort to absolutize the world open to our senses as the only possible world, and to deny its dependence on the transcendent can only lead to desperation.

[Notes prepared by John Kunnathu]