Monday, April 12, 2021

The Problem With the Enlightenment’s Notion of Freedom

The notion of freedom that developed in the eighteenth century, during the Age of Enlightenment, was devoted to overcoming the old forms of authority, chief among these being faith in God and religion. The Enlightenment philosophes surmised that freedom from God and religion is the ultimate form of freedom. They made their philosophical case by asserting that there is a dichotomy between faith and reason—a man can have either reason or faith, never both. They rationalized that only a man of reason (who is free of the taint of faith) can be truly free and that faith in every form is an enemy of freedom. But if man is free of faith, then he lacks the inner capacity to believe in anything that is not provable by science. On what basis does a man who is free of faith make himself believe in metaphysics, norms or morality, norms of good culture, norms of good art, and the idea of a political system which respects man’s rights, all of which are not provable by science? A man who accepts reason as his sole means for understanding the world, faces the risk of becoming a nihilist—he loses not just his religious beliefs but also his standards in metaphysics, morality, culture, art, and politics. This is a recipe for disaster.

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