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Faces of the Enlightenment

Philosophical sketches

Series:

Zbigniew Drozdowicz

The author of this book speaks out again in regard to the Enlightenment. His inspiration comes not only from new observations occasioned by own studies, but also from the recently read material as well as opinions and appraisals of the era articulated lately at academic conferences. Although they have not led the author to perform a fundamental revision of his views in regard to the nature of Enlightenment and its crucial contributions to the Western culture, they did afford a better understanding of its complexity. They also made him more aware that his interpretation and presentation of that era depends considerably on what its prominent representatives had to say, as well as on the worldview-based assumptions and methods of appraisal adopted by its later observers and interpreters.

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Enlightenment Rationalism

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During the Enlightenment era, human reason would be invoked so frequently that Enlightenment rationalism might be considered something of an identifying badge those times. It might prove helpful for some researchers, while also constituting a hindrance to others. It is helpful to those who accepted the premises of one and only one of the forms of Enlightenment rationalism. However, it constitutes a hindrance for those who think it is impossible to conclude that such one supreme form can be identified, given that there had been at least a few of them and that there were substantial differences among them. In literature, it is also possible to encounter such accounts of Enlightenment rationalism whose authors might recognise the diversity while at the same time attempting to find a common denominator for the different forms of rationalism. Such attempts have been made, for instance, by Paul Hazard (European Thought in the Eighteenth Century), as well as in the monograph by Panajotis Kondylis entitled The Enlightenment within the Framework of Modern Rationalism.89

I do not consider such accounts to be without epistemic merits. What I claim is that those authors often rely on such a general—and sometimes frankly vague—concept of rationalism that it becomes a sort of “bucket” into which a lot can be thrown. The main problem does not even concern the fact that Enlightenment proponents of rationalism use it in a way that comprised many different problems and solutions, but rather the reality of their...

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