Monday, April 14, 2008

Himmelmann, Beatrix. "Review of Robert B. Louden's THE WORLD WE WANT." NDPR April 13, 2008.

Louden, Robert B. The World We Want: How and Why the Ideals of the Enlightenment Still Elude Us. Oxford: OUP, 2007. This book does not join in the chorus of still influential intellectual circles trying to convince us that the Enlightenment project not only failed, but that it was doomed to fail because it was inevitably linked up with an inherent self-destructive dialectic. As Horkheimer and Adorno pointed out in their famous attack, Enlightenment promises of freedom of thought, liberties ruling individual life, progress of knowledge and welfare, the evolution of moral attitudes and therefore the prospect of humanity's triumph changes into something negative and destructive as soon as we attempt to realize these ideals. According to Horkheimer and Adorno, the Enlightenment ends up in violence and becomes "totalitarian" when it ceases to be critical reflection and turns into practical engagement. This line of argumentation has been picked up by many present day critics, among them anti-liberals like MacIntyre, certain disciples of Nietzsche and Foucault as well as adherents of deconstruction. In contrast to this account, Robert B. Louden holds that the ideals of the Enlightenment are still relevant for us today. He does not share the view so often repeated since the emergence of the idea of Enlightenment in the eighteenth century that these ideals are hopelessly optimistic, naïve and therefore shallow, if not dangerous. Louden refers in this regard to Ernst Cassirer, who finished his classic study The Philosophy of the Enlightenment shortly before he left Germany in 1933. Like Cassirer, Louden emphasizes the practical impetus that inspired the protagonists of Enlightenment. Thought was taken to have the power and the task of shaping life itself. Philosophy was not supposed to be limited to dissecting analysis alone but considered to have practical impact as well. Louden is interested in exactly this question: what has happened to Enlightenment ideals in the course of historical developments that followed their proclamation? Has mankind actually been willing to continue striving for their realization? If so, how and to what extent has this striving been successful? And in case either certain aims of Enlightenment thinkers have been rejected or failure to achieve them has to be admitted, what are the reasons for either the one or the other? Does human nature simply resist at least some of the ambitious ends upheld by the Enlightenment? Should we therefore give them up? Have there been means chosen in order to bring Enlightenment ideals into being that can be proved wrong, so that we might stick to the aims but change the ways of pursuing them? . . . Read the whole review here:

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