What are Enlightenment Values?

Enlightenment values are a set of values that derive their origin from the thoughts of European thinkers belonging to the Age of Enlightenment.

These thoughts involve a break from the Church dominated Middle Ages in European history. Enlightenment values are the cornerstone the successful social models in the Western world, especially in Western and Northern Europe

The Enlightenment values can be listed as empiricism, skepticism, liberalism, and individualism.

Empiricism is the belief in evidence that is demonstrated by sense organ based perception and consensual validation (rather than by dictates by authorities or scriptures). Any claim that demands sole validation based on its presence in a text or its utterance by an authority is anti-empiricists.

Skepticism is a natural extension of empiricism- an attitude of belief that believe in things only when evidence is overwhelming and consistent. Skepticism and empiricism is the backbone of science.

Liberalism is an attitude of tolerance of divergent views unless the view impinges on the attitude of tolerance itself

Individualism is the consideration of the individuals right to personal liberty, with individual being considered as the basic unit of the society (vs community or tribe being considered as the basic unit as the society). Here the rule of law is considerate to the ‘individual’ and ensures protection of her basic rights. State cannot abrogate individuals fundamental rights as long as the individual follows the rule of law.

Although these ideas have their origin in 18th century Europe, they were not complete by themselves. The modern conception of Enlightenment values has a history of centuries of ferment that refashioned the early thoughts in ways that are barely recognizable from that propounded by their originators.

In other words, although we call these values as its genesis in the Enlightenment-era Europe, its modern conception is far beyond what its originators had thought. It required centuries of chaos, war, and destruction for the contemporary world to recognise it in the present form. The early Enlightenment values were ‘bracketed’ for the White Men. Its Universality was recognised quite late in the history. Modern nation-states have its organising principle derived from these values. Any series digression from these values tends to initiate a series of degeneration that many times lead to the progressive destruction or retardation of the nation-state. We shall examine this latter point in course of the discussion in this blog.

Stating that Enlightenment values are the organising principles of flourishing modern states, we are making a statement from a hindsight advantage. We could not have said this in 1800 or in 1900 or in 1940 or 1960s or in 1980s. But we can reasonably say in 2018 because of the dynamics of the course of history in the last few centuries and especially in the last few decades of 20th and 21st centuries.

Are we biased in stating so? I think we are not. The history through tens or hundreds of social models have competed in the market in freest manner possible in the canvas of modern history: communism, social democracy, free-capitalism, feudalism, monarchy, and various forms of rabid nationalism. These nations flourished to a certain and then collapsed one by one, except few striking examples.  The middle 3 segments of the 20th century world witnessed to such a phenomenon. And by 50 years downtime, we can confidently say that there are certain forms of ‘social models’ that are better than others. In many ways, the 20th century was a period when various social models had a historical free-run that lead to ultimate ‘selection’ of certain ‘social models’ over certain others. Enlightenment values have been time again validated in this historical experiment.The ‘effect-size’ by these historical ‘experiments’ played out is quite large that there is strong reasons to believe that these are the ‘social models’ that are sustainable for human society.

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