The Modern and the Postmodern: Coursera 1st writing assignment

How did Kant define Enlightenment? Use Kant’s definition to discuss whether either Rousseau or Marx is an Enlightenment figure.

Die Aufklärung

 

According to Kant (1784), “die Aufklärung” is “man’s emergence from his self – incurred immaturity” ; in other words, one attains the supreme level of maturity and emancipation at the same time through the wise use of logic, science and education. In his attempt to avoid stirring political persecution against him or instigate rioting thoughts, Emmanuel Kant proclaimed a preference to a more mediocre course of action, i.e. a “middle course”. “Sapere aude” (Kant 1784) against dogmatic principles of the time, would not necessarily mean any hazard to the established status quo of the elite. His definition of the enlightened Man was rather careful. “Argue as much as you like and about whatever you like, but obey!” (Kant 1784) he exclaims is what a noble ruler should bid his people. After all, the public needs vast amounts of time allotted, before Man can truly begin to think for himself, before he reaches the ultimate level of Enlightenment.

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Upon viewing the case of Jean Jacques Rousseau, one might have considered this Swiss philosopher to be the exact opposite of the majority of Kant’s contemporaries. In truth, Rousseau sought to be enlightened by succumbing to inner passions and emotion (thus having a profound impact to Romanticism), when Voltaire and others spoke of pure logic. Rousseau was deeply religious while philosophers of the Revolution denounced God and King. Can one portray the man as a paradigm of Enlightenment? If we are to abide by Kant’s definition, then the answer to this question could indeed be positive. Rousseau does in fact praise emancipation and enlightenment; his way of unshackling the chains of immaturity however is one of rebirth, a return to nature’s cradle.

Being an admirer of the classics, Rousseau (1750) reminisces about the glory of the mighty Roman Empire and that of the ancient Greeks; Socrates himself, as he boldly states, was appalled by the hubris of men of the arts and the high opinion they carried for themselves. And to proceed to current day and age, he adds another example of man’s faulty state of mind: “It requires only a little sun or snow, only the lack of a few superfluities, to melt down and destroy in a few days the best of our armies.” In short, Rousseau is angered by idle thinkers, who in vain search for the truth, when the truth lies in doing. He even more so aggressively approaches vanity and the creation of useless “needs” that science –or too much “thinking” – has had to offer.

Can we really be free when we as people are enslaved by objects? Even worse, who is truly mature and conqueror of knowledge while under the oppression of another (owner of more objects than us)? If we wish to become enlightened we must first seek unity of the human clan – that cannot be achieved within “civilized” society, simply because society will not allow it. Rousseau (1754) remarks: “As long as men remained satisfied with their rustic cabins […]as long as they continued to consider feathers and shells as sufficient ornaments, and to paint their bodies of different colours, to improve or ornament their bows and arrows, to form and scoop out with sharp-edged stones some little fishing boats, or clumsy instruments of music; in a word, as long as they undertook such works only as a single person could finish, and stuck to such arts as did not require the joint endeavours of several hands, they lived free, healthy, honest and happy, as much as their nature would admit, and continued to enjoy with each other all the pleasures of an independent intercourse; but from the moment one man began to stand in need of another’s assistance; from the moment it appeared an advantage for one man to possess the quantity of provisions requisite for two, all equality vanished; property started up; labour became necessary; and boundless forests became smiling fields, which it was found necessary to water with human sweat, and in which slavery and misery were soon seen to sprout out and grow with the fruits of the earth.”

Amazingly enough, Rousseau’s works are still applicable to this day. And perhaps logic can drive a man so far, as to initiate change. Rousseau’s embodiment of Kant’s definition is one of true revolution of thought.

References:

  1. Kant, Immanuel: An Answer to the Question: “What is Enlightenment?” 1784. Prussia. as seen online : http://ebooks.gutenberg.us/WorldeBookLibrary.com/whatenli.htm
  2. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques: “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences”. (Translated by Ian Johnston) 1750. Paris. As seen online:http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/rousseau/jean_jacques/arts/
  3. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques: “A Discourse upon the Origin and the Foundation of the Inequality among Mankind” 1754. Geneva. As seen online:http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/11136

The Modern and the Postmodern: Coursera 3rd writing assignment

Darwin wrote that: “Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” Compare Darwin’s view of the persistent effects of the past with at least one other writer covered so far in the course (please try to write about someone you haven’t written about in the previous assignments). 

THE EVOLUTION OF MAN AND SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR

Primal instincts and the seek for pleasure in the works of Darwin and Baudelaire

 

ImageDarwin’s theory of evolution strongly indicates the presence of a common ancestor of all living creatures – man himself included – , who over time and within the process of “natural selection” came to be modified in order to adapt each to their own surroundings. Thus Darwin boldly claims “Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin”,  (Darwin 1871) suggesting that we are indeed nothing more than a successful mutation of a primal. As it was expected, his views raised controversy especially among the men of faith.

Darwin’s views about our genealogical past were not a result of painless efforts; Darwin was notably a meticulous scientist, who spent years of research in order to complete his work on the species that inhabit our planet and the origins of humans. He was more so diligent in writing about his endeavors not in a scholarly manner – as one might have expected from a man of letters – but in layman’s terms. By doing so he passed on precious scientific knowledge to people that were hardly accustomed to terminology of the sort, provoking mixed emotions to a huge populous even to this day.

In his work “the Descent of Man” the final Chapter digresses towards the moral differences between man and beasts, claiming that “…the first foundation or origin of the moral sense lies in the social instincts, including sympathy; and these instincts no doubt were primarily gained, as in the case of the lower animals, through natural selection.” (Darwin 1871) According to his reasoning, our relationship with God and the vast power of social habit were hugely responsible to maintain those primary instincts and develop them to a more decent humane conduct. He concurs “ultimately man does not accept the praise or blame of his fellows as his sole guide, though few escape this influence, but his habitual convictions, controlled by reason, afford him the safest rule. His conscience then becomes the supreme judge and monitor.” (Darwin 1871) As one observes, it is well within our nature to commune with each other, to sympathize even from the early stages of evolution. Darwin (1871) elaborates upon the matter:  “The motive to give aid is likewise much modified in man: it no longer consists solely of a blind instinctive impulse, but is much influenced by the praise or blame of his fellows. The appreciation and the bestowal of praise and blame both rest on sympathy; and this emotion, as we have seen, is one of the most important elements of the social instincts”. However our beliefs and higher principles such as faith in God were under no circumstances “innate or instinctive”. They were byproducts of social grouping.

Darwin provoked public opinion with his work in the mid-19th century yet his views about human basic instincts and our dormant past were actually supported in a completely different  field namely art. Baudelaire, the infamous French poet, shares the belief that intense emotions that even violate social standards and etiquette are indeed equal parts of human nature and goes on a step further; perhaps our bestial origins are actually better than the reformed social ones.

In the “Eyes of the Poor” (Baudelaire 1869), the Darwinian sympathy emerges as he observes that the glasses were too small to satisfy the upper middle class’ thirst for luxury; the eyes of the impoverished family outside the café haunt him. Yet, as social surroundings indicate, his companion doesn’t share the same thoughts. She is rather taken aback and irritated by their presence.

The themes unraveled in “Le Spleen de Paris” bear testimony of how man has become a social beast and if let outside the social grid he will eventually fall prey to his inner primal instincts. Pleasure for one is the ultimate medium, with which one seeks to express himself. Other motifs include narcotics and sexuality, both marginalized by the “comme – il – faut” society of the time.  It seems as if Baudelaire is biased against the prejudiced conformity and considers bourgeoisie a hypocritical hybrid; “the Rope” (Baudelaire 1869) is an excellent portrayal of how motherhood and innate motherly feelings are denominated in exchange for profit.

To sum up, Darwin theory of evolution is backed by considerable scientific data; it is in Baudelaire however that we find empirically how much we can change  – both positively and negatively – as humans based on the social surroundings we choose to abide by. It should have made one wonder: Is our hairy ancestor the true monstrosity?

 

Works cited:

1. Baudelaire, Charls: Le Spleen de Paris. 1869

2. Darwin, Charles: The Descent of Man. 1871

 

We are all readers. We are all writers. {I am a writer essay prompt for Coursera / Duke University English Composition I}

I AM A WRITER

 

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You told me to talk about days past and writing memories of old…Bitter rejections came to mind. Strange what a timeline of memoires can surface in people’s minds. Why is it that we always covet to remind ourselves of happiness and satisfaction? The harder we try the more we seem to drift to painful reminisces of past failures and mistakes in all matters of the heart and mind.

I looked upon my timeline and amongst scarce information I could only detect one or two blissful writing moments. Well, maybe three. Is it writing itself the villain? Am I to blame pen and pencil or that crude electronic device? Or perhaps is it the readers of my writings who pointed fingers arrogantly, my dismissive first grade teacher, my ever unsatisfied mother, my harsh supervising professor, all those criticizing faces…I should stop my “enemies” runt right there. Writing, ladies and gentlemen, is innocent! It’s the reading, the real culprit.

If one reads, one writes. If one knows how to read, one knows how to write. If one appreciates himself as a reader, then he will – I assure you – appreciate another as a writer. Beware of what you write and most of all beware of what you read.