The Enlightenment is also known as the Age of Reason. The Enlightenment replaced faith with reason as a path to belief. Was this a good thing? I believe reason is good when accompanied with a means for validation, but bad when there is no means for validation.
What is reason? Reason is nothing more than whatever makes sense to each of us. It is a way of generating new ideas based on our own intuition. Reason is often associated with science, but reason was around long before science became highly productive. What made science productive isn't reason, it is the scientific method that demands a procedure for validation based on experiments.
All of those fields that rose dramatically after the Enlightenment were exactly those fields that use both reason and validation. Mathematics is one. The means for validation in math is the mathematical proof. Mathematics has become an extension of formal logic where proofs following a clear procedure are demanded. These proofs can prove a hypothesis true of false. Science is another. Validation in science is based on experiments. An experiment can only prove a hypothesis to be false. A hypothesis becomes an accepted theory after repeated experiments fail to disprove the hypothesis. This is inductive reasoning. The last field is engineering. In this case, validation is simply that the thing designed doesn't fail. If you design and build a bridge and it falls down, then the design has failed. This has become somewhat more formalized with procedural tests, but the idea is the basically the same. These three fields are the only ones that dramatically benefited from the Enlightenment.
Now let's consider fields that use reason without validation. These include ethics, urban design, architecture, modern art, and the so called "social sciences". I believe that all of these fields have regressed since the Enlightenment. The use of reason produced many new ideas in each of these fields, but since there was no method of validation, those ideas that had the most appeal won out. And which ideas generally have the most appeal? Those that appeal to the base human instincts. This is why our current modern art and ethics are at about the same level as for cavemen.
There are fields that use neither reason nor validation. These are the pure arts that work directly from feeling such as music, film, and writing. These fields have all benefited from advances in technology without suffering from the abuse of reason.
Before the Enlightenment, our beliefs came from faith. Faith ensures that ideas change slowly. This means ideas competed at a societal level over a long time period where those societies that had better ideas conquered those societies with worse ideas. This is how ideas improved. It was, in effect, evolution at a cultural level where each idea acted like a gene and each society like an organism. This only works when ideas change slowly, and this requires faith. Without faith, ideas change too fast for evolution to work. This is like having a very high mutation rate which would simply wipe out those affected. And this is exactly what reason without validation does.
Of all the fields discussed, the one that concerns me most is morality. Today, sound morality can only be found in those groups that have rejected reason. Are reason and morality incompatible? The answer is clearly yes unless a means for validation can be found. I have an idea for creating a system of validation for morality but that is for another post.
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