Now that we've been introduced to the Enlightenment and its huge impact on American thought, culture and politics, it's time to step back and consider it from a more critical angle. "Criticism" is actually the term Kant used for the new Enlightenment approach to philosophy: instead of just accepting ideas, critical philosophy be skeptical and question everything it was told. Only ideas that could withstand criticism deserved to be treated as true. So, we need to give the Enlightenment idea the same treatment.
Remember that Kant declared Aude Sapere, "Dare to Know," the motto of the Enlightenment, asking us to "have the courage to use (our) own reason" instead of remaining in the self-incurred state of tutelage. (In "Redemption Song," Bob Marley famously expresses this same sentiment in modern terms: "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds!) It should be obvious that we have not reached the state of "full enlightenment of all humankind" that Kant dreamed of - the question is, why not? Was there something wrong with the Enlightenment idea, or could people just not live up to it? (Or, if people can't live up to it, does that mean it's a bad idea because it's impractical and impossible?)
To begin approaching this question, first read "The Legacy of the Enlightenment" for some context:
Now that you have some facts, I'm also going to ask you to read an opinion on this question, from French philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault was famous for his criticisms of the Enlightenment's social effects. A lot of his work focused on the relationship between what we say and what we do, and in the case of the Enlightenment, he felt there was a lot of talk of freedom, but little real respect for it. Because of their obsession with rationality, Enlightenment thinkers were more concerned with keeping things orderly than making people free. After all, this was the period that produced asylums and prisons, as well as the forced schooling that you're a part of today, all devoted to molding people into the Enlightenment idea of "normality". (His most famous example is one we discussed during V for Vendetta, the idea of the Panopticon, which was seen as the "most rational" way to deal with lawbreakers.) Foucault felt that the big failure of the Enlightenment was that it still relied on the notion of the Other to define itself: creative artists were deemed "insane" and put in mental homes, radical political thinkers were excluded from "democracy," slavery was still tolerated, and people from "less Enlightened" cultures were seen as subhuman. (Foucault's most famous example of Enlightenment unfreedom)
But Foucault didn't hate the Enlightenment, even if it had these negative effects. He still felt the ideas were good ones and needed to be interpreted anew. Writing in the 1980s, he reviewed Kant's essay "What is Enlightenment?" and declared the Enlightenment a kind of unfinished project which still had potential if it could be renewed. Check out some excerpts from his review here before you answer the question:
This is deep stuff, so take your time with reading and thinking before you start writing. You should post a 1-paragraph response in the comments section including a quote from the SparkNotes or Foucault articles. Reply to others for extra credit.
Mr. Justin Biggs