Friday, November 05, 2010

Light of the Unenlightened

Rather than bashing on the Enlightenment with a worn-out club, David Ritchie, in The Fullness of Knowing, surveys thinkers who didn't buy it in the first place (hat tip to Mars Hill audio).  Ritchie's book came from his "growing recognition as a student of the eighteenth century that many of today's criticisms of the Enlightenment are really not all that original."  Among his insights are that Edmund Burke anticipated the criticisms of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, and that Isaac Watts deconstructed John Locke in verse.

Ritchie examines Jonathan Swift, the poets Christopher Smart and William Cowper, and more familiar, recent figures such as Polanyi and Gadamer.  Of course, his is no exhaustive treatment, and Ritchie admits as much.  Diogenes Allen was up to something similar when he examined Simone Weil, Kierkegaard, and Pascal in Three Outsiders, as, I imagine, were the contributors to Bakhtin and Religion, Alan Jacobs among them. Likewise, it has been suggested that C.H. Plotkine's study of Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Tenth Muse, shows that 19th century philology was far more complex that Foucault suggests in Les Mots et les Choses.  We should make it a collective ambition to somehow extend this unenlightenment project further by discovering similar figures, if only to more fully inhabit our post-postmodern times.  (Dibs on Jonathan Edwards and Pavel Florensky.)

At any rate, after his survey of the happily unenlightened , Ritchie concludes:  "Somewhat to my surprise, nearly all of them emphasize an aesthetic element to knowledge, whether in the form of beauty or good taste, as opposed to the more narrowly rationalistic or empirical boundaries to Enlightenment epistemology."

I'm not so surprised.