The Book of the Commonly Enlightened
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American Enlightenment Thought | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
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Enlightenment Wars: Some Reflections on ‘Enlightenment Now,’ One Year Later
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Brought to you by Curio , an Aeon partner. Edited by Sam Dresser. The ideals of the Enlightenment are the basis of our democracies and universities in the 21st century: belief in reason, science, skepticism, secularism, and equality. In fact, no other era compares with the Age of Enlightenment.
Classical Antiquity is inspiring, but a world away from our modern societies. The Middle Ages was more reasonable than its reputation, but still medieval. The Renaissance was glorious, but largely because of its result: the Enlightenment. By the time that Thomas Paine published The Age of Reason in , that era had reached its twilight. Napoleon was on the rise. But what if this story is wrong?
What if the Enlightenment can be found in places and thinkers that we often overlook? Yacob was born on 28 August into a rather poor family on a farm outside Axum, the legendary former capital in northern Ethiopia. Persecution of free thinkers followed suit, intensifying from Yacob, who was teaching in the Axum region, had declared that no religion was more right than any other, and his enemies brought charges against him to the king. Yacob fled at night, taking with him only some gold and the Psalms of David.
For two years, until the death of the king in September , Yacob remained in the cave as a hermit, visiting only the nearby market to get food. In the cave, he developed his new, rationalist philosophy. He believed in the supremacy of reason, and that all humans — male and female — are created equal. In short: many of the highest ideals of the later European Enlightenment had been conceived and summarised by one man, working in an Ethiopian cave from to The only translation into English was done in , by the Canadian professor and priest Claude Sumner.
He published it as part of a five-volume work on Ethiopian philosophy, with the far-from-commercial Commercial Printing Press in Addis Ababa. The book has been translated into German, and last year into Norwegian, but an English version is still basically unavailable. E thiopia was no stranger to philosophy before Yacob.
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It is a collection of sayings from the early Greek Pre-Socratics, Plato, and Aristotle via the neo-Platonic dialogues, and is also influenced by Arabic philosophy and the Ethiopian discussions. As a contrast, he recommends an enquiry based on scientific rationality and reason — as every human is born with intelligence and is of equal worth.
In contrast, Yacob shows a much more agnostic, secular and enquiring method — which also reflects an openness towards atheistic thought.
In this way, Yacob opens up an enlightened discourse on the subjectivity of religion, while still believing in some kind of universal Creator. In chapter five, Yacob applies rational investigation to the different religious laws. He criticises Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Indian religions equally. For example, Yacob points out that the Creator in His wisdom has made blood flow monthly from the womb of women, in order for them to bear children. In this way, Yacob includes the perspectives of solidarity, women and affection in his philosophical argument. And he lived up to these ideals.
In , Voltaire was exiled to Tulle for mocking the duc d'Orleans. In , he returned to Paris, only to be arrested and exiled to the Bastille for a year on charges of writing libelous poetry. Voltaire was sent to the Bastille again in , for arguing with the Chevalier de Rohan. This time he was only detained briefly before being exiled to England, where he remained for nearly three years.
The Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution
Voltaire moved to Prussia in as a member of Frederick the Great's court, and spent later years in Geneva and Ferney. By , he was recognized as an icon of the Enlightenment's progressive ideals, and he was given a hero's welcome upon his return to Paris. He died there shortly afterward, on May 30, When Voltaire was just seven years old, his mother passed away.
Following her death, he grew closer to his free-thinking godfather. The foundation continued to work toward making the Enlightenment writer's prolific output available to the public. Among his fabrications, Voltaire offered up differing dates for his birthday, and lied about the identity of his biological father. We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us! Sign up for the Biography newsletter to receive stories about the people who shaped our world and the stories that shaped their lives.
Jean-Paul Sartre was a 20th century intellectual, writer and activist who put forth pioneering ideas on existentialism. Maximilien de Robespierre was an official during the French Revolution and one of the principal architects of the Reign of Terror.
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