by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Robert Tracinski of the Federalist responds to an argument that the Enlightenment has fallen short of providing an “ideal of rational justification.”
Enlightenment ideas have a long track record, and a review of that record demonstrates that the ideal of rationality is not an illusion. It is a commonplace reality that has transformed human life vastly for the better.
Here’s where I’m going to add a book to the discussion: Steven Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now.” I criticized Pinker for his shallow understanding of Enlightenment philosophy, which reduces it to a mere precursor of conventional 21st-century, center-left liberalism. But his book is invaluable in its exhaustive demonstration of 200 years of progress in improving the human condition. As I put it in my review, “Can all of this really be ascribed to the Enlightenment? Certainly it can be ascribed to beliefs and ideological goals that were central to the Enlightenment, such as science, markets, commerce, individual rights, and humanistic values.” Let’s expand on that a little.
The drivers of the past two centuries of progress include, first and foremost, science and technology. This is what really gives the lie to the notion that universal standards of rationality have failed. Is this even supposed to be taken seriously? There is a vast international scientific community capable of speaking to each other clearly, and while there are disagreements and errors, as there always will be, they are capable of being resolved by appealing to common standards.