Spirit and Science: On the Origins of Historical Enlightenment

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The Enlightenment was a general social and cultural movement that sought to re-think the foundations of human knowledge. It stood opposed to scholasticism and saw it as a form of sterile, formalistic hair-splitting. Like Renaissance humanism, it sought a 'return to the ancients'. Yet it rejected the aesthetic focus and naive wonder of Renaissance thought and replaced it with a materialistic form of global understanding that culminates in the work of such thinkers as Gassendi, Descartes, and Spinoza. These thinkers represented different strands of the Englightenment but they all shared a common conference with explaining the world in a physical way. Philosophers such as Leibniz and Vico began the reaction to this thought by pointing out that movement and physicality also requires an unknown force or 'push' that cannot be explained via materialism. This concept was analyzed and understood through the idea of 'conatus'. This unknown force became the groundwork for Vico's New Science. It was the tool that allowed to configure and found a specifically historical or social science. Therefore, historical science seems to begin as a counter-Enlightenment trend. This trend is picked up and continued by Hegel in the Phenomenology of Spirit. Isaiah Berlin understood the signficance of such an interpretive point of view when he spoke of the main thinkers of Counter-Enlightenment. I shall speak of the usefulness and limitations of Berlin's analysis for our understanding of the origins of historical and social science.


Keywords: Enlightenment, Counter-Enlightenment, Materialism, Spirit, Historical Science, Social Science
Stream: Sociology, Geography
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Paul Brienza

Part-time Faculty, Division of Social Science
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I have recently completed my dissertation. The topic was on the Social Theory of Law. I interrogated the workings of contemporary legal theory in its inabilities to historically account for the origins and development of law. I did so by examining the dynamics of power and its taming by social institutions. The taming of power, I argued, requires the control and manipulation of human passions as they are embodied. I have also published on the nature and context of criminological theory in relations to some phenomenological themes as they are grounded in affects, moods, and passions. I have been involved with various research projects involving youth and the influence of media. We asked: 'What are the differential affects of the media on youth?' Does it influence the culture of crime? This project involved a sustained interviewing process with appropriate youth. I have recently spent time, with some exceptional colleagues, thinking about the nature of 'community and justice'. This is research that we have earmarked for focus upon certain cooperative and involved aboriginal communities. My present work involves what might be described as a sociology of knowledge geared to an understanding of the social, political, and religious consequences of the Enlightenment.

Ref: I08P0133