From A Dark Age to Enlightenment?
September 15, 2018Posted by on
This week on Facebook: I thought the term ‘dark age’ to be rather carelessly used recently, especially in the context of Homer and the fall of Troy. The term “Dark Ages” is now rarely used by historians because of the value judgment it implies, although it is sometimes taken to derive its meaning from the dearth of information about the period. The latter being certainly true of the Greek Dark Age (1) between the collapse of the Mycenaean civilisation and the GreekArchaic Period. Perhaps the Greek dark age that occurred between the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age is the only period in Western history deserving to be called a dark age¹. There really is a dearth of information about this period in Western history, something that is not true about what became to be understood in Western Philosophy as The Dark Ages.
As the above video demonstrates the dark ages were not so dark (2). However it is generally recognised that the end of the middle ages heralded the dawn of the Renaissance (3), this in turn led to the age of enlightenment (4) being adding to Western Philosophy. Of course what is called the age of enlightenment continued to develop² in many forms and is somewhat subsumed into what is called the age of reason.
Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. Zen Proverb
plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose — Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr
I have written a lot about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and perhaps nothing reflects the trend of 21st century more than the technological development of AI. The article ‘How the Enlightenment Ends (5)’ is one of many in a similar vein, each containing an element of truth and much allusion. It’s a pity that an age of reason³ never led to reasonableness at all, be it driven by resurgent nationalism or global economics. I believe that it is leading to another dark age in which there will be an abundance of information about the period and a dearth of truth.
1. The Greek Dark Age: The Dark Age era begins with a catastrophic event: the collapse of the Mycenaean civilisation, when all major Mycenaean regional centres fell out of use after suffering a combination of destruction and abandonment.
2. Dark Ages (historiography): The concept thus came to characterise the entire Middle Ages as a time of intellectual darkness between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance; this became especially popular during the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment.
3. The Renaissance: The Renaissance is most closely associated with Italy, where it began in the 14th century, though countries such as Germany, England and France went through many of the same cultural changes and phenomena.
4. A Beginner’s Guide to the Enlightenment: The Enlightenment held that there could be a science of man and that the history of mankind was one of progress, which could be continued with the right thinking. Consequently, the Enlightenment also argued that human life and character could be improved through the use of education and reason.
5. How the Enlightenment Ends: The internet age in which we already live prefigures some of the questions and issues that AI will only make more acute. The Enlightenment sought to submit traditional verities to a liberated, analytic human reason. The internet’s purpose is to ratify knowledge through the accumulation and manipulation of ever expanding data. Human cognition loses its personal character. Individuals turn into data, and data become regnant.
Referenced Articles & Books:
- A text subscript above and preceding the title here, refers to a book, pdf, podcast, video, slide show and a download that is usually free.
- Brackets containing a number e.g. (1) are used above to reference a particular article (1-5).
- A long read url* (included below) is followed by an asterisk.
- Occasionally a link to Open University (OU) free course is cited.
- JSTOR lets you set up a free account allowing you to have 6 (interchangeable) books stored that you can read online.
¹Early Greece — A Basic Chronology (url/slide show): Ancient Greece and the Origins of Western Culture
²From The Enlightenment To The Romantic Revolution: If Copernicus is the most easily identifiable figure to mark the start of the Enlightenment then it is the German philosopher Immanuel Kant who can most readily be identified as the start of the Romantic Revolution. Romanticism was born out of a sense of disillusionment with the Enlightenment.
³The Butchering of the Age of Reason: The Age of Reason led us to the germ theory of disease, penicillin, and—although it took a while and is still not ubiquitous—women’s rights, child labor laws, and a reduction in racism. And, until the last few months, it allowed we citizens to engage in constructive discussion with elected officials about public policy matters, based on facts. It has allowed a free and independent press, with trained investigative journalists, to help us understand what is true and what is not.