Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Enlightenment hubris

I'm spending most of my time at the moment writing my PhD thesis, much of which revolves around a rationalist defence of the Enlightenment in the face of social reactionary attacks on the hubris of Enlightenment man. These people are building straw men in order to knock them down, I argue. They create false values for the Enlightenment and then lambast the Enlightenment for failings it didn't have. Drawing on the Scots' rationalist tradition, I can work myself into a fury of righteous indignation. And so it's a bit sobering to come across this newspaper editorial from The Times in 1945:
The fundamental power of the universe, the power manifested in the sunshine that has been recognized from the remotest ages as the sustaining force of earthly life, is entrusted at last to human hands.
This refers to the exploding of the atomic bombs in Japan. It is impossible not to be repulsed by the casual indifference to human suffering that lies behind these words, and it is difficult not to read them as anything other than hubristic. Those were dark times, to be sure, and it is hard to forgive this editorial comment. That we can look on it now and be appalled is perhaps the only saving grace.

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