Reason, Rationalism, Romanticism

The Age of Reason, Rationalism and Romanticism in Europe, also called The Enlightenment, was most pronounced between about 1740 and 1840. Rationalism and the beginnings of modern science go back to the early 1600s, and Romanticism still had power to inspire until the late 1800s, but their summer together was in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Experienced only need apply

Go Fishing with Ben Franklin

Flying his kite in a thunderstorm, Ben Franklin was fishing for the divine. He held the belief, typical of his time, that direct experience of Nature enlightened our spirits, informed our minds and opened to us what went on within the mind of God.
The Bible told truth about God, to be sure. It was the book of God's Word. But not the whole truth. Truth was also available from Nature, the book of God's Work.
Direct experience of Nature was a necessary part of spiritual growth. Science and religion were married partners.

Creating Jobs in the New Century

Thomas Friedman tells us not to worry about U.S. jobs being outsourced to India and other distant places. He says those were old-style jobs that had no future anyway.
As long as America maintains its ability to do cutting-edge innovation,” he adds (New York Times, Feb. 22, 2004, p. Op-Ed 11), “the long run should be fine.”
Problem is, getting people to the cutting edge depends on having first-rate training centers, colleges and universities, and on rewarding people for opting into the courses of study that will lead them to those cutting edges.
What we're actually doing is cutting way back on educational availability and opportunity. Spaces in training centers, colleges and universities are declining by the hundreds of thousands in the U.S. Funding cutbacks are crippling key programs, making it impossible to hire first-rate faculty and discouraging bright students from pursuing a future in education.
The one hand is promoting globalization of commerce while the other is doing its best to shut down the whole system of American public education. Together they are condemning an entire upcoming generation to a bleak future.

The world we call modern, which emerged first in Europe and North America, grew out of the root belief that we can learn from our experience. Experience can change us.
That's where our sense of history comes from, our idea that with experience we can change, grow, evolve. Many of our favorite stories are about how things got started, how they became what they are today and where they might be going in the future.
It's where science comes from, too. As a scientist Ben Franklin believed he could learn about electricity by experiencing it directly. In his day the word experiment meant no more than experience.
Protestant Christianity was born out of the same notion. Believers were not dependent on the teachings of church authorities, the reformers insisted. Believers could read the scriptures themselves, experience the divine themselves, develop a life in the spirit directly from their own experiences.
“Walk a mile in my moccasins,” goes the saying: experience the world as I experience it and you'll understand why I say what I say and do what I do.


Inventing Freedom of Thought

[This is a digest of “Losing Their Religion,” by Andrew Miller, a review of Flesh in the Age of Reason by Roy Porter (New York: 2003); in The New York Times Book Review, March 21, 2004, p. 11.]
This is a book about reading and readings . . . — John Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” Edward Gibbon’s “Memoirs,” Mary Wollstonecraft’s “Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” Laurence Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy” . . . and so on until we come to Byron. . . .
Porter charts the lines of thinking that flowed out from laboratories, libraries, private studies, learned societies and London coffeehouses, as old certainties about humanity, our nature and place in creation, were teased (or occasionally ripped) apart.
The 17th century had been marked by the convulsions of civil war and revolution . . . — questions and trials of an essentially religious character. . . . But as the century grew so did the boldness of its brightest inhabitants, men and women prepared to think straight and face the consequences. . . .Sapere aude (“Dare to be wise”), the Enlightenment [18th century] battle cry, made, little by little, everything thinkable. “Should free inquiry lead to the destruction of Christianity itself,” the dissenting minister Joseph Priestley declared in the robust style of the times, “it ought not, on that account, to be discontinued.” . . .
Man is an eating animal, a drinking animal and a sleeping animal . . . placed in a material world.” Thus speaks Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles. . . . Darwin is a Roy Porter favorite, a doctor, an experimenter, a poet and — 65 years before the publication of “The Origin of Species” — an evolutionist. He was a thoroughgoing optimist, too, who believed in the progress of the mind and who was not afraid, in increasingly prudish mid-Georgian England, to champion the pleasures of the flesh. . . . Others of the optimistic school included . . . Adam Smith: . . . Robert Owen; even . . . the poet William Blake. . . .
Opposed to this school [were] Bernard de Mandeville, . . . [who] shared with the mighty Thomas Hobbes a view of man as Homo homini lupus: man the wolf. . . .
The world Porter is describing at the end of the book, Byron’s world, is a recognizably modern one. The genie of free inquiry is out of its bottle. . . , the mind evolving from one dominated by the spectral forces of religion to one that emerges into the 19th century somewhat self-astonished, troubled by its new latitudes, prey to fads and demagogues, but armed with a heady sense of its own seemingly limitless possibilities.