The New Enlightenment


The rise of the University
The Renaissance
The Enlightenment
The rise of the sciences in the 20th century.

And now . . .

The New Enlightenment:  

a progressive, interdisciplinary demeanor that weds the emerging mind sciences, meta-critical philosophy, the arts, and the work of the public intellectual. [my take so far anyway]

Explanation of terms:

“The New Enlightenment” I take from George Lakoff (The Political Mind, 2008).  I was struck by the appropriateness of this phrase in light of Christopher Hitchens’ call to a New Enlightenment just a year previous (God is not great, 2007). Somewhere between Hitchens’ calling the 18th century philosophers to a second, more dedicated baptism and Lakoff’s pronouncement of the “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” a new age had dawned.

Only history can determine the accuracy of this suggestion, of course, but there is a sense in which we can now begin running the history – consider the birth and death of ‘postmodernism’. Further, I was motivated to write this entry only after scanning the recent work of some philosophers that I had hoped would convey  the marks of The New Enlightenment. To my disappointment they did not. As Lakoff pointed out with what I take to be some insight, we are “now in the stage described by Thomas Kuhn in which the new and old paradigms coexist with little interaction” (243). 

“Interdisciplinary” refers to genuine use of models from different fields, such as linguistics, cognitive science, neurobiology, developmental, psychology, philosophy, mathematical modeling, biology, and literature. For example, the philosopher Samuel Guttenplan (Objects of Metaphor, 2005) should consider whether his armchair investigation of metaphor holds up to implications of how qualitatively similar N400 ERP components [this has to do with 'brain waves'] vary in amplitude in proportion to stimuli’s metaphoricity (see Seana Coulson & Cyma Petten, A special role for the right hemisphere in metaphor comprehension?’, Brain Research, 2007; also see Coulson, ‘Metaphor Comprehension and the Brain’, in Gibb’s The Cambridge Handbook of Metaphor and Thought, 2008).  Likewise, Lakoff should consider the history of our modeling of the circadian, neuronal mechanism of the fruit fly (Bechtel and Abrahamsen, ‘Dynamic Mechanistic Explanation: Computational Modeling of Circadian Rhythms as an Exemplar for Cognitive Science’,  to appear in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A) before pronouncing our knowledge of cognitive mechanisms realized by millions of neurons in the human brain.  Similarly, “Philosophy of . . . ” sub-disciplines must be empirically guided by the developing mind sciences to every extent possible, in particular the philosophy of science, philosophy of law, and political theory.  Take for example the successes of Situationism at Harvard Law and the counter-balancing neurobiological considerations of Suhler and Patricia Churchland (‘Control: conscious and otherwise’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(8), 341-347, 2009).

“Demeanor” reflects the lack of a movement, institution, or single ideological position capable of rhetorically herding thinkers. This is a new plateau for cosmopolitan civilization, not a new creed or empire. Likewise, “meta-critical philosophy” refers to our ability to begin locating the unconscious ways we are guided by the inescapable semantic framing provoked by language, which allows philosophy itself to become more conscious of the metaphors that constrain it. I have been saying for a decade – to what seemed to be no good purpose – that the abstract propositions contained within or floating above our utterances and the static content residing in our belief boxes are simplifying illusions of our philosophical imagination.  Propositions, concepts, and content, traditionally understood, do not exist. Period. End of story. If you think this is not the end of the story, I invite you to my comment section, or anyone’s comment section. Please, get creative and find a way to make a peep. So far, you continue to hold your tongue once so challenged. As I think is evident after any random perusal of how philosophers and non-philosophers persist in talking, this linguistic corollary to atheism just is the necessary step that must be made in order to advance within The New Enlightenment (you are free to remain within your academic or literal cult; I wish to make no strict demand on you here. I am only describing how it is that you will forego the self-critical, cosmopolitan advance to be found in the interdisciplinary work of The New Enlightenment).

As for the social and the political: The New Enlightenment is, at least roughly, a return to the founding of our democracy without the Old Enlightenment notions of reason. Empathy, embodiment, nurture, freedom of inquiry, and inclusion trump “authoritarian hierarchy based on vast concentrations and control of wealth; order based on fear, intimidation, and obedience . . no balance of power; priorities shifted from the public sector to the corporate and military sectors . . . and patriarchal family values projected on religion, politics, and the market” (Lakoff, 1).

* The picture is the web-page header for the #1   graduate program in Neursciences in the U.S., at the University of California, San Diego.


UPATE: And speaking of Metaphor, Harvard Law’s The Situationist notes a recent article in the Boston Globe (by Globe staff Drake Bennett) relating the prolific and forward moving research on conceptual metaphor.  Also, a video of George Lakoff’s talk on the political mind, at UC San Diego, is now up.


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