Enlightenment. A philosophical and cultural movement begun in seventeenth-century English philosophy but developed throughout Europe in the eighteenth century and an immediate influence upon the American and French Revolutions. Enlightenment doctrine was consequently associated with a range of thinkers, among them John Locke, Tom Paine, David Hume, Denis Diderot, Voltaire, Goethe and Lessing. Its principal belief was in the power and authority of reason in intellectual and practical life, and a number of allied convictions stemmed from this: in man's (sic) goodness and perfectibility, in scientific and social progress, and tolerance and equality before the law. Its influence can be associated with the rise of the bourgeoisie and with improvements in print technology. The latter helped circulate key ideas but also inspired the characteristic Enlightenment aim of the French Encyclopaedists to compile a summation of human learning and its practical application in one publication (an eventual 17 volumes, with 11 of supplementary technical illustration assembled by Diderot and Jean D'Alembert in 1772).
The Enlightenment rejected the irrational and demoted the realms of feeling and the imagination and there have been any number of reactions to this emphasis, from the Romantics to its wholesale rejection by Friedrich Nietzsche. The latter has in turn helped inspire a scepticism within poststructuralism and postmodernism towards the claims of reason and the credibility of any supposed universal truths, such as equality and progress. Postcolonial criticism, in particular, has pointed to how these ideals are founded on a selective European model and thus bear the legacy of colonialism (see eurocentrism). On another front, from within Marxism, it has been argued that contemporary mass societies have distorted Enlightenment reason into the corrupted and impoverished form of 'instrumental reason' or rationalization (Adorno and Horkheimer 1979).
Contemporary debate can be examined in essays by Michel Foucault (1987a) and Jurgen Habermas (1992b). Habermas terms Foucault a 'neo-conservative' and opponent of reason (1992a: 137). However, it would be more accurate to say that Foucault endorses neither reason nor unreason. He similarly refuses the 'blackmail' of being for or against the Enlightenment which he sees as neither an epoch nor body of doctrine but an 'attitude' or critical consciousness. Foucault understands our connection with the Enlightenment as 'the permanent reactivation of an attitude - that is, of a philosophical ethos that could be described as a permanent critique of our historical era' (1987a: 42). Habermas, working within the tradition of the Frankfurt School of critical theory and indebted to Adorno and Horkheimer, laments the contemporary fragmentation of aesthetic, ethical and political realms. The unified Enlightenment or 'modern project' can be re-articulated, he believes, through an intersubjective 'communicative reason', underpinned by a commitment to the goals of truth, right and sincerity. [from Brooker, 1999]