Enlightenment or Romanticism?

To me the central of idea of Enlightenment and the central idea of Romanticism, as presented in the class, are reason and beauty, respectively. Early on we learnt about figures such Locke, Hume, and Kant, who attempted to set standards for which how one could act rationally and adheres to reason which is universal. It is particularly apparent in Kant’s Groundwork that reason could be the highest among all other motivations human experienced, and that for a rational agent, reason is both the mean and end for which one acts upon. For these works which we’ve read under the name of Romanticism, they generally present beauty as a higher if not equivalent end to reasoning, an alternative option that explores what reason rejects and neglects. What we have here is essentially logic verses aesthetics, reasons verses sensations. Personally I’m more inclined to arguments from the Enlightenment side, as it is rational to use reason in weighting arguments. Works which are said to follow Romanticism do bring a good point in questioning whether one ought to be rational. If we can only use reason to evaluate motivation, then what is not rational is unlikely to be evaluate by reason as acceptable. In other words, we can only assume that reason is the only worthy end. This is the most interesting takeaway from this class for me thus far. The study of Enlightenment and Romanticism in the class reveals new insights to me about Foucault’ Madness and Civilization, a contemporary book examining how madness has been perceived and treated through centuries.

Monet’s Art

This oil painting is done by Claude Monet in the last thirty years of his life, as one among the series “Nympheas”. The style presented in this work is usually referred as impressionism, which are characterized by soft and light brush strokes, realistic approaches to lights and shadows, and unusually angles of presentation. The method applied by the artist to produce this work in a sense adheres to the rational ideals, as Monet has done a series of studies on how the lights changes from different times of the day, even different times of the year. This piece is but one among the many that depicts the same pond and the same garden from the same angles.

On reason and morals

Kant makes the following remark on the purpose of reason: “For since reason is not sufficiently serviceable for guiding the will safely as regards its objects and the satisfaction of all our needs…its (reason’s) true function must be to produce a will which is good, not as a means to some further end”. According to this Kant perceives reason as a mean to produce good will, the unconditional good that ensure morals. His reasoning can be summarized as follow:1.Everything in nature work in a purposive manner. 2.It is not a purpose for reason to create a will satisfying all our needs. 3.Reason has influence on our will. With premise 1 and that reason exists, one derives that reason has a purpose. Given this and premise 2, 3, one may concludes that reason purposefully influence our will, but not for satisfying our needs. Kant claims that this purpose of reason is to produce good will. However premise 1 could be problematic, and if one is to follow Hume’s view of knowledge, that one ought to proportion trust in claims according to the strength of evidence, then 1 is clearly flawed. Despite how many things we have studied, we can only find purposes in finite number of things, never enough evidence to justify a claim infinite. If 1 is to limited to a number of things in nature, excluding reason, then the argument would not be valid. Alternatively we may simply define will guided solely by reason, free from inclination, as good will, although this will make the idea of a good will irreverent to experiences or common sense, for reason is considered a prior by Kant.

Under Kant’s definition of good will Abraham making attempt on Issac’s life is certainly not an act with good will, and hence an immoral act. Abraham’s act is unreasonable: he cannot provide a reason to others why he would try to kill his son, and in the end all he show through the event is obedience without using one’s own capacity to reason, effectively prevent any possibility for good will. Was there any reasoning for the universal which Abraham could use to justify his act, he should be able to communicate it to others, for reason is the same to all human. Would Abraham use reason to judge his action, he must see that one should not kill another person, for this cannot be an universal law: if everyone is to kill another person, there would be no human left to kill or to be killed.


Introducing myself

Greeting! This is George, a sophomore math and economy joint major student, from Beijing, China. I’m interested in reading books about philosophy and social science, and running dungeon and dragon campaign with my friends. I’m also open to exploring new foods.

My favorite book from HUM sequence thus far is Gorgias by Plato. The dialogue inquires on topics concerning the nature of rhetoric, how and why people argue, the very thing which we’ve spent so much time learning in the HUM class. This work also brings up more questions than it answered, proposing ideas that seems surprisingly modern.