Enlightenment and Utopianism

one of the main problems of the Enlightenment stems from the assumption that the mind alone is the source of meaning. This often led to an unwarranted intellectual confidence. Many appeared insufficiently aware of the limitations of the historically conditioned individual mind and tended to identify it with the universal, transcendental reason. Kant, who coined the term ‘transcendental ego,’’ warned against equating it with the empirical self. Others did not adequately distinguish them and ended up with an idea of reason that badly needed to be desublimated. One effect of it was that they tended to overestimate the realistic chances of their projects. Utopian treatises on perpetual peace, on a permanent international brotherhood, on the unification of all sciences, and on the future extinction of crime, bear the sign of a naive presumptuousness. For a brief period many intellectuals, especially but not exclusively in France, expected that the French Revolution, the ultimate utopia, was about to realize all the Enlightenment’s hopes.

Louis Dupré, The Enlightenment and the Intellectual Foundations of Modern Culture, p. 336

February 19, 2024