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How to defend the Enlightenment

April 5, 2010

AC Grayling and Tzvetan Todorov in Eurozine:

“To say that reason is only desiccating and too dry is a dangerous caricature. No less dangerous is to eliminate the place for arts, for myth, which is a different kind of knowledge of the world. We have to be cautious about both dangers, both reductions.” On the publication of his new book In Defence of the Enlightenment, Tzvetan Todorov tells British philosopher AC Grayling why the Enlightenment must be separated from scientism and cultural chauvinism.

AC Grayling: We are in profound agreement on many things; you and I share the much same premises, the same desires and ambitions, the same sentiments. I regard us as comrades in the same line of inquiry. But, for the purposes of discussing your book with you, I will at times play the devil’s advocate. However, there are one or two points where we have a real difference of view. That is the background against which I shall be asking you the following questions. First, a point about deism in the eighteenth century. Many people who were then atheist couldn’t say so, because it was socially unacceptable. So they assumed the label of deist. Some people who did so were probably serious about it, for example Voltaire. But a lot of other people were probably atheists. Is that your understanding?

Tzvetan Todorov: Definitely. But some of the important thinkers of the Enlightenment I think were deists. And there is one character who plays a central role for me, biographically, and this is Rousseau. He is a very singular representative of the Enlightenment, since his point was fighting against thephilosophes, the extreme of the Enlightenment. He always claimed that he had to fight on two fronts, against the fanatics on one side and atheists on the other. He had a certain sort of deism, theism. [More]

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