Article 51

The Fundamental Error Of The Enlightenment.

The eighteenth century Enlightenment was merely a reactivation of the classical thought process attributed to Plato who erroneously claimed rationality per se as the provider of knowledge, despite his tutor Socrates having more than adequately demonstrated in his dialogues that conclusive knowledge could not be reached by debate, however rational the debaters and/or their listeners might be. Thus, it has been left to me to recognise that the missing factor in this miscalled Enlightenment is its failure to differentiate knowledge from belief; that belief is transformable to positive or negative knowledge, only by being validated or refuted by evaluation of its compliance or non-compliance with our experienced reality; that this website has accordingly shown that craft belief was and is transformed to craft knowledge only by applying a believed (hypothetical) cause to a work-piece in reality, and by observing the effect on the work-piece in reality; and that scientific knowledge was and is acquired only by experimentation which enables the believed (hypothetical) cause to result in the effect requiring such explanation; that if such effect is not observed in the experiment, another hypothetically believed cause must be reality-evaluated, even if this requires another experimental arrangement to be designed and built; and that, clearly, in the absence of the reality-evaluation on which craftsmanship and science is based, belief can never be converted to positive or negative knowledge by rationality alone.

So what role does rationality play? My answer is that it avoids mistakes in making deductions from existing knowledge, but that even so, science additionally requires the conclusions from any rational train of thought to be confirmed by yet another experiment to demonstrate that the new effect of this rationally deduced new cause can be recognised by observing its expected effect in reality; that in mathematics rationality derives conclusions from axioms, but that the repeated use of the equality sign denotes that nothing has been added or subtracted in transforming the axioms to the conclusion; and that consequently the conclusion is simply a useful re-statement of the axioms. However, for example, when mathematical analysis of equations embodying experimentally derived knowledge predicted that a certain star would appear closer to the Sun in the next solar eclipse than it would were light beams not deflected by gravity on passing close to the Sun on their way to an observer on Earth, such observers were sent to a suitable location to photograph this eclipse for comparison of the known position of the star with its observed position on the photograph, thus experimentally confirming the mathematically derived conclusion that light beams passing the Sun are indeed influenced by the Sun’s gravity.

In light of this preamble, and by way of introducing the third section of this website, I now add to my earlier examples of the extent to which Plato’s mistaken reliance on rationality-only, is still influencing the modern world and is now long overdue for correction, by analysing an article by Robert Tombs which appeared in the Saturday Comment in the Daily Telegraph of 17/4/21, entitled ‘The West is playing with fire by rejecting the Enlightenment values that defined it’. It opened by stating that ‘those who associated Prince Philip with a life of pomp, deference, polo and palaces have learnt that his early life was one of danger, disruption and tragedy’; that ‘at the time of his birth, an influential best seller was Osbert Spengler’s The Decline of the West which reasoned that our present worries are nothing new’; that ‘the First World War had shattered a two-century story of rising European power, wealth and cultural primacy’; that revolution destroyed the Continent’s cosmopolitan aristocratic society’; that ‘economic turmoil undermined social stability’; that ‘Fascism, a toxic hybrid of archaism and modernity, took hold in the cradles of European culture, shaking its moral foundations’; and that ‘for many intellectuals, the liberal order was doomed’. However, he doesn’t stop to explain how the much vaunted rationality of these intellectuals was thus overthrown, nor does he recognise that this overthrow was of one set of beliefs by other sets of beliefs in the absence of any corrective knowledge. However, his reference to Prince Philip reminds me that while he avoided all reference to anthropogenic global warming and organic farming (which I define as belief), he was an enthusiastic supporter of species conservation (which I recognise as having a knowledge-content).

However, Tombs goes on to say that ‘of course it (the previous order) wasn’t’ (doomed); that ‘the hard-fought victory of 1945 brought a period of relative stability’; that ‘though overshadowed by the Cold War stand-off between the USA and the USSR, it was a time of unequalled peace and prosperity for Britain and Europe’; that ‘the collapse of the communist bloc in the 1980s and 1990s created a short period of euphoria when the apparent triumph of western liberalism even seemed to herald “the end of history” through “the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”, in the words of Francis Fukuyama’; and that ‘only western ideas, it seemed, provided a coherent blueprint for human progress’; but that ‘almost at once, instead of global harmony there began another phase of challenges to Western assumptions, not least from within’; that ‘we may be seeing the end of three centuries during which free thought, reason, science, education, commerce and technology seemed to have given Europe and its offshoots not only the material power but also the intellectual leadership which provided the means and confidence to create the The Industrial Revolution as the model and the universal standard of modernity and progress’. However, at this point, Tombs fails to recognise that the Industrial Revolution was not brought about by rationality alone; and he fails to recognise that it was brought about by the rapidly increasing acquisition of cause-effect knowledge of reality.

Again, he proceeds to say that ‘though the British and French Empires were significantly different as was the later American hegemony, they had in common what has been called “liberal imperialism”, the belief that the West which had been first in discovering Enlightenment values, had the right and even the duty to spread them in what the French called a “civilising mission”’; and that ‘when the subject peoples eventually threw off imperial rule, it was usually in the name of the West’s own proclaimed values of democracy, liberty and equality’; but that ‘Europe shrank as its imperial structures unravelled in the 1950s and 1960s’; that ‘this was seen to be less than revolutionary and even the fulfilment of western ideals’; that ‘the British Crown presided over independence ceremonies designed to celebrate former colonies becoming fully fledged members of the Western world’; that ‘the Commonwealth was the expression of this aspiration’; and that ‘the United States took over the role of the European empires in maintaining a liberal world order based on new post-imperial institutions such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organisation, while the European Economic Community seemed to reinvigorate the ambitions of a defeated Europe’; that ‘in short, from the Eighteenth century to the end of the 20th, the history of the world seemed to have merged into the history of the West’; that ‘when he (Tombs) was reading history at Cambridge in the early 1970s, one of the most popular papers covering world history was unashamedly entitled “The Expansion of Europe”’; and that ‘the Enlightenment provided a universal narrative, in which it was assumed that sooner or later every people would embrace the model of modernity’. Again, he implies that rational belief is the sole source of progress, and again he ignores the role of knowledge; and that the contention of belief/counter-belief necessarily leads to progress, whereas I have demonstrated that knowledge alone, leads to progress.

However, he goes on to say that ‘that the intellectual world has vanished’; that ‘we have entered into another “Decline of the West” in which external and internal forces are again engaged’; that ‘the West has lost the technological, economic and organisational advantages it had enjoyed for two centuries as a result of early industrialisation’; that the rest of the world has largely caught up, not least due to a Western policy of encouraging economic development’; and that, accordingly, ‘we have a total inability to impose order on the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa, once acquiescent in Western Authority’; that ‘the self-confidence of the West has been rejected by much of its own intelligentsia’; and that ‘this is the real meaning of the vogue for cultural and intellectual “decolonisation”’; and that this in turn ‘is why it is extended beyond history and literature to music, science and even mathematics’; that ‘what is being denied is that Western ideas or culture can claim any universal validity or special importance’; that instead they are attacked as hypocritical, morally corrupt and oppressive’; that ‘John Locke, theorist of political rights was a racist; David Hume, a founder of modern ideas of self, was a racist’; that ‘Mozart and Beethoven wrote during “the age of slavery”’; that ‘our museums are products of empire; that ‘our universities, churches and charitable foundations, are tarred with the same brush, and make fulsome expressions of shame’; that ‘instead of the Enlightenment narrative of progress we see a nihilistic rejection of history and culture creating an intellectual and moral void’; that ‘Britain and its allies may have to navigate something like the pre-Enlightenment world’; that ‘for the first time in more than two centuries, the world is not being led by some version of the Enlightenment’; that ‘instead of enjoying “the end of history”, we are threatened by what Samuel Huntingdon called the “clash of civilisations”’.

However, in contrast, I say that everyone who comments on history, current policies and the requirements of future policy, as exemplified by Robert Tombs, fails to understand the inherent error of the Enlightenment as have all their fore-runners, since Plato rejected the understanding reached by his tutor, Socrates; and that the error arises from a ubiquitous failure to recognise that the application of rationality does not transform belief to knowledge; that belief is transformed to positive or negative only by evaluating its compatibility or its incompatibility with our experienced reality; that rationality alone merely enables belief and counter-belief to be debated to one or other transiently elective belief-consensus pending resumption of the debate (as Socrates first noticed); and that the subject of debate is merely belief/counter-belief respectively supported by partially selected facts/counter-facts, evidence/counter-evidence, and/or news/false-news, no set of which is ever debate-terminating conclusive knowledge; and that until this conclusion is ubiquitously recognised as truth, wisdom, right and good we will continue to wallow in untruth, folly, wrong and bad, in our inability to differentiate the knowledge/belief dichotomy and its associated dichotomies.

Thus, having shown in the first section of this website that throughout my career as a scientific civil servant, no politician, policy-making civil servant or commentator has ever differentiated knowledge from belief, and having shown in the second section, by analysis of press articles that no commentators on political affairs ever do so either, my intention in the third section is to prevent the future implementation of belief-only policies where knowledge-only alternatives are available; and/or to suspend them until knowledge-only alternatives are available. 25/4/21.

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