Why the Enlightenment?

The average conception of the Enlightenment is that it came about because people realized they were believing fairy-tales on the basis of simply some other person’s say so. The Enlightenment was the discovery of the responsibility of autonomous thinking.

But it strikes me that exactly the opposite is the case. The end of Christendom didn’t come about because people were Enlightened; rather people brought about the end of Christendom so that they could claim to be Enlightened.

Let me put it another way: Christendom led, through a series of historical events, to apparently irreconcilable truth-claims. In many people’s eyes, this led to the intractable wars of religion. To end these wars, thinkers proposed that knowledge be justified only on the basis experiences all people had in common (according to them): sensation and conscience, and definitely not revelation. Once this proposal was accepted, by definition revelation-claims became seen as a-factual, and therefore irrelevant to politics.

There is really no reason to think that only things held in common by all people can justify knowledge, and that should be our first clue that something besides realizing the truth about the human condition was occuring in the Enlightenment. In reality, politics was driving philosophy, not the other way around.