The Enlightenment: Truths Behind a Misleading Abstraction

  • Robert NolaEmail author
Part of the Science: Philosophy, History and Education book series (SPHE)


What does the nominalization ‘The Enlightenment’ refer to? Sometimes it is used merely to name a period of time in European history. Sometimes it is use to refer to a movement or a process (social or intellectual). Again, it is used to refer to some body of doctrine (though often what doctrine is unclear). On other occasions, it is used to refer to people who advanced such bodies of doctrine. Contexts of use may not be sufficient to determine the referent of ‘The Enlightenment’. Such a nominalization is to be contrasted with the use of the adjective ‘enlightened’ to name some property of a person. This paper attempts to say what this property is and show how it underpins an epidemiology of being enlightened , that is, an account of the distribution of enlightened as opposed to unenlightened people in a given society at a given time. This gives the kernel of truth that the nominalization ‘The Enlightenment’ obscures. It also helps show that some recent criticisms of “The Enlightenment” fall quite short of their mark.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of HumanitiesThe University of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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