Can we create a New Age of Enlightenment?
If one half of one percent of the population acquires the hobby that I call the ‘intellectual life’ such a group could be the foundation for a new Age of Enlightenment.
The original Age of Enlightenment occurred in Europe during the eighteenth century. “The men [in the 18th century the enlightened were still only half enlightened] of the Enlightenment united on a vastly ambitious program, a program of secularism, humanity, cosmopolitanism, and freedom, above all, freedom in its many forms—freedom from arbitrary power, freedom of speech, freedom of trade, freedom to realize one’s talents, freedom of aesthetic response, freedom, in a word, of moral man to make his own way in the world.”
It appears to me that following the completion of our schooling the normal inclination is to pack up our yearbook and our intellect into a large trunk and store it in the attic. Occasionally one might go up to the attic and reminisce about the old days.
What I propose is that following the end of our school days we begin a gradual process of self-actualizing self-learning.
This period of our life is generally filled with our duties to family and career so that not a great deal of time is available for extraneous matters. However, time is always available for important things and the important thing is to ‘keep curiosity alive’.
I suspect that if one does not engage in non job related intellectual efforts for the twenty years between the end of schooling and mid-life that the curiosity with which we started life will have dried up and blown away.
What are non job related intellectual activities? Such activities are what I consider to be intellectualism. Intellectualism is active engagement with ‘disinterested knowledge’.
There is in industry the concept of ‘applied research’, which is research looking for a good way to build a new mouse trap; there is also a concept called ‘pure research’, which is a search for truth that may or may not lead to an enhancement of the ‘bottom line’.
Interested knowledge is knowledge we acquire because there is money in it. Disinterested knowledge is that knowledge we seek because we care about understanding something even though there is no money in it.
The goal of intellectual life is similar to the goal of the artist "the artist chooses the media and the goal of every artist is to become fluent enough with the media to transcend it. At some point you pass from playing the piano to playing music."
I think it is possible for a significant portion of the population of every nation to become intellectuals. What do you think?
Quotes from The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism by Peter Gay