The International Fellowship of Chivalry-Now

Announcements   —   Contact   —  Home Page  —  Quest Articles  —  Photos  —  12 Trusts  —  Site Map

Western Enlightenment
and Chivalry-Now

While explaining the development of Chivalry-Now, I often refer to the Age of Enlightenment as powerful contributor. While medieval chivalry provided the moral foundation and pedigree of this philosophy, along with viewing life as an illuminating quest, the Enlightenment introduced new dimensions of consciousness that shaped the uniqueness of who we are as a people.
    Also known as the Age of Reason, the period when it flourished occurred during the 17th and 18th centuries. Although it resulted in a dramatic change in the way that people think in Western culture, it represented what might be considered a natural progression from classical Greek thought.
    We were a different people before this burst of intellectual curiosity spread like wildfire across Europe and the New World. For example, before this movement, education was primarily a study of ancient masters, such as Aristotle and Homer. Originality was expressed by interpreting the wisdom of the antiquity, which severely limited discovery and free thought. Dark Age superstition remained fixed in a world that people little understood. The failure of a crop might lead to charges of witchcraft, in which innocent victims were then tortured and killed. Religious wars and regional conflicts decimated populations. Disease was met by ineffective remedies, such as bleeding and noxious fragrances. The benefits of hygiene were unknown. That torture might result in false confessions to alleviate pain defied common logic. Western civilization was more or less static, caught in its own ignorance of a world that waited to be discovered.
    And then it changed. A catalyst in the mid 17th century sparked an explosion of intellectual curiosity that had long waited dormant. Many who responded are well remembered as instigators of what is probably the most important historical turning point of Western civilization.
    Most notably it began when the English statesman and philosopher, Francis Bacon (1561-1626), bravely challenged the status quo by questioning the limits imposed by classical education and theological interference. He espoused a new freedom of thought, one which empowered people to discovery truth through experience and experimentation. He encouraged people to question long held maxims that had previously been regarded as sacrosanct.
    Almost single-handedly, Francis Bacon broke the chains of Dark Age inhibitions. He believed that scientific knowledge, then known as the philosophy of Nature, provided the kind of power that could alleviate human suffering and add significantly to the quality and happiness of people's lives. History has proven him right, although not without cost.
    In spiritual matters, he separated and thereby liberated scientific inquiry from religious domination, so that both could thrive unimpeded. His words made sense, and eventually transformed the relationship between religion and secular government.
    John Locke (1632-1704) explored how the human mind works, and convincingly argued that all knowledge arises from experience. We are born with what amounts to a "tabula rasa," a blank slate, upon which we record what we learn as memory. The accumulation and inter-relationship of memories turns into knowledge. He further concluded that we are all products of our environments. We are able to overcome many of our limitations through reason, experimentation and confirmation. We experience the world, and then make propositions that must be tested. The complexity of the world can be analyzed by studying its parts and their relationships.
    Understanding how the mind works is no small matter. It influences everything that follows, in science, psychology, relationships, and in plotting future possibilities. It allows us to choose what values we believe in according to reason and efficacy. It is difficult to comprehend the impact of John Locke's writing on us all. Together with Francis Bacon, he opened the gateway to the Enlightenment, which in turn made the birth of the modern mind possible. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, another famous child of the Enlightenment, borrowed heavily from Locke when writing the Declaration of Independence.
    In France, Rene Descartes (1596-1650), in his quest for clarity and order, insisted that the mechanics of the natural world could be understood through a proper, empirical approach toward learning. After centuries of limiting knowledge to the interpretations of Aristotle and canon law, Descartes insisted that real knowledge could only be found through direct and systematic discovery that started from a position of doubt.
    Mathematician and scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) challenged the status quo when he defended the heliocentric observations of Copernicus, and was duly punished for doing so. Nevertheless, his theories and observations helped tear down barriers to science and brought shame upon his detractors.
    Isaac Newton (1643-1727) focused his genius on proving that nature could be mathematically analyzed and, from the results, scientific laws obtained. Demonstrating the potential of the human mind, he developed the foundations of calculus, and formulated the theory of gravitation, motion, planetary motion and light - all in his early 20s, during an 18 month hiatus from school due to plague.
    Julien Offroy de La Mettrie (1709-1751) set about to prove that the efficacy of medicine could be improved through empirical research, replacing techniques based on superstition.
    At the age of 26, the inspired Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794) drew upon the flood of Enlightenment principles to publish his famous work On Crime and Punishments. In it, he pleaded on "behalf of reason and humanity." The popularity of this book helped spread the humanitarian outlook of the age, which then influenced the conscience of a large portion of Europe.
    Denis Diderot (1713-1784) edited and published the extensive Encyclopedie, a collection the writings of the very best minds of the age on a wide variety of subjects.
    Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) discovered three laws of planetary motion.
    Thomas Hobbes' (1588-1679) philosophy encompassed a system that included physics, human nature, politics, and materialism.
    Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) won acclaim for his amazing accomplishments in the mechanics of calculations, hydrodynamics, geometry, and barometrics.
    Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de Montesqieu (1689-1755) became an influential political theorist. His work on the fall of the Roman Republic instigated much discussion between the founders of the United States, and helped them form a constitutional government comprised of separate but equal branches of power.
    The above mentioned names merely scratch the surface of Enlightenment writers and philosophers, some of whom were pensioned by kings. Adam Smith (the father of Capitalism). Voltaire (famous French writer who spent his life fighting intolerance). David Hume. Thomas Paine. Immanuel Kant. Pierre Bayle. Benjamin Franklin (considered the Enlightenment ideal). Mozart (who wrote the Magic Flute, which expressed the spirit of the times). James Madison (author of the American Constitution). Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Francis Hutcheson. The list goes on. The Statue of Liberty herself, raising the torch of knowledge, is an Age of Enlightenment figure, just as the Declaration of Independence expresses many of its convictions.
    More important were the reading masses who systematically replaced Dark Age superstition with scientific research, religious toleration, human rights and republican principles of government. Their excitement was contagiously progressive.
    Not everything written by Enlightenment authors has withstood the scrutiny of their ideals. To a certain extent, the Enlightenment project was still limited by the knowledge and prejudices of the times, and its true potential remains unfinished. This is undoubtedly true. Nevertheless, without their enthusiasm for truth, reason and humanity, Western civilization would still be a collection of competing monarchies wallowing in ignorance and religious intolerance. Doctors would still be using leaches. Education would remain limited to the teachings of Aristotle. We might still be struggling with the issues of women's suffrage and slavery. Imperialism would define international relationships. We would still burning witches at the stake. Free thought, which is the essence of positive freedom, would be condemned as radical.
    Chivalry-Now considers the accomplishments of the Enlightenment a Kairos event, a point in time when an explosion of consciousness results in what can only be seen as evolutionary change. Other Kairos events might include the surge of philosophers in classical antiquity, and the spread of Christianity.
    When the ideals of chivalry are augmented and modified by Age of Enlightenment perceptions, our morality is enhanced to include the entire authenticity of the human being. Goodness is not just something for us to follow. It is something to understand and be part of, thus making it possible to apply cognitive moral discipline to the complexities of life. As proponents of the Enlightenment referred to themselves as "new philosophers," the marriage of virtue and reason that Chivalry-Now encourages produces a "new human being."
    The question that remains is where are we now? The Enlightenment greatly contributed to our Western heritage, but what are we doing with its many gifts? Have we lost its enthusiasm? Do we take the human mind and the ideals we cherish for granted? Should we stand idly by while people trash them with hypocrisy? Has democracy itself lost its significance, even as non-Western cultures try to adopt it without the help of centuries of cultural support?
    Part of the fall of Enlightenment thinking came about when people channeled the potential of reason away from philanthropic human development and focused on greed. As Francis Hutcheson said,

reason is only a subservient power to our ultimate determinations...

It needs a moral base, or it could lead anywhere. The Gilded Age did much to redefine the goals of life, and the results are plain. What shallow idealism remained was further shaken by the bloody depravity of World Wars I and II. Humanity no longer seemed moral at all. How does one maintain ideals in the wake of so much senseless murder and destruction. The ideals we held onto, however, were already made impotent through greed. Only the insight and self-discipline of existentialism showed us how to reclaim more than a modicum of heroic dignity.
    Chivalry-Now represents this progression of Western thought and idealism. It starts with a distillation of chivalric principles, or code of ethics, already fashioned from the remnants of antiquity. It incorporates the awakened consciousness and human potential of the Age of Reason. In light of the inevitable disappointments and limitations of life, it finds strength in the integrity of existentialism to preserve what nobility remains, and bring new hope to the world.
    It would be wrong to assume that Chivalry-Now is just a mixture of these three philosophical elements. Each had its good points and its bad, its truth and error. Chivalry-Now is a quest that calls each of us to learn from life directly. The 12 Trusts serve as a starting point. What follows is a personal journey that awakens one's mind to the potential of reason, compassion and virtue. In the face of disappointment, which always results from passing through initial idealism to maturity in an imperfect world, the lessons learned from existentialism carry us forward toward our goal.
What is that goal? Living a life that is fully and authentically human, and leaving the world a better place because we were here.


Special Features:



IFCN Established 2007
© Copyright 2006