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Liberty and Progress Are Rooted in the Enlightenment

Placing Enlightenment ideas of reason and individualism on a firmer foundation is crucial for future progress, according to ARI’s Onkar Ghate.

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Why care about the Enlightenment, and Enlightenment thinkers?

This question was posed by Onkar Ghate in his keynote talk, “The Enlightenment and the Foundations of Liberty and Progress,” at the recent AynRandCon online conference. Ghate’s talk laid the framework for subsequent presentations by Robert Mayhew, Tara Smith, Gregory Salmieri, and Yaron Brook on the theme of the conference, “Ayn Rand and the Revival of the Enlightenment.” 

We should care about the Enlightenment, Ghate argues, because it’s responsible for the world we live in today and for humanity’s most extraordinary achievements: the Scientific Revolution, the principle of individual rights, the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and centuries of material progress. “[These achievements] rest on the Enlightenment [and its] thinkers, who advanced knowledge, science and reason,” says Ghate. “The Enlightenment period is the birth of the modern world … The idea that progress is possible, that it’s achievable … comes from the Enlightenment.”

Conversely, he explains, the torrent of destruction brought by the rise of fascism, communism, and global warfare is a product of anti-Enlightenment philosophy. “We live in a mixed world that is part Enlightenment ideas and part anti-Enlightenment ideas,” he adds, and if we want to fully pursue good and avoid evil, we need to understand both sets of ideas.

The Enlightenment was vulnerable to attack because there was a deep philosophical error at its core, which anti-Enlightenment philosophers later exploited, and that led to the decline of these ideas. This error had to do with Enlightenment thinkers’ metaphysical conceptions, which Ghate discusses at length in his talk.

The twentieth-century philosopher Ayn Rand had a profound understanding of the Enlightenment, its ideals, and of anti-Enlightenment ideals, and Ghate observes that “Objectivism is the philosophy that the Enlightenment deserved, but never got.” Most importantly, he argues, Objectivism is the first philosophy to put the best of the Enlightenment ideas on a solid foundation, by formulating an integrated system of ideas oriented to reality, and by providing a consistent defense of reason as man’s means of knowledge and survival.

This year’s AynRandCon was aimed primarily at students and newcomers to Objectivism, attracting over three hundred attendees from around the world. This was the first of our conferences to feature simultaneous translation in Spanish and Portuguese, making it available to a much wider Latin American audience. Thanks to the progress and technology made possible by Enlightenment ideas, ARI was able to host this conference online and bring Rand’s unique philosophy to audiences across the world.

Watch Onkar Ghate’s talk below:

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Agustina Vergara Cid

Agustina Vergara Cid, LL.B. and LL.M., is a research associate at the Ayn Rand Institute.

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