steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Enlightenment - a dirty word?

Preparing for a class tomorrow, I had occasion to look up 'Enlightenment' in the OED, and was surprised to find that it was originally a pejorative, and presumably sarcastic, term (and still is, as far as the OED is concerned). Since my class is on the Ancients vs. Moderns debate this is all grist to my mill, but I was still surprised, as I don't remember hearing the term used negatively before. (Is it pejorative in German, I wonder?) Perhaps I missed the memo.

Enlightenment: Sometimes used [after Ger. Aufklärung, Aufklärerei] to designate the spirit and aims of the French philosophers of the 18th c., or of others whom it is intended to associate with them in the implied charge of shallow and pretentious intellectualism, unreasonable contempt for tradition and authority, etc.

1865 J. H. STIRLING Secret of Hegel p. xxvii, Deism, Atheism, Pantheism, and all manner of isms due to Enlightenment.Ibid. p. xxviii, Shallow Enlightenment, supported on such semi-information, on such weak personal vanity, etc. 1889CAIRD Philos. Kant I. 69 The individualistic tendencies of the age of Enlightenment.
Tags: language
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