A Rose by Any Other Name
If you are like many I have encountered in life, right about now you might be thinking: “Take off your rose-colored glasses. A rose is a rose but it still has thorns. So does life!” Many believe that philosophers are simply those who were too lazy to study the other sciences. They scoff at the thought of thinking which, in an interesting sense of irony, gives reason and cause for the need of philosophy as a science and the reason for studying it.
In 1784, Immanuel Kant asked of the world: “What is Enlightenment?” He defined it as not just a philosophical construct but a period in history, a demarcation in mankind’s development. With the debates that raged in Kant’s time regarding religion versus reason, skepticism versus idealism, etc., Kant believed that man had encountered a period of learning, of discovery, of…enlightenment. Kant’s period is more commonly known as the Age of Romanticism, a moniker that is a bit misleading. Was this time in history a real change from its predecessor period or was it simply a reaction to the living that preceded it?
The eighteenth century is considered an age of classicism. The period we call Romanticism praised imagination over reason, creativity over the structure that preceded it, emotions over logical behavior. Literature became treasure vats of drama and great emotion. With the emphasis on mankind’s inner passions and struggles, the human personality with all its moods and potentialities came into focus. People looked for freedoms and political and social causes became the themes for literature which was found in the hands of all classes. Much like a teenager who rebels in order to find him/herself, mankind fought against what had been in an effort to discover what could be.
Although the Romantic Era put great importance on man’s emotional state with sympathy and love ever present, nature was also prominent, being seen as the work of the Great Spirit, the Creator, God. In rebelling against the middle classes and those in power, rural country living became romanticized and was considered threatened which led to a melancholy hue cast over the period. The Roman period suffered intense upheavals, both politically and socially. These led to cultural changes, influenced by the romanticizing of the political and social battles faced. A period generally considered to have begun with the French Revolution and ended with the Great Reform Bill, literature became the way mankind dealt with the bloodshed and the new ways of government. Satire became a common literary technique which required people to think – Is this to be taken literally or satirically?
Romanticism in philosophy was evident in the work of the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau espoused theories about the “noble savage”, the primitive peoples previously seen as incapable of thought. Rousseau’s “Emile: Or On Education” promoted the theory that children are naturally good creatures and that nature is a great teacher. His works continue to influence education today.
The concept that mankind is born good is not new. It exists in many spiritualities and religions. Radicals who want only their way which is based more on greed than theology believe that only certain cultures or genders have value. The Romantic period celebrated the fact that one is born in one’s own natural state and that state is alive in goodness. Until a person or being is threatened, it poses no danger to another. Thus the question arises: Is it the action that creates the negative reaction? The rose grows its thorns but these pose no threat unless one manhandles the flower. The presence of life is not the threat, neither is the presence of one who is different. The real threat comes when we fail to think, to live the philosophy of our beliefs. Enlightenment comes when we realize that life is a joint exercise. John Donne said: “No man is an island; no man stands alone.” We are each other’s destiny. We can either be a thorn that shrivels and dies or a flower that blooms brilliantly and then gives seed to the future.