Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Lecture 2 - The Enlightenment...

These are the notes i have made from the podcast by MPW on The Enlightenment. i think i am finally starting to get my head round things after reading about Walt Disney and Romanticism, and now looking recapping on The Enlightment. To me, it seems that The Enlightenment was the idea of civilization growing and developing, asking more and more questions to find out more about the world we live in. Whereas Romanticism follows the idea that we should be one with nature. Anyway, here are the notes i made...


- Think of these presentations as a methodology; that is the way in which people construct arguments.

- The Enlightenment particularly linked to the concept of modernity. There isn't anything in our lives that cannot, in some form, be traced back to the Enlightenment.
- The Enlightenment as a set of ideas and principles is normally regarded as starting in the 17th century. And some people have even sggested that during that time there was a complete paradigm shift. From one set of beliefs, of knowledge, to a completely different world.
- What the Enlightenment establishes are the principles and beliefs of the world in which we still live.
- This idea of paradigm shift is intersting, it sort of suggests that if you were time tunneled back to a period before the 17th century, the world would be a very strange place. If, however, you were time tunneled to a period post the Enlightenment, there would be some touchstones which you would be relatively familiar with. The framework of the culture and society would be to some degree familiar.

- When you look at onjects, and when you encounter architecture, a way of approaching them is not just to think about their physicality; the way that they provide an envelope around space, but also to consider how they represent cultural ideas.
- If we take a building like the Parthenon, there's certain things about it that we immediately notice; it has lines of symmetry; it has a distribution which seems to be logical and ordered; and it has evn been believed there is a bow in the construction to compensate for perspective, to try and keep its shape even when you are looking at it from a particular viewpoint.

- Plato, Aristotle, Socrates stemmed from this culture. Their views of the world have been challenged, refined, questioned and in some degree overturned. But they started a process of trying to look rationally, or to a degree, at the world. So although we asociate the ancient Greeks with a mythology, the philosophers began to ask questions about how the world worked. To a large degree, the questions that they asked have been reinvestigated in many ways, but the were so profound and so interesting that they have help sway for centuries. We still talk about Platonic ideas, Aristotle and Socrates.
- Aristotle believed that the world was made up of four elements and he actually formulated a series of statements which we would understand an element to be. An element is something which is fundamental, it cant be broken down or changed. So Aistotle thinks Earth, Air, Water, Fire. How did he arrive at that? He took the world around him and he started tot hinka bout it. He took a stone, or so the story goes, and he dropped it into water; and the air bubles that were trapped in the water rose to the surface. And so he could start to build a strata of these essential elements. Well Earth obviously goes down, it goes through water and the air bubles escape to the air. So everything is progressing upwards, in a logical way. Fire is always evident in the air trying to move up through the air.
- Do we still think they are elements? No. However, it was interesting that this idea of Aristotle lasted for nearly 2000 years. And commentators of philosophy think that, to some degree, they stopped develpment. The method they were using to explore the world, sort of ground to a halt, and so there was a repetition of learning in oppose to investigation. Right the way from Aristotle's deat, 332BC, all the way through to about he 17th century, those ideas were really significant.

- John Locke, a British philosopher, started to investigate the idea of Empiricism. Empiricism would be the questioning, in a rational way, of the world through experience. It starts to formulate the idea of having a hypothesis, which you would then test and find out whether the hypothesis holds up to your investigation.
- John Locke, 'How is it that when we are born and grow older... and we have experience of the world; how is it that our minds are furnashed with all the things that we know and understand?' And he challenged the idea that we were created with a lot of pre-information already embedded in us. He started to say, quite a contemporary idea, that identity is built innate.
- How could you be ordained by god as a pre-existing condition because of your birth, which happened before your birth, when actually the logical view of the world is to examine everything post you coming into being. And it started to question some of the ideas of the Greeks. Plato had set in place an idea of a metaphysical world, a world that existed before us, something we sould never see but could philosophically think about.
- Most famously, Plato had the idea that there were significant forms. Plato thought for instance that every human being, every chair, every tree etc that we could see, was a mere copy, a representation of an ideal form that lay outside of our experience. The metaphor he used wa, it was like we were in a cave, there was a fire and the true forms moved betwen us and the fire casting a shadow on the back of the cave, which was all we could see. Locke's Empiricism is actually, the world as we experience it.
- In the 18th century his ideas informed the thinker Emmanuel Kant, who wrote the Critique of pure reason. And Kant pushed the envelope even more to say, yes the experiential worl is absolutely aluable to us, it is the thing of which we are oing to base most of our judgements and knowledge. However, there are things we don't immediately experience that are a value to us, so long as we can reason them. For instance, do things exist even if we can't experience them? We believe there are other thngs, things we do not know. But those things we could only conceive of because we could reason them. This type of thinking, this deductive reasoning, was not present prior th 17th century amd it unleashed the Enlightenment.

- The Philosopher's Stone links to the beginning if the Enlightenment, to the ancient Greeks, because the stone was meant to be the essential ingredient that would unleash the capability to turn lead into gold.

- Alchemy as the root of chemistry has an interesting position, it's trying to explore things that we would now think are impossible, but it's envoking in people a scientific methodology in terms of chemistry to push the boundaries of known knowledge.
- The most fmoud British scientist, a mathmatician, Sir Isaac Newton, wrote more abut alchemy than he did about mathematics and the principles that we now know him for. The societies that were publishing his work decided that it was a good idea not to publish the papers on alchemy, because they may distract from other work which was more accessible.
- Sir Isaac Newton's work and the way that has been popularized sets the foundations for the scientific revolution, that is central to the Enlightenment.
- Your set of beliefs, your framework, starts to be formed by the scientists that were working alongside Newton and were sobsequently using the same type of methodology.
- Scientific experimentation became the subject of art.

- Wealthy land owners in the 18th century became in wealthier. The reason why was because they had all that land. If we take a step back to the 16th and 17th century, land was usually owned by villages or a group of small holdings and the agriculture was based on the relatively small plots. Acts were passed, enclosure acts, where people in many ways, during this period, displaced from the landscape. So these people who had had a rural life suddenly found themselves, because of the laws that were being passed, increasingly marginalized and pushed off the land. These huge estates, which have become synonomous with the Enlightenment and British culture, evidence new techniques of farming, much larger fields, increased productivity etc. So the things in which we now rely upon to feed the world are developed at this time, it's very rational and logical, but equally, it takes a whole set of the population and starts to drive them off of the land, into the cities or the emerging cities. So the towns and cities we go to, atart to be formed in this particular period.

- In terms of architecture, there is a curious relationship between the Panteon in Rome (126AD), The Paladian Villa in Venice (16th Century) and Chiswick House in London (1729).
- In th 18th century, alongside all these other things we've spoken about, there is also a thirst for culture. People wanted to go on what became known as the grand tour. They wanted to be able to go and experience the classical world, the world from which they saw the dvelopment, of the rational, logical, enlightened world in which they lived. What better way of embodying those principles in contemporary architecture than to actually go back and visit the originals, great architecture of Italian architects who translated those originals into more ontemporary forms, and then take those sontemporary forms and then build them in London.

- Taste in the 18th Century was absolutely essential. There was a sense where you wanted to become a connoseur of taste. If you were sufficiently wealthy, you would build your classical house to demonstrate your taste. You would collect the artefacts of the ancient world to demonstrate your taste.
- The Lunar Society were an interesting group of people. Matthew Bolton, one of the new manufacturers of the budgening industrial period; because you could take those rational ideas about science and you could start to apply them to mechanisation, division of labour, the standardization of forms, all those things that we associate we modernity, and particulary the machine aesthetic as it begins to emerge in later ecnturies.

- You could take someone like Wedgewood, a designer and manufacturer, with his finger firmly on the pulse of taste, of the 18th century responding dynamically to what these new connoseurs required. Joseph Priestly working in the principles of alchemy developed a test to produce Oxygen for the first time. James Watt, starts to develop engines which are going to become the locmotives of the future; become things which drive the pumps which pull the oil out from the coal mines which enables the people to produce more coal to drive the industrial revolution.

- Enlightenment, Rationalism, Science, Industry, Reform of the land, new industrial processes of production, so less and less people occupying the rural areas and more people occupying the cities, manufacture starting to move towards standardization, production and creating new industries as it rolls forward, powered by steam. Dickens takes a gaundice view as to what some of the consequences are.
- For the Enlightenment, here's Dickens in an inditement of the new industrial landscape, but equally all the scientific investigations have provided the foundations of medicine and physics etc that furnashed the world and make our existence that much more successful. But it comes as these set of ideas that we started with, about logic, rationality and science.

- Edmund Burke, the Sublime.
- Mary shelley, Frankenstein, which sits in the middle of the Enlightenment.
- The aesthetics of the irrational.
- The topic is Romanticism and the context is The Enlightenment.

A lot to take in i know, but at least we will be able to talk about stuff for 15 minutes with this much content. I still need to do my research for Blake and Keats though...

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