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Dialogue and Universalism

Volume 31, Issue 3, 2021

Do We Need a New Enlightenment for the Twenty-First Century? Part II

Selusi Ambrogio
Pages 157-177

Discording Enlightenment on China
Pierre Bayle’s Skepticism vs Johan Jacob Brucker’s Exoticism

It is usually acknowledged that the core contribution of the Enlightenment is primarily twofold: the first being the introduction of reason and science as judgmental principles, and the second being the belief in the future progress of humankind as a shared destiny for humanity. This ‘modern’ reason—an exclusively human prerogative among creatures—could be applied to create a better society from the political, civil, educational, scientific, and religious points of view. What is usually less known is that for most of the Enlightenment thinkers, this philosophical and cultural step was the prerogative of European or Western-educated thinkers, which implied a gradual exclusion of extra-European civilizations from human progress as a natural phenomenon. Thus, with the exception of a few French libertines, the creation of a better society was due to reason and critical thinking absent in other civilizations, who could, at most, inherit this ‘rational power’ from Western education. This exclusion, which is usually attributed to the violence of the colonialist period, is already implied in the arguments of several Enlightenment thinkers. Our investigation will follow three steps: an exposition of the three Western historical paradigms in which Eastern civilizations were inserted between the 17th and 18th century; a comparison between the attitude toward China and Buddhism of two very distant philosophers of the Enlightenment—i.e. Pierre Bayle (1647–1706) and Johann Jacob Brucker (1696–1770)—and a brief reflection on the Enlightenment from an ‘external/exotic’ point of view that will suggest the necessity of a ‘new skeptical Enlightenment’ for inducing actual intercultural dialogue.