Sir Godfrey Gregg
Grand Commanding Officer
From its inception, The Mystical Court has anticipated how chivalry would have evolved as an ethical code if it had survived intact from medieval times. This means a code or philosophy that continued to shape itself over time, as accumulated knowledge increased rapidly, new ideas competing with old, the world changing as never before. It is hoped that this philosophical growth will continue as necessary.
A historic landmark in this evolution was provided by the Age of Enlightenment, which served as a transformational bridge from medieval times to modern society. This philosophical movement, arising from the European Renaissance, focused on the potential of the human mind in understanding the world and how it works. Ignorance and superstition were being challenged as never before by a liberated sense of curiosity. Experimentation led to one new discovery after the other, suggesting an unlimited the capacity for human understanding.
To those who responded, intellectual excitement filled the air, leading wealthy elites like Thomas Jefferson, and self-educated thinkers like Benjamin Franklin, into a variety of studies, including astronomy, architecture, philosophy, engineering, and agricultural science. Such people went so far as to fashion a new approach to government based on human rights. For them, philosophy was more than intellectual conjecture. It opened doors to freedom and self-determination. It removed religious and secular hierarchies from seats of power and replaced them with democratic fervour. Their optimism is difficult for us to imagine now that their accomplishments have made their global impact.
The Age of Enlightenment was also called the Age of Reason. It convinced people that clear thinking and experimentation can lead to incredible social and technological achievements. Diseases could be effectively combated. Husbandry improved according to scientific principles. Canals for commercial transportation were dug. Engines built. Steel rails stretched across the width of entire continents. Signals carried communications through a simple wire. Universities taught more than just theology and ancient classics. Creativity abounded and the future was viewed with new optimism.
History has seen intellectual blossoms like this before. Ancient Greece had its Golden Age of thought based on similar principles: reason, curiosity, a feeling of purpose and belief in humanity. Tapping into the potential of the human mind unleashed a deluge of accomplishments, changing the world for the better.
With all this in mind, I recently read a disturbing statement by the modern philosopher Andre Compte-Sponville:
“post-modernity is modernity minus the Enlightenment. It is modernity that has ceased to believe in reason or progress (whether political, social or human) and thus in itself. If all value systems are equal, nothing has any value. Science is a myth among others; progress is an illusion, and a democracy respectful of human rights is in no way superior to a society based on slavery and tyranny.”
He later warned: “Progress is neither linear nor inevitable… it is [therefore] worth fighting for.”
It seems a strange contradiction to think that our present age, known for its innovative deluge of science and technology, is one that fails to properly respect both reason and progress. It suggests that our technology is more commercially-based and toy-oriented than culturally progressive — that despite great advances in knowledge, we find ourselves subject to undercurrents of ignorance and a fundamental lack of direction.
Contemplating such a possibility is like removing a veil from across our eyes. Where once we saw economic and social progress, we now see cultural stagnation. The increase in the communication of the Information Age, with the Internet opening doors to every avenue of thought and interest, and cell phones connecting people every hour of the day, has failed to carry with it a satisfying depth of experience or guide to cultural direction. The rush of science, while carrying all of us forward, has left something of humanity behind, providing a host of meaningless distractions in its place.
Ancient Greeks, Renaissance artists and Enlightenment thinkers showed us the potential of the activated, liberated, human mind. The reason, study, and creativity are not merely the accumulation of factor compilation of technology. They are dynamics of the mind, valuable in themselves, that result not only in new discoveries, but fuller living in the here and now — what I refer to as personal authenticity.
I believe, and share the views of a great philosopher that the Axial Age, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment were significant Kairos events that played important roles in our cultural and personal evolution. The times were right, and they happened. Each built upon the other, and nothing was left unchanged. Although each wave of advancement was followed by recession, the shoreline itself was reshaped, waiting for the next deluge of inspiration.
Are we living in the advent of such an age right now?
Certainly, things are ripe for change. We have grown adept at keeping disenchantment at arm’s length using whatever distraction is available. Popular lack of self-discipline has carried the world closer to destruction, through war, pollution, commercial malice and neglect. A proper response calls us to engage not only our intelligence but our depth of reason and involvement in everyday life.
As a people, we need to shift from the morbid, push-button computations of the Information Age to an Age of Personal Engagement, an Age of Light, a rejuvenated Age of Reason that will launch a new Renaissance of humanity. We need to reclaim what is best within us by aiming our priorities away from the clutches of commercialism to something more basic, substantial and lasting, such as positive relationships with other people and the world we live in.
The ability to apply reason to all aspects of our lives completes who we are in a very dynamic way. It differentiates between what has value, and what cheapens our existence. It respects truth, which adds a vital dimension to our whole outlook on life.
Proper reasoning is a vital aspect of maturity which gives license to personal autonomy. One develops this arête through constant learning and refreshing of values, all life-enhancing practices that promote the characteristics of the knight-errant.