The Enlightenment Torn Apart
Based on Rousseau's criticism of Enlightenment ideas, the French Revolution did and did not implement the ways of the Enlightenment. Rousseau sees a number of problems within the thinking of the Enlightenment, preferably when dealing with the arts and sciences. It is for this reason alone that the French Revolution in actuality did not implement the ideas of the Enlightenment. In fact, all of the actions that took place in the French Revolution totally came into agreement with the theories of Rousseau. However after the Revolution and still today, those Enlightenment theories are a main stay in everyday life. The Enlightenment itself was a period of pure reason and rational, where people were to emphasize the right to self expression and human fulfillment, as well as the right to think freely and express their views publicly without being scrutinized. They did this through science and other forms of art, two things, which according to Rousseau are no way of finding virtue.
Of course when applying the sciences there are certain outcomes and answers to certain problems. One thing many forget is the possibility of error. According to Rousseau, error is a huge problem when dealing with the sciences. In his First Discourse Rousseau states,
"What false paths when investigating the sciences! How many errors, a thousand times more dangerous than the truth is useful, must be surmounted in order to reach the truth? The disadvantage is evident, for falsity is susceptible of infinite combinations, where as truth has only one form. Besides, who seeks it sincerely? Even with the best intentions, by what signs is one certain to recognize it? In this multitude of opinions, what will be our criteria to judge it properly? And hardest of all, if by luck we finally find it, who among us will know how to make good use of the truth? " (Rousseau, 49)
This is a really good point. With all of the so-called enlightened thinkers trying to find out the truth, there is obviously going to be an array of different answers. Some of them could be wrong, better yet, all of them could be wrong; but who's to judge. Since we don't know of the truth, there is absolutely no way to prove that someone has found it. Last but not least, according to the end of Rousseau's quote, if it is found there is not one person who would know how to apply that truth to everyday life. This now brings us to bash number two on the Enlightenment thought.
People go through all sorts of schooling to learn what, math, history, and science. That's all good, but in the search of truth that type of knowledge will not get a person anywhere,
" Cultivating the sciences is very harmful to moral qualities. I see everywhere-immense institutions where young people are brought up at a great expense, learning everything except their duties. Your children will not know their own language, but will speak others that are nowhere in use; they will know...