The Space Between Us: An Approach to Collaborative Innovation
This not only made human identity more objectively real, but in doing so, it also enhanced the possibility of greater human agency through the prospect of reasoned thinking to control both the inner and the outer worlds. Immanuel Kant’s (1724-1804) “categorical imperative” then accorded this objectified self a dignity as well as autonomy by making the following maxim the basis of all moral action: “So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in another, always as an end, and never as only a means.”
And building on all of this, the framers of the American Republic, who had read and were very much influenced by the Enlightenment philosophers, granted each individual person “certain unalienable rights,” which were enshrined in 1776 in the Declaration of Independence. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” became not only self-evident truths, but also human birthrights. In 1789, inspired in part by the American example, the French made their own revolution and produced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Individuality now not only had an objective existence in reality, its existence and even its right to flourish were protected by social contract.
I think it’s fair to say that the 18th Century, and particularly the second half of it, was the highpoint in the development of individuality. It was a time of remarkable ferment and creativity and blossomed into a celebration not only of individuality but also of the individual’s power to reason. However, I believe it is also fair to say that the bright light of reason, which shone so brilliantly during this period, began to lose its luster over the following centuries. Today at the start of the 21st Century the shadow side of the Enlightenment period has shown itself. The glorious autonomy of individuality has devolved into a depressing isolation and estrangement. The light of reason, which the Enlightenment philosophers were so sure would lead to universal peace, freedom and happiness has been eclipsed by the dark of reason, which has led, among other misfortunes, to the development of nuclear weapons, the prospect of environmental collapse and, perhaps most debilitating of all, the sense of anomie at being cut off from any kind of meaningful relationship to our world.