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RVP International Conferences


Invitation to an International Conference

Enlightenment and Its Contemporary Reevaluation



Fudan University

Shanghai, China

June 28-29, 2009





Like a camera, the human mind can change its focus in order to center upon some factors while ignoring others. This analogy can be a helpful in assessing the situation of human awareness as we enter the newly global age.


Four hundred years ago at the time of the Enlightenment European philosophers decided no longer to look for either the source or the purpose of things -- the efficient and final causes -- but to focus pragmatically upon the constitutive material and formal causes in the spacial and temporal orders. The major results have been the magnificent technical advances of the modern period with its whole new level of ability to produce, manipulate and control life on this planet, with its corresponding socio-political structures.


In recent years, however, we seem to have moved on to an age termed ‘post-modern’ inasmuch as the achievements and methods characteristic of the modern Enlightenment no long suffice. Where the focus upon singular individuals in open competition had provided the basis for the capitalist economy and a liberal political order, these forces now appear to have built up to the point where they outrun the human ability to control and direct them. Indeed, having put aside attention to sources and goals, the Enlightenment vision would seem to lack the ability to take up the issues of meaning and purpose whereby humane social direction of these forces could be exercised or even conceived. In this light it can be understood how in the last 20 years such major theoreticians of political liberalism as John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas began work on making room for religious as well as secular voices in the public square.


This indeed appears to have been the experience of China during the last century. The May 4th movement in 1919 thought it necessary to put aside the ancient wisdom of Confucius in order to usher in Mr. Science and Mr. Democracy. More recently the very success of the resultant “hard power” of modernization has generated the need to rethink May 4th and reintroduce the “soft powers” of culture, values and virtues it had put aside. These are now needed to inspire and direct the powers of the Enlightenment in order that they be humanized and all might truly benefit from their fruits. Rather than being exiled, could Confucius and his classical confreres be needed in these post modern tiems as the genial host able to make “the two misters” truly and fruitfully at home.


This augurs a break through to a new era of human achievement and fulfillment which realizes and safeguards the Enlightenment hopes by deepening and broadening their horizons to issue the meaning and goals of life. For philosophy this is a huge task for it calls for the resolution of a number of crucial technical issues and tensions, namely, how to expand the focus on the individual to its social and communitary context, how to enliven the fixed categories or essences by creative action, how to humanize physical goals by subjectivity and purpose, and how to find deeper meaning for the material through the spiritual and aesthetic -- indeed how to see “all under heaven” not merely as subjected to heaven but as inspired thereby so that instinct is shaped by inspiration to achieve new direction and quality for life in these new times.




Zou Shipeng

Department of Philosophy

Fudan University

Shanghai, P.R. China










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