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The Importance of Ideas, the Enlightenment, and the Future

Daniel O'hEidhin By Daniel O'hEidhin Published on May 10, 2016

The tradition of promoting ideas, and why it's important to do so, is a long-standing one. Ideas, discussed openly, are the surest way to safeguard against intolerance, regression, injustice and institutional abuse, to name just a few.

Bookwitty as a platform mirrors the ethos of one of my favourite periods in history: the Enlightenment during the 18th Century, the Siécle des Lumiéres.

The Enlightenment stood in opposition to the dogmatic nature of the Roman Catholic Church and stood firmly against absolute monarchy. In place of these absolutist, dogmatic principles, flourished an obsession with fact based on evidence, scientific innovation and strides in philosophical thought.

In the 18th century progressive thinkers didn't have the comfort of a platform like Bookwitty to share ideas and knowledge, instead they frequented coffee houses and literary salons where they would debate and wrangle, and most importantly: learn from each other.

Seeing that there was a need for a hub for these ideas and debates which could be accessible throughout all of Europe, the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raissoné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une Société de Gens de lettres was published in 1751 by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert

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Coffee fuelled the debate within 18th century coffee houses and literary salons.

The aim of the Encyclopédie, according to Diderot was to “change the common way of thinking.” His hope was to compile all these amazing ideas that were flourishing throughout Europe and leave a commendable legacy of thought to future generations. In total, between its publication in 1751 and when it ceased publication in 1772, it printed 74,000 articles written by more than 130 contributors. 

The effect of the Encyclopédie is almost inestimable. As Encyclopaedia Britannica say

In its skepticism, its emphasis on scientific determinism, and its criticism of the abuses perpetrated by contemporary legal, judicial, and clerical institutions, the Encyclopédie had widespread influence as an expression of progressive thought and served in effect as an intellectual prologue to the French Revolution.

When people come together to discuss ideas, be it history, philosophy, science, literature, or any other discipline, great things can be achieved. During the Enlightenment, those inestimably important years before La Révolution française, the platform to discuss ideas occurred in coffee houses and then in the pages of the Encyclopédie

Today, you probably won't debate life's greater questions while ordering your cinnamon dolce latte with an extra shot from Starbucks, will you? However, we have the internet, and platforms like Bookwitty, so we can be engaged, social and contributory from wherever we happen to be. 

Maybe our own global revolution of ideas is around the corner, and Bookwitty, with its emphasis on books, ideas and discussion, is this generation's Encyclopédie

How do you currently discuss ideas? How important do you think the discussion of ideas is to us in the 21st century? Have we become accustomed to simply accepting the information we are being fed, rather than challenging and questioning it? I'd love to hear what you think. 

Former bookseller, keen writer, travel lover.