1790’s England, a conservative thinker (Henry) meets a pro-enlightenment thinker (Jean-Pierre)that is extremely supportive of the recent revolution in France. The conservative thinker has recently read Edmund Burkes text ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’ and in very much in concurrence with it as well as Burke’s principles in general. Edmund Burke’s philosophy is largely a negative response to the French Revolution and disputes almost everything that the Enlightenment and the French Revolution stood for. The conservative wishes to gain further insight into Enlightenment and explore an alternative viewpoint, however is far from convinced by it and the pro-enlightenment Libertarian also fails to be swayed too far from his beliefs. The dialogue that follows demonstrates, explores and highlights Edmund Burke’s thoughts as a political thinker yet also questions them due to the alternative viewpoint that is put across by the pro-enlightenment thinker.
Henry : ‘So, when you were writing in favour of the Enlightenment movement you must have first made an assumption about human nature? Do you regard humans as good, rational beings?’
Jean-Pierre: ’Yes, I believe humans have the ability to reason and make rational choices. For example, take the human conscience; we are aware of right and wrong and are rational enough to act in accordance with this most of the time’
Henry: ‘What if, then, for example, all tradition and authority were stripped away? If humans were left without laws and boundaries, would you not agree that it is possible that they may resume the habits of a primitive state, that they would follow base survival instincts and act selfishly? That perhaps it is the law and the fear of consequence that causes humans to generally choose right from wrong?’
Jean-Pierre: ‘Quite the opposite! Have you not considered the possibility that a primitive state could be content and tranquil and that perhaps the selfish instincts that you are talking about developed alongside the development of society? That perhaps social progress has created competition and inequality and that this has destroyed human innocence and led to an increase in human desire?’
Henry:‘I am strongly of the opinion that these desires are rooted deep within human nature and that if anything, society has helped suppress them through implementing authority. Answer me this: if you lived in a primitive state and you’re family were starving, would you steal the last scraps of food from another family to keep your family alive?’
Jean-Pierre: ‘Would it not make more sense to share the food? To distribute it equally?’
Henry: ‘But the food would not be sufficient when shared, and the other family do not want their children to go without, so your selfish survival instincts would lead you to steal the food, yes? What if there was no way that the other family could never possibly know that it was you that had stolen it? If you were guaranteed that there would be no consequence for your actions other than the survival of your family?’
Jean-Pierre: ‘Well then, I suppose I would, for the sake of my family’
Henry: ‘So you agree that it is only the fear of consequence and not the human conscience that leads us to choose right from wrong? It has also been argued by thinkers such as Edmund Burke that it is inevitable that humans will treat their family and those close to them far better than they would treat a stranger, would this not influence your decision as well?’
Jean-Pierre: ‘Well that was rather a dramatic circumstance; I cannot concur that the same could be said if it was not a matter of life and death’
Henry: ‘But you agree that humans have...