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on Tartuffe and the Enlightenment

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“We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality. ” — Iris Murdoch We are immature people. Immanuel Kant defines immaturity as the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another (Kant, 1). This is exactly what we do day in and day out. Day in and day out we live our lives like passive little robots that follow the rules and follow a routine. When questions or situations come up that we do not feel comfortable with we are quick to avoid them as we look at the ground and walk away.

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We want others to tell us what to do because it means we don’t have to think about it. Not thinking makes life easy and an easy life means comfort. This means not asking questions, accepting whatever you are told, and ultimately living in the dark while someone else guides you. Once again, you are immature.

The idea of someone else controlling your life is sickening and hard to swallow, but for some reason millions of people continue to let someone else control them.

The question that must now be asked is why people would want to live in mental slavery. This is the question provides an answer that Enlightenment thinkers have waged a war against. People want to live lives of comfort and any struggle will cause them to sink back into their submissive state. However, the question that really needs to be asked is not why people want to live in mental slavery, but rather why people choose to stay immature?

Everyone understands the concepts of the Enlightenment and the social norms of the time, but almost no one questions the actual process of Enlightenment and overcoming our innate biological tendency to stick with the familiar and comfortable rather than the strange and difficult. In this regard, the ultimate question is again, “Why do we remain immature and what can be done about it? ” To introduce the topic, I am drawing from the German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and his essay titled “The Challenge of Every Great Philosophy. “A traveler who had seen many countries and peoples and several continents was asked what human traits he had found everywhere; and he answered: men are inclined to laziness. Some will feel that he might have said with greater justice: they are all timorous. They hide behind customs and opinions. At bottom, every human being knows very well that he is in this world just once, as something unique, and that no accident, however strange, will throw together a second time into a unity such a curious and diffuse plurality: he knows it, but hides it like a bad conscience why?

From fear of his neighbor who insists on convention and veils himself with it. But what is it that compels the individual human being to fear his neighbor, to think and act herd-fashion, and not to be glad of himself? A sense of shame, perhaps, in a few rare cases. In the vast majority it is the desire for comfort, inertia – in short, that inclination to laziness of which the traveler spoke. He is right: men are even lazier than they are timorous, and what they fear most is the troubles with which any unconditional honesty and nudity would burden them.

Only artists hate this slovenly life in borrowed manners and loosely fitting opinions and unveil the secret, everybody’s bad conscience, the principle that every human being is a unique wonder; they dare to show us the human being as he is, down to the last muscle, himself and himself alone even more, that in this rigorous consistency of his uniqueness he is beautiful and worth contemplating, as novel and incredible as every work of nature, and by no means dull.

When a great thinker despises men, it is their laziness that he despises: for it is an account of this that they have the appearance of factory products and seem indifferent and unworthy of companionship or instruction. The human being who does not wish to belong to the mass must merely cease being comfortable with himself; let him follow his conscience which shouts at him: “Be yourself! What you are at present doing, opining, and desiring, that is not really you. ”…” From the story above, we can quickly identify Nietzsche’s basic argument: men are fearful and lazy.

Men have a tendency to hide behind customs to mask their lack of individuality. They hide their laziness with others in order to blend in so that they won’t be labeled as different. The reasons for this dwell in the desire for comfort. Men fear any trouble or additional burden that could make their live difficult. There has to be an underlying reason that prevents people from making the most out of life. Everyone knows that we only live once, yet most won’t do anything about this. In this world, humans are given the ability to be whatever they want.

They can build their own path and make a difference in this world. Despite having the capability to be unique and serve a purpose in this world, we continue to live lives of comfort instead of pursuing individuality. But what is the cause? Why do so few people capitalize on this opportunity? Our struggle stems from out evolutionary fear of rejection. As the human race has evolved, we have maintained some of our primitive tendencies in which the sole goal of life was to survive. In tribal times, humans relied on tribes to stay alive.

The group dynamic allowed for everyone to live in safety, but if you were for whatever reason ostracized from the group, the likelihood of your survival would drastically decrease. Essentially, being rejected from the group equaled death, so naturally we evolved to fear rejection. Fortunately, the extremity of rejection is no longer life or death. Rejection is now commonplace in our organized human society. This organization provides us the opportunity to create meaning in our lives by being able to do whatever we want to.

We have the chance to explore and take risks that lead to growth, development, and a deeper understanding of our own existence. The failure on the part of man to do this is what the Enlightenment movement was all about. Those who realized that they had to opportunity to change did, and worked to overcome the issues of becoming enlightened in a society that placed such an emphasis on conformity and almost demonized individuality. These men were able to find common ground between each other regardless of social, political, or economic status.

They were able to pursue truth and individuality by grouping together intellectually (through a series of letters and other writings) to communicate and exchange ideas with each other thus allowing them to embark on the ultimate journey. One of these men was Moliere, the author of Tartuffe? a book that communicated the true values of the Enlightenment. While the ability to want to abandon comfort is easy, it is the journey leading to that state that is difficult. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because something never comes from nothing.

Those taking the journey will never advertise that giving up the comforts of living in the dark is easy, but they know that almost anything worthwhile is worth fighting for. However difficult the journey, it is not something that should be feared, but instead embraced. Simply overcoming the fear of rejection is not the only step on the journey. There are several other “inner” aspects, all revolving around fear that must be dealt with first. The first factor is the fear of pain. In extreme circumstances, being different and having a different opinion has dire consequences. Genocide for example, stems from being different. Historically and anthropologically peoples have always had a name for themselves. In a great many cases, that name meant ‘the people’ to set the owners of that name off against all other people who were considered of lesser quality in some way. If the differences between the people and some other society were particularly large in terms of religion, language, manners, customs, and so on, then such others were seen as less than fully human: pagans, savages, or even animals. ” (Chalk and Jonassohn, 28) Comparing the fear of pain and the fear of rejection a pattern begins to emerge – the root of fear is death.

People are scared to be alone. From walking down the street at night to voicing an unpopular opinion, people hate being alone. This, once again is because loneliness breeds insecurity and insecurity often leads to some undesirable consequence, such as death. During the Enlightenment, men fought this loneliness by forming a network of letters to share their ideas and opinions. The great part about this was that even though no one around them thought in the same way, they took refuge in knowing that at least they were not alone. Another “inner” fear is the fear of failure. When we fail, we learn.

Especially after giving it everything that we have because in the end we find out what we did wrong and can get feedback. So in reality if you learn from failure, it isn’t really failure at all. What we perceive to be risky really isn’t risky. If we accept the journey and take the risks, we soon discover that success and failure are both wins. Now, it is with this pertinent information that you must realize that the ultimate risk is to do nothing at all. The final “inner” fear is the fear of self. While starting the journey will lead you in the right direction, the problem is not solved yet.

There is one other significant aspect of this journey other than desire and perseverance. “Self discovery entails the bravery to take an honest look at ourselves; and this is usually not without considerable pain. ” Looking into the mirror may hurt, but realize that growing almost always requires some pain. In society today, we can look at the millions of athletes who beat themselves up in order to get better in the end and understand that the expression “no pain, no gain” isn’t without merit and is common in the world we live in.

On the path to Enlightenment, we must endure mental and psychological pain rather than physical. In Tartuffe, Moliere exemplifies these “inner” conflict ideas through the family. First we have Madame Pernelle who is only concerned about what others think about her. Instead of caring about what the people she loved thought, she was concerned with the neighbors and their gossip as displayed by, “…but it gives people the occasion to talk, and that is not well. ” (Moliere, 3) Madame Pernelle was essentially afraid of what others thought of her except for the people who really mattered (her family).

Now the rest of the family demonstrates the positive attributes that fight the fears of becoming enlightened. Just as the Enlightenment thinkers could reside in each other, the family in Tartuffe could reside in each other. Elmire, Cleante, and Dorine all provide counsel to Mariane and Damis who are on their path to individuality (Moliere, 15-24). The family members work together and think about different approaches to the marriage situation and take their time to solve issues. Once all of the “inner” issues have been worked out and we overcome our fears we still have several external, “outer” issues to confront.

The first comes from those in power. During the Enlightenment the Church was the supreme power. While there is nothing wrong with having a ruling class, the problem comes when the ruling class is misleading its followers. Many Enlightenment thinkers would agree with Martin Luther and his “95 Theses” that expose the corruption within the Church. In Tartuffe, Moliere expresses his agreement through the character Tartuffe. Tartuffe is a sly and cunning con man who lies, cheats and steals his way into success while pretending to be a saintly church man.

Just like the church was pretending to be the perfect organization which demanded the respect of all people but was corrupt at the core, Tartuffe puts on a show for others in pursuit of personal gain. The issue here is that those in power are corrupt. And those who have power do not want to give it up. The driving idea behind George Orwell’s classic 1984 was that the minority was in charge of the majority. There were no options and there was no free thought. The people were entirely controlled by a select group of individuals who wanted to maintain power.

The goal of the upper, ruling class as Tarvin Dukes so eloquently put it was to “get high” and the goal of the lower class was to “get by. ” This “get high” – “get by” mentality is what drives those who are in control to rule over the unenlightened and also what drives the unenlightened to survive. This fundamental problem has existed for centuries and the rapid attempts to fix it have failed. What those before the Enlightenment Era failed to realize is that change does not happen overnight. As Moliere demonstrated in Tartuffe, change in the group dynamic takes time and dedication.

Throughout the book Moliere uses two main characters to showcase this set of ideals. The first is Orgon who has is captivated by Tartuffe the con man and refuses to believe anything negative about him. This is demonstrated clearly in Act 1 Scene IV when Orgon comes home inquiring about Tartuffe while completely disregarding the poor health of his wife (Moliere, 6). Throughout the story, Orgon’s investment in Tartuffe is tested by the rest of the family, but doesn’t break until the very end of the story when Tartuffe reaches the point of having sex with Elmire (Orgon’s wife) right in front of him (Moliere, 40).

This illustrates that people are unwilling to change, even if there is substantial evidence supporting one side. The other demonstration is through Damis who freaks out on Tartuffe. “No, madame, no, this ought to be made public. I was in this place and over heard it all; and the goodness of Heaven seems to have directed me thither to confound the pride of a traitor that wrongs me, to open me a way to take vengeance of his hypocrisy and insolence, to undeceive my father and show him, in a clear light, the soul of a villain that talks to you of love. (Moliere, 27) When Damis freaked out, he demonstrated one of the core ideas of the Enlightenment: authority is very slow to change. In the situation, Damis springs this new information on Orgon which overwhelms him and results in him choosing Tartuffe’s side and disowning Damis (Moliere, 28-30). The men of the Enlightenment, especially Moliere, recognized the sluggish nature of change so they did all that they could without upsetting the ruling class.

In doing this, they changed the group dynamic by making observations and comments that demonized certain behaviors and valorized others in order to shift the group dynamic turning their minority into the majority. In demonizing certain behaviors, they implemented a simple psychological trick that rests on people’s desire to fit in. By making certain behaviors inappropriate, people stopped doing them out of fear of rejection from the social groups. Ironically, overcoming the fear of rejection is essential to being enlightened yet somehow many defaulted to the fear of rejection to make the switch from the church to the individual.

However, not everyone listened and agreed with this newfound way of thinking. This is no one’s fault but those who refused to change. Being open to change is arguably the most important thing we can do in our lives. Having a strong, burning desire to change and the perseverance to keep going during tough times is critical. Realizing that we are on this earth for a purpose and must delay gratification (short term pain for long term gain) allows us to take the necessary steps towards enlightenment. The Enlightenment Era was a time of change.

The change might have been slow, but it was still taking place on a larger scale. With all of those men exchanging ideas with each other, they were able to slowly bring about change. In Tartuffe we are shown the true colors of the Enlightenment movement. We see how Moliere viewed the church, how he though enlightened people should think and act, and how some people refuse to change unless you shove the evidence in their face. In the end, Orgon changed just like many other people at the time of the enlightenment, but know this; it wasn’t because they were the crazy ones who wanted to change things.

They were just part of the overall group dynamic which changed and didn’t want to be the outcast. Overall, change requires three things: people, time, and desire. One of the greater thinkers of our generation was Steve Jobs the CEO of Apple who nicely summed up the driving movement behind change. Small groups of people, who have an idea, and are vocal enough to express it usually end up changing the world. The Enlightenment Era entailed thousands of men quietly voicing their opinions in an attempt to change things. And you know what?

They succeeded. “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do. – Steve Jobs Works Cited “. ” BrainyQuote. com. Xplore Inc, 2013. 16 April. 2013. https://www. google. com/ Chalk, Frank Robert, and Kurt Jonassohn. The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies. New Haven: Yale UP, 1990. Print. Kant, Immanuel, and Mary J. Gregor. Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print. Kaufmann, Walter Arnold. Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. New York: Meridian, 1956. Print. Moliere. Tartuffe. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2000. Print.

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on Tartuffe and the Enlightenment. (2016, Oct 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/essay-on-tartuffe-and-the-enlightenment/

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