The Fading of “True Enlightenment” (Another Wildcard Search)

Apologies for the uncharacteristic flurry of activity on this blog, but Google’s addition of wildcard searches to the Ngram (and some tweaks in how it displays the data) has allowed me to take a quick look at a few issues I’ve explored in earlier posts.

Since wildcard searches can be limited by parts of speech, it is simple enough to collect the various adjectives that have preceded Aufklärung.  Here are the results for the period from 1770-1870 (I suspect that none of the data for the eighteenth century should be trusted, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to include it.  Again, there’s not a lot that is unexpected here, though dragging the cursor backwards over the Ngram provides an easy way of seeing how the ranking of adjectives change over time.  Our old favorite “wahre Aufklärung” (i.e., an enlightenment grounded in religion as opposed to a “false enlightenment” resting on unaided human reason) ranks at the top until 1870, when “weitere Aufklärung” (“further enlightenment”) catches it.

Then, for contrast, look at the results for the period from 1870 to 1920.  “Weitere Aufklärung” is still at the top of the list in 1920, but over the course of the half century it is replaced, momentarily by “deutschen Aufklärung” (in the late 1870s) and “sexuelle Aufklärung” in 1907.  The former reflects the impact of German unification, the later — of course — is the result of Freud’s Zur sexuellen Aufklärung der Kinder.  Note, more generally, that at this point we begin to pick up the differentiation between a “German” and a “French” Enlightenment (a distinction that Hegel drew in the 1820s and, perhaps, is now making its way into general usage.

Finally, let’s look at the period from 1920 to 2000.  “Weitere” is still chugging along, but greatly diminished, the distinction between German and French enlightenments has now become canonical, with the German one taking the lead (in German texts, of course).  Perhaps the most interesting new addition here is Niklas Luhmann’s formulation “Soziologische Aufklärung” (the fact that the adjective is capitalized suggests that there are references to the title of Luhmann’s book) which takes off a bit before 1980 and leads the pack in 2000.

I should point out that, in all these examples, I’ve turned smoothing off:  since we are dealing with very small numbers, I didn’t see the point of making any of these trends look less eccentric than they seem to be.

About James Schmidt

Professor of History, Philosophy, and Political Science Boston University
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2 Responses to The Fading of “True Enlightenment” (Another Wildcard Search)

  1. Pingback: Hans Blumenberg on Light & Truth, with Some Thoughts on Eighteenth-century Frontispieces | Persistent Enlightenment

  2. Pingback: Tracking the Reception of Kant’s Answer to the Question “What is Enlightenment?” | Persistent Enlightenment

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