Modernity in Philosophy

Modernity in Philosophy

Modernity is a term with a variety of meanings depending on the context it is used. It can be used to in the social sciences and humanities. It refers to both a historical period which in this case is the modern era, as well as the cultural, social norms, attitudes that came about in the post-medieval period and have developed ever since in different ways, and at different times all around the world. It can also refer to the subjective experiences and consequences that they produce. Modernity as a historical category refers to a period known for rejection and questioning of tradition, professionalization and rationalization, trust in the inevitable technological and scientific progress, among others. This term therefore according to some writers and authors, has more than one possible meaning given its history and unsettled nature. The analytical normative ideal and concepts of modernity are closely linked to the aesthetic modernism and philosophy, enlightenment in both intellectual and political currents, and related or subsequent developments on the same. It also includes capitalism and the social or economic relations related to its rise. These include the revolutionary bourgeoisie that led to unprecedented creation and expansion of the world market. This article is aimed at defining, analyzing and criticizing ideas taken by different philosophers to characterize modernity based on a sound, unified and coherent foundation of philosophy. I will base on two philosophers namely John Locke’s and Karl Marx, using their different approaches and theories to explain their view on modernity. This will be done by outlining a critique on both the capitalist society and the political economy with the aim of replacing or overthrowing it for a socialist community or society. I will then try to analyze the strengths and weakness in each of their arguments. I will then finish by a short conclusion with an explanation containing my view on the same.

As mentioned earlier, the term modernity has more than one meaning because of its complicated history.We can therefore only understand the term once we determine the specific perspective in which we want to study it. According to John Locke’s, an English philosopher and also physician, born on 29th august 1632, modernity is a collection of political, social, theological, and philosophical ideas. Research in recent years has shown several specialized studies of Locke’s modernity project, for example, the innovative education theory, teachings on toleration and rational theology, and finally his foundation theory. Locke’s most significant contribution to the idea of modernity was what we call “the democratization of mind.” This was a representation of Locke’s outright confidence that human freedom only had an essence if individuals made use of their ability to acquire knowledge and skills, and to use further what they learned to build meaningful things or identities from the intellectual equipment and materials which were made available by reflection and sensation. Every mode of philosophical analysis was challenged by Locke’s vision of modernity since it made the autonomous people free from the chains and weights of convectional equality, customs, traditions, and the soul truth determinant. The democratization of the mind provided a basis for Locke’s rebranding or rather refashioning of a new, distinct modern definition of a deeply impacted philosophy by the scientific methods. Philosophies which disagreed with what Locke considered as misguided or misdeemed metaphysical pretentions which characterize philosophy in two ways, the traditional scholastic form, and the natural scientific modern building. According to Locke, modernity and the mental world as per human understanding are inseparable basing on how positive it has been embraced in the current society. Locke’s depth in commitment towards the modern project can only be measured by the scope and range of his inquiry philosophically. Trying to find out Locke’s political philosophy towards contribution on modernity is actually limiting his impact on the same considerably. According to him, it required or rather involved a serious examination of every institution that is considered authoritative in modern life. These facilities include not only the government but families, churches and other religious centers, educational methods, and the international relations conduct. Locke’s philosophical interest was not just adventurous. Instead, his writings and thoughts clearly portrayed what he considered important practically and theoretically in the urban period or society, which in this case is the benefits of modernity.

Another approach to studying and analyzing modernity was done by Karl Marx, a socialist and philosopher, born in 1818. He was well known for his efforts to come up with a systematic social theory on modernity, which he did alongside his partner Friedrich Engels. He provided a comprehensive and rigorous analysis of what produced modernity and the systematic processes, potentials, structures and conflicts. Whereas positivists and enlightenment thinkers’ embraced modernity fully and further postulated a utopian future led by elite technocratic individuals, Marx, using his theory, addressed the forms of oppression and societal crisis that modernity completely produced. According to Marx, modernity is evil, he says that “It crushes our souls”. He believes thatmodernity was created by man and therefore the same man can reverse it.He explains that modernity in our current society is alienating for a different reason, according to him modernity adds more space between the means of production and the proletariat.

The subjects in this study, Karl marx, and John Locke have at a great length tried to give convincing reasons to support their specific claims. John Locke, for instance, views modernity as a thing that was firmly related to the mind, such that different individuals perceive it in their different ways. He explains that individuals should use the knowledge they get to gain freedom from the usual customs and traditions. He further explains that modernity and the current mental perception of the modern world are inseparable, meaning he views modernity in different ways that can be related to in the present world. These methods include technology, education, politics, among others. His arguments support his claims satisfactorily since he gives concrete reasons and examples to show how individual freedom is one of the most important points that can be used to portray modernity. He, however, has his failures, since he fails to look at the downside and weakness of his theory. He only focuses on explaining the points that support his theory, Karl Marx on the other hand, has his own perception of modernity. He claims that modernity is evil and that it is alienating for the very wrong reasons. He also says that the oppressive and destructive features of modernity can only be eliminated once we have a society that is well developed enough.

The outcome of the study or analysis greatly depends on how you perceive the question. It is therefore really important to note that your explanation of the term modernity should not be criticized under any circumstances, unless your explanation is based on a totally different thing apart from modernity.My view on the latter takes no sides, both writers support their views with strong points and therefore I can only look at both their strengths and weaknesses. John Locke’s supports his view although fails to talk about the negativities that come with the modernity theory. He speaks about the different fields in which the theory benefits the current world, and this can be considered as an advantage. Karl Marx introduces the theory of modernity with a negative view as he considers it as an evil thing that is only taking over our society. It has its fair share of negatives that it comes with, for example the oppressions caused by the results of modernity. He explains that the whole modernity idea is hard to implement because of the different characters living in this current society. Not everyone supports the idea and therefore obviously causes instabilities among the people. It also causes a big difference in terms of class in the society since the gap between the well-off and the poor is quite big.


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Dunn, John. The Political Thought of John Locke. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.

Vogt, Philip. 2008. John Locke and the rhetoric of modernity. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.