Three Enlightenment Ideas That Have Affected Moral Behavior in Our Times

Individual Liberty

Liberty, as it has been understood for several millennia, recognizes that all freely chosen words and deeds have corresponding responsibilities. In other words, liberty is meaningless outside of a public, relational context. But in our times, liberty has come to be understood as nothing more than the individual’s “right” to participate in whatever unbridled passions the ego desires and, here is the kicker, without consequences.

Supposedly, reality no longer has any connection with freely chosen words and deeds. The universal moral ideas of the past, which in today’s individualistic age are often seen as placing unfair and unjust obligations and limits on one’s ability to do whatever one wishes to do, have been replaced by the relativist idea that the individual possesses the absolute power to invent the world based solely on one’s private passions. The fact is that liberty, understood in this relativist way, is simply, tyrannical. The public result of this distorted and selfish, “individual liberty” without limits? What else could it be, ironically, but a world bent under the terrible weight of injustice.

When the consequences of such “liberty” come home to roost, as they always do, the defense given by those who practice this distorted sense of “liberty” is usually something like, “I didn’t intend that anyone would be harmed, therefore, because my intentions were good, I should not be held guilty of the harm that was done.” They conveniently forget that, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

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