A thoughtful book, Susan Neiman’s Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grownup Idealists (Harcourt 2008), argues that the values of the Enlightenment thinkers – Voltaire, Rousseau, Hume, Kant and others in roughly the 18th century – still stand us in good stead. She condenses them into the importance of happiness and the right to enjoy it; the primacy of reason; reverence for nature; and hope for a better world.
Enlightenment thinkers claimed that the human capacity to reason could ensure steady progress. Science was its embodiment. Neiman contrasts those Enlightenment beliefs to views of humans as flawed, overpowered by animal passions, religious to the core, and locked into a spiral down.
A general counsel who practices and promotes Enlightenment values would try to raise employee morale. Careful thinking would be exalted and tools provided to enable it. Reverence – in a secular sense – might come from admiring the legal system through pro bono activities. A belief in progress and hope for betterment of the law department and its contributions would be manifest.
Enlightenment values occupy one part of the broad spectrum of philosophy (See my post of Sept. 22, 2005: our inabilities to comprehend complexity; Sept. 29, 2006: concepts from philosophy as they apply to law department management; Aug. 27, 2008: John Rawls’ original position; and May 23, 2008: values with 12 references; and Sept. 22, 2008: postmodernism.).