Dimensions of enlightenment

I am a scientifically-literate atheist. Guess who I would rather have as neighbours:

  • On one side: a scientifically-illiterate arts-teacher who believes in pluralism and human rights and representative government, or an authoritarian scientist who favours restricting people's rights in order to censor objections to research.
  • On the other side: a privately-religious tolerant secularist, or an intolerant totalitarian dogmatic atheist.

Even scientifically-literate atheists need better measures for societies, organisations, and people than how scientific or atheist they are!

Why Wikipedia?

Many references on this page are to Wikipedia. This does not imply that Wikipedia provides the best resources. Instead, it has a reasonably consistent style, and its pages have further references to external resources.



"Look at the harm that religion has historically done, such as the Inquisition".
"Look at all the deaths caused by atheists like Stalinism and Nazism".
"Hitler was a Catholic, and Stalin replaced a theocracy".
"But Stalin based his ideology on science".
"But ...".


What had the Inquisition, Stalinism, and Nazism in common? They were extremely unenlightened!

Surely we can agree something like that? Now let's see if we can be more precise. This page attempts to clarify what we (at least I) mean by "enlightened" and "unenlightened", to a first approximation. This page will continue to evolve.


I am using this word because:

  • the "Age of Enlightenment" was an era is marked by aspiration towards greater rights for common people, attempting to supplant the arbitrary authority of aristocracy and established churches, and questioning traditional institutions and customs;
  • at least in the form "enlightened" it has a fairly common meaning that approximates to the qualities I am talking about.

I build on these by identifying measures in a number of dimensions that relate to the above. I do not claim that exactly these measures would be identified by anyone else. At the moment, this is a personal project to clarify my own thinking. I may generalise this later.

So "enlightenment" is my own shorthand for what I describe here. (But if I said "Nelson Mandela is enlightened and Stalin was unenlightened", I suspect that many people would nod agreement, and even have similar views).


I want a manageable number of independent measures, (Dimensions), each with a spectrum from "enlightened" to "unenlightened", that can be used to analyse societies, organisations, and people. In practice, it is probably impossible to obtain true independence, and there are an unmanageable number of detailed measures that can be made. But I only need simple results, so here is my current set.

As seen in the following sections, each of these Dimensions is applied within a defined scope. So they wouldn't just be applied to "religious people", but perhaps to "attitudes of religious people towards human rights", or "attitudes of Catholics towards stem cell research".

Dimension Summary Enlightened views Unenlightened views


Styles of thinking and of making sense of the world.

Wikipedia: Cognition

Freethought (and thinking for yourself). Evidence-based reasoning. Logic. Lateral thinking. Rationalism. Systematic thinking. Dogmatic. Doctrinaire. Traditional. Fundamentalism. Emotional.


Sources of information and knowledge to be acted upon.

Wikipedia: Knowledge | Epistemology
Science and other kinds of knowledge

Evidence. Observation. Education. History. Free speech. General availability. Openness. Literacy. Empiricism. Revelation. Mysticism. Myth. Divination. Sacred texts. Superstition. Censorship. Dogma. Doctrine. Tradition. Pseudo-science. False certainty.


Attitudes and views towards other beings, human or otherwise.

Wikipedia: Empathy

Peers. Equality. LGBT-acceptance. Pluralism. Meeting of minds. Sympathy. Compassion. Autonomy. Great apes. In-group only. Belief in sub-humans. Patriarchy. Intolerance. Slavery. Property. Racism. LGBT-intolerance. Misogyny. Misandry.


Attitudes and preferences of governance at all levels.

Wikipedia: Governance

Representative government for all. Democracy. Secularism. Freedom. Republics. Pilot schemes. Reward. Rights. Authoritarian. Aristocratic. Theocratic. Totalitarianism. Punishment. Permissions.


These are illustrations of this method of analysis. They are not definitive conclusions.

These are examples of Processes that can be measured in terms of the Dimensions. Some of these are so general that little can be said about them without being specific. For example, "Politics" depends a lot on the nation concerned. Others are global, such as "Science", and a lot can be said about them here.

Where a particular Process is too general to be analysed here, it can be analysed as a Topic, see below.

Process Summary Dimensions





Human Rights Reasoning Universal Human Rights:
Wikipedia: Human rights
Enlightened Enlightened Enlightened Enlightened
"Human Rights" in Islam:
Wikipedia: Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam
Unenlightened Unenlightened Unenlightened Unenlightened
Religious Reasoning Wikipedia: Scriptural Reasoning | Theology | Apologetics | Presuppositional apologetics | Transcendental argument Unenlightened Unenlightened Case-specific Case-specific
Politics Wikipedia: Politics | Civic virtue   Case-specific Case-specific Case-specific
Science Conventional science:
Wikipedia: Scientific method | Rhetoric of science | Scientific Revolution
Enlightened Enlightened Case-specific  
Nazi science:
Wikipedia: Nazi human experimentation | Doctors' Trial | Josef Mengele | Nazi eugenics
Enlightened Case-specific Very unenlightened  
Moral Reasoning Wikipedia: Moral reasoning Enlightened Case-specific Case-specific Case-specific

Human Rights Reasoning

Universal Human Rights are one of the milestones of aspirational enlightenment of the 20th Century.

This process illustrates the need to be specific when doing this analysis. "Islamic Human Rights" are not rights, but are conditional permissions from Allah, accompanied by constraints and duties. Islam has deliberately hi-jacked the term "Human Rights".
[ Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights | Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam ]

Religious Reasoning

Religious reasoning involves dogma, doctrine, revelation, sacred texts, etc. These are the archetype unenlightened positions for Cognition and Knowledge.

It is possible for religious people to be reasonably enlightened by rejecting the bad bits of their religion, cherry-picking the good bits, and supplementing and complementing those with principles from outside their religion. As religions become more enlightened according to all of these dimensions, they begin to resemble secular humanism or something like that.


Nazi science & Japan's Unit 731

This covers the full spectrum!


Science involves evidence-based reasoning, logic, observation, openness, etc. These are the archetype enlightened positions for Cognition and Knowledge.

This process illustrates the need for an ethics committee! Nazi scientists, especially with medical training, performed some of the most unethical experiments on people ever known. They failed totally with Empathy. The same applies to Japan's Unit 731 during World War 2.

Moral Reasoning

The Cognition is probably enlightened, but the development depends on the other factors.


These are illustrations of this method of analysis. They are not definitive conclusions.

These are specific topics that can be measured in terms of the Dimensions and Processes.

Topic Dimensions Processes





Islam Very unenlightened Very unenlightened Unenlightened Unenlightened Religious Reasoning
Roman Catholic Church Unenlightened Unenlightened Very unenlightened Very unenlightened Religious Reasoning
Humanism Enlightened Enlightened Enlightened Enlightened  
Stalinism Unenlightened Fairly unenlightened Very unenlightened Very unenlightened Politics
Nazism Unenlightened Fairly unenlightened Very unenlightened Very unenlightened Politics
Great Ape Project Enlightened Enlightened Very enlightened   Moral Reasoning
Temple Grandin Very enlightened Very enlightened ?   Moral Reasoning
Operation Spanner     Unenlightened Unenlightened  


Islam displays some of the worst aspects of all religions, typically combined with one type of another of unenlightened Governance. With a few exceptions, the governance of Islamic states tends to be one or more of authoritarian, theocratic, punishment-oriented, etc.

Roman Catholic Church

See The Roman Catholic Church in these pages.


Humanism is deliberately based on enlightenment values.

Stalinism and Nazism

These are archetype unenlightened regimes/ideologies. It is arguable what the degree of unenlightenment is for each dimension, although Empathy and Governance were deficient in both cases.

Great Ape Project

This is a consequence of taking an attitude to "empathy" that goes beyond human beings. (Others also do this, for example "animal rights activists", and some vegetarians. But they lack realism in a way that suggests other agendas).

A world that accepted Great Apes as near-peers would be a world that surely couldn't tolerate the concept of any people being "sub-human".

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin is an astonishing person who is a challenge to these dimensions. Being autistic, she lacks empathy in a conventional sense, yet her achievements as a designer of "humane" slaughterhouses reveal a unique approach to "moral reasoning" where cattle are concerned.

I don't believe she demolishes my thesis. I think instead she exploits unique "sources of information" unavailable to the rest of us, and somehow excels in enlightened thinking. She appears to be a one-off.

Operation Spanner

The outcome of this case fails my personal principle: "Avoid harm to innocent people, otherwise let people do what they want". The participants in Operation Spanner were not innocent of what was being done to them, and there was no imperative to avoid harm to them. They should (in my opinion) have been allowed to do what they wanted.

There is a contrast with the law on Female Genital Mutilation (Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2003). That (rightly) doesn't make an exception if the girl/woman wants the mutilation, or in the case of assisting a girl/woman to mutilate herself. This guards against social pressures. In the case of Operation Spanner, there was no plausible issue with social pressure.


My short formulation of Rawls' "Veil of Ignorance" principle:
Adopt the principles that you would want others to adopt if you knew you would have a second life but didn’t know what your sex, orientation, race, or ability, would be 


Are my uses of words like "enlightened" biased?


To someone who believes that we should all be governed by sacred texts and revelation, my use of the loaded word "unenlightened" to summarise them may display clear and unacceptable bias. I can't use logic to justify this, because we wouldn't agree on the premises. I can't prove that "Universal Human Rights" are superior to the incompatible "Human Rights in Islam". (But note that some people consider "enlightened" to be a criticism or insult! Such people are likely to believe that "The Enlightenment" was a mistake, and pre-Enlightenment conditions were preferable).

But I am certainly allowed my opinion, and this is my web site, so I will not adopt a "cultural relativist" or "post-modernist" position here. I believe time, measured at least in decades, and perhaps in generations, is on my side.