Archive for November 11th, 2014

"The Hall of Enlightenment" by virtusincertus on Flickr CC-BY

“The Hall of Enlightenment” by virtusincertus on Flickr CC-BY

Recently, nina de jesus argued that libraries perpetuate systematic, institutionalized oppression by virtue of adhering to the democratic principles and values espoused during the Age of Enlightenment.[1] Her argument can be summarized as follows:

Premise 1:   Libraries embody and perpetuate the values of the Enlightenment.

Premise 2:   The values of the Enlightenment are oppressive.

Conclusion: Libraries embody and perpetuate oppressive values.

On its face, this is a valid argument, which is just to say that if the premises are true then the conclusion must be true as well.[2] Yet, validity is no substitute for soundness and we can rightly ask whether de jesus’ argument is, in fact, a sound one. Are her premises true?

This post will attempt to argue that de jesus’ argument is flawed in its second premise: hidden within the claim that the values of the Enlightenment are oppressive are historical and methodological assumptions that significantly weaken her argument. This is not to say that libraries are immune from institutionalized oppression. Rather, the argument I wish to make is that the values of the Enlightenment are not the proximate cause for ongoing oppression. If anything, as I hope to show, the historical and material “conditions that both caused and are caused by the Enlightenment”[3] are frequently mischaracterized and misunderstood. The values of the Age of Reason, far from being a direct cause of institutionalized oppression in libraries, may be the best cure.


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