Michel Foucault argues that the term humanism should not be confused with that of Enlightenment. The importance of grasping the notions of humanism and Enlightenment for narrative environment design is that it bears directly upon how the domain of humanity and the human is understood in the design process and in the created narrative environments, i.e. how is human actantiality and potentiality understood in the ways the narrative environment works.

Foucault argues that the Enlightenment is a set of events and complex historical processes that is located at a certain point in the development of European societies which includes elements of social transformation, types of political institution, forms of knowledge, projects of rationalisation of knowledge and practices and technological mutations. All of this is very difficult to sum up in a word, even if many of these phenomena remain important today.

Rather than a set of events, Foucault (1984: 44) points out that humanism is a set of themes that have reappeared on several occasions over time in European societies. These themes are always tied to value judgments and have varied greatly in their content as well as in the values they have preserved. Furthermore, they have served as a critical principle of differentiation. For example, in the seventeenth century, there was a humanism that presented itself as a critique of Christianity or of religion in general; and there was a Christian humanism opposed to an ascetic and much more theocentric humanism.

In the nineteenth century, there was a suspicious humanism hostile and critical toward science; and another that, to the contrary, placed its hope in that same science. Marxism has been a humanism; as have existentialism and personalism.

In the twentieth century, there was a time when people supported the humanistic values represented by National Socialism and when the Stalinists themselves said they were humanists.


Foucault, M. (1984). What is Enlightenment? In: The Foucault Reader, edited by Paul Rabinow. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 32–50.

edited 26 March, 2016 by Allan Parsons

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