IFF is headquartered and has its roots in Scotland. Hence it seemed natural in 2000 to frame the initial invitation join IFF in terms of another analogous act of collective creativity seeking to understand a rapidly changing world - the Scottish Enlightenment. This is how the invitation to the first IFF meeting read:
“In the early eighteenth century in Scotland there emerged a cluster of philosophers, social scientists, moralists and others who together helped to shape what came to be known as the enlightenment. They explored the assumptions, values and principles of the move from a pre-industrial to an industrial age, the rise of secularism and reason.
Those assumptions, values and principles of the enlightenment are today under strain. We live in a new, networked economy in which the old rules are being subverted. The political institutions bequeathed to us by the eighteenth century are suffering a twin crisis of legitimacy and competence. The legacy of the invisible hand is a combination of threats to our ecosystem that endanger our survival. And the triumph of reason and of modern science has left us alienated from the life of the spirit, searching for meaning.
It seems appropriate then that a second cluster of individuals should emerge in Scotland seeking to reinvent the spirit of the enlightenment: to explore the assumptions, values and underpinning principles of today’s transition - beyond the industrial society.
In St Andrews in April 2001 we will inaugurate the International Futures Forum (IFF). This is a dialogue centred on leading strategic thinkers brought together to explore the nature of the most significant future challenges facing society and the systemic connections between them; to examine ways in which we might successfully adapt and respond to these challenges, including by learning from existing promising practice; and to stimulate actions consonant with that inquiry by individual communities and at a systemic level, in Scotland and elsewhere.”
Setting out in four fragile boats named Economy, Governance, Sustainability and Consciousness, we identified our collective journey as the quest for a second enlightenment.
We were encouraged some months later by Professor Alexander Broadie, the contemporary holder of Adam Smith’s chair of moral philosophy at Glasgow University, who spoke to us about the foundations of the first Scottish enlightenment. He identified three conditions that had enabled such a flowering of creativity and lastingly useful ideas at that time – independent thinking, tolerance for others’ views and a rootedness in practice. We like to think that these have been present in our own community ever since.
But did we find the ‘second enlightenment’? In a way yes – we have certainly developed a coherent philosophy that includes and moves beyond Enlightenment rationalism. It is a philosophy that makes better sense of our complex world, and increases the resources at our disposal to act effectively in it. We have expressed that philosophy most succinctly in the short book Ten Things To Do In A Conceptual Emergency.
But we have become more reluctant to identify this as a ‘second enlightenment’. Partly because it became a political slogan in Scotland. Partly because we know that the ‘second enlightenment’ begs a question about the ‘third’ – and so on. We are always learning. Partly because ‘enlightenment’ carries a ring of religious truth in some quarters, which is not our intention. And partly because ‘enlightenment’ itself is such a loaded term for an explosive increase in knowledge: it tends to equate knowledge and reason with light, whereas we know that knowledge (perhaps most of it) is also to be found in the darkness, in the mystery.