An introduction to the history of enlightenment period

The Enlightenment was confronted with Counter-Enlightenments, such as Romanticism and Catholic revivals, but politics, society and economics continued their inexorable march down the secular path. A nation which has through civilization attained the highest pinnacle of national happiness, is for that very reason in danger of falling; whereas it cannot rise higher: We owe to this period the basic model of government founded upon the consent of the governed; the articulation of the political ideals of freedom and equality and the theory of their institutional realization; the articulation of a list of basic individual human rights to be respected and realized by any legitimate political system; the articulation and promotion of toleration of religious diversity as a virtue to be respected in a well ordered society; the conception of the basic political powers as organized in a system of checks and balances; and other now-familiar features of western democracies.

Where the state had once been viewed as an earthly approximation of an eternal order, with the City of Man modeled on the City of God, now it came to be seen as a mutually beneficial arrangement among humans aimed at protecting the natural rights and self-interest of each.

The Marquis de Sade is merely the most notorious example, among a set of Enlightenment figures including also the Marquis de Argens and Diderot himself in some of his writings who, within the context of the new naturalism and its emphasis on the pursuit of pleasure, celebrate the avid pursuit of sexual pleasure and explicitly challenge the sexual mores, as well as the wider morality, of their time.

The Age of Enlightenment, an introduction

If matter is inert as Descartes claimswhat can be the source of motion and the nature of causality in the physical world? It is significant that both Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, the two founders of modern moral sense theory, articulate their ethical theory in conjunction with an aesthetic theory.

The profound secularization that is the Enlightenment has installed suspicion of authority, tradition, and divine right to rule in the West. Although most modern interpreters incline to the latter view in both cases, there is still a case for the French emphasis, given the genius of a number of the philosophes and their associates.

The special significance of the Enlightenment lies in its combination of principle and pragmatism. Is it not a natural consequence of self-love to honor those who protect us, and to love such as do us good?

As another example, we may point to some post-modern feminists, who argue, in opposition to the liberal feminists who embrace broadly Enlightenment ideals and conceptions, that the essentialism and universalism associated with Enlightenment ideals are both false and intrinsically hostile to the aspirations to self-realization of women and of other An introduction to the history of enlightenment period oppressed groups.

Ideas and beliefs were tested wherever reason and research could challenge traditional authority. Also, the violent religious wars that bloody Europe in the early modern period motivate the development of secular, this-worldly ethics, insofar as they indicate the failure of religious doctrines concerning God and the afterlife to establish a stable foundation for ethics.

First, the Enlightenment established new philosophical ideas concerning the grounds of knowledge—epistemology—that is the knowledge was based upon empirical observation and provable hypotheses. I have no need to be taught artificial forms of worship; the dictates of nature are sufficient.

The term represents a phase in the intellectual history of Europe, but it also serves to define programs of reform in which influential literati, inspired by a common faith in the possibility… A brief treatment of the Enlightenment follows.

He provides specific analysis of how climate, fertility of the soil, population size, et cetera, affect legislation. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another.

Age of Enlightenment

While there are significant Enlightenment thinkers who are metaphysicians — again, one thinks of Christian Wolff — the general thrust of Enlightenment thought is anti-metaphysical. According to a common Enlightenment assumption, as humankind clarifies the laws of nature through the advance of natural science and philosophy, the true moral and political order will be revealed with it.

The skeptical cast of mind is one prominent manifestation of the Enlightenment spirit. John Locke conceived of the human mind as being at birth a tabula rasaa blank slate on which experience wrote freely and boldly, creating the individual character according to the individual experience of the world.

The characteristic Enlightenment suspicion of all allegedly authoritative claims the validity of which is obscure, which is directed first of all against religious dogmas, extends to the claims of metaphysics as well. The question of how to ground our claims to natural freedom and equality is one of the main philosophical legacies of the Enlightenment.

George Berkeley, an empiricist philosopher influenced by John Locke, avoids the problem by asserting the metaphysics of idealism: Unlike other terms applied by historians to describe a phenomenon that they see more clearly than could contemporaries, it was used and cherished by those who believed in the power of mind to liberate and improve.

Samuel Clarke, perhaps the most important proponent and popularizer of Newtonian philosophy in the early eighteenth century, supplies some of the more developed arguments for the position that the correct exercise of unaided human reason leads inevitably to the well-grounded belief in God. Such a methodology was most spectacularly achieved in the sciences and mathematicswhere the logics of induction and deduction made possible the creation of a sweeping new cosmology.

Yet much of the tenor of the Enlightenment did survive in the liberalism, toleration, and respect for law that have persisted in European society. In initiating this model, Hobbes takes a naturalistic, scientific approach to the question of how political society ought to be organized against the background of a clear-eyed, unsentimental conception of human natureand thus decisively influences the Enlightenment process of secularization and rationalization in political and social philosophy.

Received authority, whether of Ptolemy in the sciences or of the church in matters of the spirit, was to be subject to the probings of unfettered minds. Descartes — undertakes to establish the sciences upon a secure metaphysical foundation.

The celebration of abstract reason provoked contrary spirits to begin exploring the world of sensation and emotion in the cultural movement known as Romanticism. The Enlightenment begins by unleashing skepticism in attacking limited, circumscribed targets, but once the skeptical genie is out of the bottle, it becomes difficult to maintain conviction in any authority.

It exerts this influence through its skeptical questioning of religious, metaphysical, and scientific dogmas. The emergence of factions is avoided insofar as the good of each citizen is, and is understood to be, equally because wholly dependent on the general will.

The trading house floor, in which people of various nationalities, languages, cultures, religions come together and trade, each in pursuit of his own self-interest, but, through this pursuit, supplying the wants of their respective nations and increasing its wealth, represents for some Enlightenment thinkers the benign, peaceful, universal rational order that they wish to see replace the violent, confessional strife that characterized the then-recent past of Europe.

Hume begins this argument by noting that, though rules or principles in demonstrative sciences are certain or infallible, given the fallibility of our faculties, our applications of such rules or principles in demonstrative inferences yield conclusions that cannot be regarded as certain or infallible.

Locke and Descartes both pursue a method in epistemology that brings with it the epistemological problem of objectivity. In the face of such tensions within the Enlightenment, one response is to affirm the power of the Enlightenment to improve humanity and society long beyond the end of the eighteenth century, indeed, down to the present day and into the future.


In his second set of Boyle lectures, A Discourse Concerning the Unchangeable Obligations of Natural ReligionClarke argues as well that the moral order revealed to us by our natural reason requires the existence of a divine legislator and an afterlife, in which the supreme being rewards virtue and punishes vice.

The work aims to provide a compendium of existing human knowledge to be transmitted to subsequent generations, a transmission intended to contribute to the progress and dissemination of human knowledge and to a positive transformation of human society.

Rationalist ethics so conceived faces the following obstacles in the Enlightenment. These limits are arguably vividly illustrated by the course of the French Revolution.Despite the confidence in and enthusiasm for human reason in the Enlightenment – it is sometimes called “the Age of Reason” – the rise of empiricism, both in the practice of science and in the theory of knowledge, is characteristic of the period.

Watch video · Enlightenment thinkers in Britain, in France and throughout Europe questioned traditional authority and embraced the notion that humanity could be improved through rational change. The Enlightenment produced numerous books, essays, inventions, scientific discoveries, laws, wars and revolutions.

Toward the middle of the eighteenth century a shift in thinking occurred. This shift is known as the Enlightenment. You have probably already heard of some important Enlightenment figures, like Rousseau, Diderot and Voltaire.

The Age of Enlightenment, an introduction by Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris Joseph Wright of Derby, A Philosopher Giving A Lecture at the Orrery, c.oil on canvas, x cm (Derby Museum and Art Gallery, Derby, England).

The period was marked by a further decline in the influence of the church, governmental consolidation and greater rights for the common people. Politically, it was a time of revolutions and turmoil and of the overturning of established traditions.

The Enlightenment culminated in the French Revolution () and was followed by the Romantic period. Major figures of the Enlightenment include Voltaire, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, Isaac Newton and Thomas Jefferson.

An introduction to the history of enlightenment period
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