Type: Critical Essays
Sample donated: Angela Pena
Last updated: September 21, 2019
The Enlightenment was period of intellectual and growth. Duringthe Enligtenment, people started to believethat all men were free people. The declaration of rights of Man states “men areborn free and are equal in rights.” This was a new concept of that time. Peoplehad not thought about others as beingequal. Everyone was equal and can live their lives according to their wishes,within certain guidelines.
Enlightenment was a philosophical movement in 18thcentury Europe, characterized by belief in the power of human reason and byinnovations in political, religious and educational doctrine.This movement rejected social, traditional, political, andreligious norms and values and adopted free thinking for development of newideas and theories for human behavior and their feelings. These new ways werethen applied to political and social boundries, changing the people views andthought about government, and directly influencing the development of modernworld.
The enlightenment presented a challenge to traditional religious views. Enlightenmentthinkers were the liberal of their days. It brought ideas in moral and natural philosophyand shifted away from metaphysics and supernatural towards focus upon humannature and physics. Significantly, TheEnlightenment represented adoption of critical attitude instead of cultural andintellectual traditions.
The forty-volume L’Encyclopedie (1751–1772), compiled by theimportant Enlightenment thinkers Denis Diderot (1713–1784) and Jean Le Rondd’Alembert (1717–1783), idealized the Enlightenment thinker, or philosophe, asone who “enslaves mostminds”, and “dares to think for himself” (Diderot1751, 5:270). A generationlater, the German thinker Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) says “enlightenment is when a person grows out of hisself-imposed immaturity. He defines immaturity as one’s inability to usehis own understanding without the guidance of another.” He describedpurpose of enlightenment in simple manner as ” Have courage to use your ownreason”.(1988,462).INTENSIFYING THE SCHOLARLYSPHERES:The Enlightenment took advantage of new forms of cerebral exchange.David Hume (1711–1776) was known as one of theimportant figures of Enlightenment. He worked for recognition of differencebetween matters of facts and matter of values.
He saw humanity as more inclinedto emotion than to reason. He complained against the exclusivity of earliergeneration and asserted on bringing knowledge popular and closeted learned tosocial able world of politeconversations in academies, salons, debating societies etc. in His period,books became smaller, cheaper and accessible. This was witnessed time of periodicalpress, of newspaper and magazines. Literacy rate was increased among the middleclass men, meant that people read pamphlet essays and novels in their leisuretime.IMPROVEMENTAND UTILITY:During the seventeenthcentury, European intellectuals quarreled over whether contemporary “modern”European thinkers had surpassed their “ancient” Greek and Roman counterparts,and this debate gave rise to the Enlightenment belief that better ways of thinkingand behaving had emerged in recent decades.
The sense of modern improvementsled to a faith among the philosophes that the new ideas and methods wouldguarantee indefinite progress in politics, society, and the arts and sciences. “If one looks at all closely at the middleof our own century, the events that occupy us, our customs, our acheivementsand even our topics of conversation , it is difficult not to see that a veryremarkable change in several respects has come into our ideas; a change whichby its rapidity, seems to us to foreshadow another still greater. Time alonewill tell the aim, the nature and limits of this revolution, whoseinconveniences and advantages our posterity will recognized better than we can.” -Jean Le Rond d’Adrento The philosophes took upthe cause of improving their social and natural surroundings through experimentand reform. Societies and academies, such as the English Royal Society, emergedin which innovative ideas and techniques were presented, debated, andrecommended.
From agricultural techniques to zoological taxonomies, progressivereform was an important Enlightenment ideal associated with anotherEnlightenment principle: utility. Hume (1902,183) wrote that “public utility is thesole origin of justice.” In their emphasis upon principles of progress andutility, most Enlightenment thinkers were the heirs to the “moderns” in thequarrel of the ancients and moderns. PHYSICAL AND HUMAN NATURE:The sixteenth and seventeenthcenturies saw European thinkers challenge inherited ideas about the physicaluniverse. Medieval thinkers had built elaborate cosmological systems uponclassical, and particularly Aristotelian, foundations.
But in many fields, suchas physics, applied mathematics, and especially astronomy, new discoveries andexplanations put forward by Nicolaus Copernicus(1473–1543), Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), and Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727), among others, challenged the picture of a finite,Earth-centered universe and replaced it with a potentially infinite universeand a sun-centered system. Explanations of the physical universe thusincreasingly presented it as analogous to a mechanism, governed by rational,mathematically expressible rules, which a divine power may have created butwith which it did not need to interfere. There were Enlightenment thinkerswho were ‘atomists’ but who believed the atoms were active (Leibniz at onepoint in his career at any rate, was one of these).
Nevertheless the passiveconception predominated and it was this that entered into later conceptions ofhow the universe was thought of by the Enlightenment. It was thought as of madeup of minute hard passive particles.Rousseau’s beleifs on human nature believingthat all men in a state of nature arefree and equal. In a state of nature, men are “Noble Savages”. It means thatpeople are not born evil, but are corrupted by society and turned evil. Enlightenment thinkers viewedhuman nature in terms of a morally neutral tabula rasa, or blank slate, thatcould be molded in various ways. They applied the idea of a social tabula rasa,or state of nature, to explain how civil society might have emerged and oughtto be governed.
Many Enlightenment thinkers, such asHobbes, the Marquis d’Argenson (1694–1757), Montesquieu (1689–1755), andJean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), argued thatpolitical stability could be guaranteed by organizing society as a machine inwhich each component worked in harmony with the rest. Still others, like Lockein his The Second Treatise of Government (1689), used theidea of a state of nature to define the boundaries of state power inguaranteeing political stability. RELIGION AND POLITICS: Drawing on the scientific revolution, which hasdemonstrated that the physical world was governed by natural laws, men such asEnglish philosopher John Locke argued that similar laws applied to humanaffairs and were discoverable through reason. Protagonist of the Enlightenmentalso examined religion through the prism of reason.
Rational Christianity, asits extreme, argued that God created the universe, established the laws ofnature that made it work, and then did not interfere with the mechanism. Thisconcept of God as a watchmaker is known as Deism.The Enlightenment, or age ofEnlightenment, rearranged politics and governments in earthshaking ways. This culturalmovement embraced several types of philosophies, or approaches to thinking andexploring the the world generally, Enlightened thinkers thought objectively andwithout prejudice. Reasoning, rationalism, and empiricism were some of the schoolsof thought that composed the Enlightenment.
A fascinating journey through theEurope of the Enlightenment in this important volume an extraordinarilyincisive picture is offered to the reader. Religion and Poitics inEnlightenment Europe is a fundamental work that solicits a renewed reflectionon the great changes in progress in European society before the FrenchRevolution and on the deeply dynamic role played by religion and particularly byreligious dissent to facilitate the difficult passage from the Ancien Regime tothe modern world.” –Professor Mario Rosa, Sculoa Normale Superiore.ENLIGHTENMENTAND THE MODERN WORLD:Traditionally, “The Enlightenment” has been associated with France,America, and Scotland rather than Britain, which, strangely enough, is thoughtnot to have had an Enlightenment to speak of. Roy Porter effectively upsets this view in Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of theModern World.
Porter’s general concern is with “the interplay ofactivists, ideas, and society,” and to this end he examines innovations insocial, political, scientific, psychological, and theological discourse. Thekey figures (the “enlightened thinkers”) read like a Who’s Who of the 17th and 18thcenturies–Newton, Locke, Bernard de Mandeville, Erasmus Darwin, Priestley,Paine, Bentham, and Britain’s “premier enlightenment couple” MaryWollstonecraft and William Godwin, as well as the men who helped popularize anddisseminate their ideas, such as Addison, Steele, Defoe, Pope, and Sterne. Thebook is peppered with brilliant quotes, and although it covers such vast groundin a rapid and sometimes breathless manner, Porter just about manages to holdit all together.While returning the Enlightenment to Britain, Porter also provides apersuasive general defense of the movement against its Foucauldian, feminist,and/or postmodern critics who still “paint it black.
” It wasperpetually dismissed as “anything from superficial and intellectuallynaïve to a conspiracy of dead white men in periwigs who provide theintellectual foundation for Western imperialism,” and one of the book’sstrengths is that after reading it, one finds it hard to understand how these”critiques” gained such influence in intellectual circles. The majorshortcoming of the book–as Porter is well aware–is that “too many themesreceive short measure”: literature and the arts, political debate, theforging of nationalism, and more. Several chapters, if not all, deservedbook-length treatment, making this work of nearly 500 pages seem quite short.
But if Enlightenment leaves thereader unsatisfied, it is in the best possible way–one would have liked tohear more from Porter rather than less. Word has it he’s already planning anencore. –Larry Brown, Amazon.co.uk –Thistext refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.