The Enlightenment was period of
intellectual and growth. During the Enligtenment,  people started to believe that all men were
free people. The declaration of rights of Man states “men are born free and are
equal in rights.” This was a new concept of that time. People had not thought
about others as  being equal. Everyone
was equal and can live their lives according to their wishes, within certain
guidelines. Enlightenment was a philosophical movement in 18th century Europe,
characterized by belief in the power of human reason and by innovations in
political, religious and educational doctrine.

This movement rejected social,
traditional, political, and religious norms and values and adopted free
thinking for development of new ideas and theories for human behavior and their
feelings. These new ways were then applied to political and social boundries,
changing the people views and thought about government, and directly
influencing the development of modern world. The enlightenment presented a
challenge to traditional religious views. Enlightenment thinkers were the
liberal of their days. It brought ideas in moral and natural philosophy and
shifted away from metaphysics and supernatural towards focus upon human nature
and physics.  Significantly, The
Enlightenment represented adoption of critical attitude instead of cultural and
intellectual traditions. The forty-volume L’Encyclopedie (1751–1772), compiled
by the important Enlightenment thinkers Denis Diderot (1713–1784) and Jean Le
Rond d’Alembert (1717–1783), idealized the Enlightenment thinker, or
philosophe, as one who “enslaves  most
minds”, and “dares to think for himself” (Diderot 1751, 5:270). A  generation later, the German thinker Immanuel
Kant (1724–1804) says “enlightenment is when a person grows out of his
self-imposed immaturity.  He defines immaturity as one’s inability to use
his own understanding without the guidance of another.” He described purpose of
enlightenment in simple manner as ” Have courage to use your own


The Enlightenment took advantage
of new forms of cerebral exchange. David Hume (1711–1776) was known as one of
the important figures of Enlightenment. He worked for recognition of difference
between matters of facts and matter of values. He saw humanity as more inclined
to emotion than to reason. He complained against the exclusivity of earlier
generation and asserted on bringing knowledge popular and closeted learned to
social able  world of polite
conversations in academies, salons, debating societies etc. in His period,
books became smaller, cheaper and accessible. This was witnessed time of
periodical press, of newspaper and magazines. Literacy rate was increased among
the middle class men, meant that people read pamphlet essays and novels in
their leisure time.

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During the seventeenth century,
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 thinking and
behaving had emerged in recent decades. The sense of modern improvements led to
a faith among the philosophes that the new ideas and methods would guarantee
indefinite progress in politics, society, and the arts and sciences.

     “If one looks at all closely at the middle
of our own century, the events that occupy us, our customs, our acheivements
and even our topics of conversation , it is difficult not to see that a very
remarkable change in several respects has come into our ideas; a change which
by its rapidity, seems to us to foreshadow another still greater. Time alone
will tell the aim, the nature and limits of this revolution, whose
inconveniences and advantages our posterity will recognized better than we

-Jean Le Rond d’Adrento   


 The philosophes took up the
cause of improving their social and natural surroundings through experiment and
reform. Societies and academies, such as the English Royal Society, emerged in
which innovative ideas and techniques were presented, debated, and recommended.
From agricultural techniques to zoological taxonomies, progressive reform was
an important Enlightenment ideal associated with another Enlightenment
principle: utility. Hume (1902, 183) wrote that “public utility is the sole
origin of justice.” In their emphasis upon principles of progress and utility,
most Enlightenment thinkers were the heirs to the “moderns” in the quarrel of
the ancients and moderns.   


The sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries saw European thinkers challenge inherited ideas about the physical
universe. Medieval thinkers had built elaborate cosmological systems upon
classical, and particularly Aristotelian, foundations. But in many fields, such
as physics, applied mathematics, and especially astronomy, new discoveries and
explanations 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 universe and a sun-centered system. Explanations of the physical
universe thus increasingly presented it as analogous to a mechanism, governed
by rational, mathematically expressible rules, which a divine power may have
created but with which it did not need to interfere.

             There were Enlightenment thinkers
who were ‘atomists’ but who believed the atoms were active (Leibniz at one
point in his career at any rate, was one of these). Nevertheless the passive
conception predominated and it was this that entered into later conceptions of
how the universe was thought of by the Enlightenment. It was thought as of made
up of minute hard passive particles.

Rousseau’s beleifs on human
nature believing that all men in a state of nature  are free and equal. In a state of nature, men
are “Noble Savages”. It means that people are not born evil, but are corrupted
by society and turned evil.  Enlightenment thinkers viewed human nature in
terms of a morally neutral tabula rasa, or blank slate, that could 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 ought to be
governed. Many Enlightenment thinkers, such as Hobbes, the Marquis d’Argenson
(1694–1757), Montesquieu (1689–1755), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778),
argued that political stability could be guaranteed by organizing society as a
machine in which each component worked in harmony with the rest. Still others,
like Locke in his The Second  Treatise of
Government (1689), used the idea of a state of nature to define the boundaries
of state power in guaranteeing political stability.                     RELIGION AND POLITICS: 

                   Drawing  on the scientific revolution, which has
demonstrated that the physical world was governed by natural laws, men such as
English philosopher John Locke argued that similar laws applied to human
affairs and were discoverable through reason. Protagonist of the Enlightenment
also examined religion through the prism of reason. Rational Christianity, as
its extreme, argued that God created the universe, established the laws of
nature that made it work, and then did not interfere with the mechanism. This
concept of God as a watchmaker is known as Deism.

The Enlightenment, or age of
Enlightenment, rearranged politics and governments in earthshaking ways. This
cultural movement embraced several types of philosophies, or approaches to
thinking and exploring the the world generally, Enlightened thinkers thought
objectively and without prejudice. Reasoning, rationalism, and empiricism were
some of the schools of thought that composed the Enlightenment. A fascinating
journey through the Europe of the Enlightenment in this important volume an
extraordinarily incisive picture is offered to the reader. Religion and Poitics
in Enlightenment Europe is a fundamental work that solicits a renewed
reflection on the great changes in progress in European society before the
French Revolution and on the deeply dynamic role played by religion and
particularly by religious dissent to facilitate the difficult passage from the
Ancien Regime to the modern world.” –Professor Mario Rosa, Sculoa Normale


Traditionally, “The Enlightenment” has been associated with France,
America, and Scotland rather than Britain, which, strangely enough, is thought
not to have had an Enlightenment to speak of. Roy
Porter effectively upsets this view in Enlightenment: Britain and
the Creation of the Modern World. Porter’s general concern is with “the
interplay of activists, ideas, and society,” and to this end he examines
innovations in social, political, scientific, psychological, and theological
discourse. The key figures (the “enlightened thinkers”) read like a Who’s
Who of the 17th and 18th centuries–Newton, Locke, Bernard de Mandeville,
Erasmus Darwin, Priestley, Paine, Bentham, and Britain’s “premier
enlightenment couple” Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, as well as
the men who helped popularize and disseminate their ideas, such as Addison,
Steele, Defoe, Pope, and Sterne. The book is peppered with brilliant quotes,
and although it covers such vast ground in a rapid and sometimes breathless
manner, Porter just about manages to hold it all together.

While returning the Enlightenment
to Britain, Porter also provides a persuasive general defense of the movement
against its Foucauldian, feminist, and/or postmodern critics who still
“paint it black.” It was perpetually dismissed as “anything from
superficial and intellectually naïve to a conspiracy of dead white men in
periwigs who provide the intellectual foundation for Western
imperialism,” and one of the book’s strengths is that after reading it,
one finds it hard to understand how these “critiques” gained such
influence in intellectual circles. The major shortcoming of the book–as Porter
is well aware–is that “too many themes receive short measure”:
literature and the arts, political debate, the forging of nationalism, and
more. Several chapters, if not all, deserved book-length treatment, making this
work of nearly 500 pages seem quite short. But if Enlightenment leaves
the reader unsatisfied, it is in the best possible way–one would have liked to
hear more from Porter rather than less. Word has it he’s already planning an
encore. –Larry Brown, –This text refers to an out of
print or unavailable edition of this title.  Enlightenment historians
studied how each human society followed a definite and, for most philosophes,
progressive development from a hypothetical state of nature to civilization.
This “conjectural history” implied definite hierarchies of cultures, and the
Enlightenment was an important period in the development of cultural
particularism, which fed into the nationalist and racialist ideologies of the
nineteenth century. The Enlightenment entailed the reformation of thought in
politics, economics, science, philosophy and other fields. In this process
Scotland held an eminent, globally-significant position and influence. Research
into this phenomenon can connect the ‘Enlightened’ ideas of Scotland’s great
thinkers with material, practical and other developments ‘at home’ and it can
seek to understand the connections forged through the Enlightenment between
Scotland and the wider world.

The new scientific and rational
outlook associated with enlightenment was manifest in technological advances
which arose from Enlightenment research and which facilitated the growth of
industrial production and fed the massive increase in consumption that
characterizes the eighteenth and nineteenth century.


The heart of the eighteenth
century Enlightenment is the loosely organized activity of prominent French
thinkers of the mid-decades of the eighteenth century, the so-called “philosophes”(e.g.,
Voltaire, D’Alembert, Diderot, Montesquieu). The philosophes constituted
an informal society of men of letters who collaborated on a loosely defined
project of Enlightenment exemplified by the project of the Encyclopedia. However,
there are noteworthy centers of Enlightenment outside of France as well. There
is a renowned Scottish Enlightenment (key figures are Frances Hutcheson, Adam
Smith, David Hume, Thomas Reid), a German Enlightenment (die Aufklärung, key
figures of which include Christian Wolff, Moses Mendelssohn, G.E. Lessing and
Immanuel Kant), and there are also other hubs of Enlightenment and
Enlightenment thinkers scattered throughout Europe and America in the
eighteenth century.

What makes for the unity of such
tremendously diverse thinkers under the label of “Enlightenment”? For the
purposes of this entry, the Enlightenment is conceived broadly. D’Alembert, a
leading figure of the French Enlightenment, characterizes his eighteenth
century, in the midst of it, as “the century of philosophy par excellence”,
because of the tremendous intellectual and scientific progress of the age, but
also because of the expectation of the age that philosophy (in the broad sense
of the time, which includes the natural and social sciences) would dramatically
improve human life. Guided by D’Alembert’s characterization of his century, the
Enlightenment is conceived here as having its primary origin in the scientific
revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries. The rise of the new science
progressively undermines not only the ancient geocentric conception of the
cosmos, but also the set of presuppositions that had served to constrain and
guide philosophical inquiry in the earlier times. The dramatic success of the
new science in explaining the natural world promotes philosophy from a
handmaiden of theology, constrained by its purposes and methods, to an
independent force with the power and authority to challenge the old and
construct the new, in the realms both of theory and practice, on the basis of
its own principles. Taking as the core of the Enlightenment the aspiration for
intellectual progress, and the belief in the power of such progress to improve
human society and individual lives, this entry includes descriptions of
relevant aspects of the thought of earlier thinkers, such as Hobbes, Locke,
Descartes, Bayle, Leibniz, and Spinoza, thinkers whose contributions are
indispensable to understanding the eighteenth century as “the century of
philosophy par excellence”.

The Enlightenment is often
associated with its political revolutions and ideals, especially the French
Revolution of 1789. The energy created and expressed by the intellectual foment
of Enlightenment thinkers contributes to the growing wave of social unrest in
France in the eighteenth century. The social unrest comes to a head in the
violent political upheaval which sweeps away the traditionally and
hierarchically structured ancien régime (the monarchy, the privileges
of the nobility, the political power of the Catholic Church). The French
revolutionaries meant to establish in place of the ancient régime a
new reason-based order instituting the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and
equality. Though the Enlightenment, as a diverse intellectual and social
movement, has no definite end, the devolution of the French Revolution into the
Terror in the 1790s, corresponding, as it roughly does, with the end of the
eighteenth century and the rise of opposed movements, such as Romanticism, can
serve as a convenient marker of the end of the Enlightenment, conceived as an
historical period.

For Enlightenment thinkers
themselves, however, the Enlightenment is not an historical period, but a
process of social, psychological or spiritual development, unbound to time or
place. Immanuel Kant defines “enlightenment” in his famous contribution to
debate on the question in an essay entitled “An Answer to the Question: What is
Enlightenment?” (1784), as humankind’s release from its self-incurred
immaturity; “immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without
the guidance of another.” Expressing convictions shared among Enlightenment
thinkers of widely divergent doctrines, Kant identifies enlightenment with the
process of undertaking to think for oneself, to employ and rely on one’s own
intellectual capacities in determining what to believe and how to act.
Enlightenment philosophers from across the geographical and temporal spectrum
tend to have a great deal of confidence in humanity’s intellectual powers, both
to achieve systematic knowledge of nature and to serve as an authoritative
guide in practical life. This confidence is generally paired with suspicion or
hostility toward other forms or carriers of authority (such as tradition,
superstition, prejudice, myth and miracles), insofar as these are seen to
compete with the authority of one’s own reason and experience. Enlightenment
philosophy tends to stand in tension with established religion, insofar as the
release from self-incurred immaturity in this age, daring to think for oneself,
awakening one’s intellectual powers, generally requires opposing the role of
established religion in directing thought and action. The faith of the
Enlightenment – if one may call it that – is that the process of enlightenment,
of becoming progressively self-directed in thought and action through the
awakening of one’s intellectual powers, leads ultimately to a better, more
fulfilled human existence.

This entry describes the main
tendencies of Enlightenment thought in the following main sections:

 (1) The True: Science, Epistemology, and
Metaphysics in the Enlightenment;

 (2) The Good: Political Theory, Ethical Theory
and Religion in the Enlightenment;

 (3) The Beautiful: Aesthetics in the


The Enlightenment had a lasting influence on the world.
Enlightenment theories and ideas have been especially significant in politics. The
worlds many consensuses are built on these basic clarified ideas such as: individual
freedom, free and faire elections, The rights of citizen’s people right to take
part in their government, and the government’s responsibility to its citizens. In
the United States, Enlightenment ideas continued to guide our political system.
The government has a responsibility to uphold rights of citizens and to work to
improve the country. Although different people have different ideas about what
is best for the country, all citizens have right and responsibility to
communicate their ideas to the government.

The Enlightenment completely transformed the way people then
and now think about their religion. It is one of the greatest events in history
because it gave people the idea to challenge what they have always been taught
is the right way to do things. It makes them have a mind of their own and not fall
subject to unfair treatment because they think it is just what is supposed to happen.The
legacy of Enlightenment will not be forgotten.
The Enlightenment
was an exciting period of time. The great thinkers of the time period brought
some very radical changes into the world. They based all of their ideals on the
principle that are men are equal. As a result of the freedoms they wanted,
people would be able to do as they pleased and further the sciences, as long as
it did not hurt the common good. They led the world into several revolutions
that brought about great change. The people of the Enlightenment wanted to
break down the barriers that separated the classes and shift the balance of
power to the people. They had to make sacrifices as a result of the new
privileges they gained, but it was at a price that everyone was willing to pay.
They were willing to sacrifice for the common good, because it would benefit
the majority. The ideals and ideas the Enlightenment sparked helped to shape
the American society of today.


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