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The Enlightenment Essay, Research Paper
Main Themes: The Enlightenment
1. The Enlightenment had its origins in the scientific and intellectual revolutions of the 17c.
2. Enlightenment thinkers felt that change and reason were both possible and desireable for the
sake of human liberty.
3. Enlightenment philosophes provided a major source of ideas that could be used to undermine
existing social and political structures.
I. The Major Themes of the Era:
A. rationalism –* logical reasoning based on facts.
B. cosmology –* new world view based on Newtonian physics –* analysis of natural phenomena as
C. secularism –* application of scientific theories to religion and society.
D. scientific method –* experimentation; observation; hypothesis.
E. utilitarianism (Bentham) –* laws created for the common good and not for special interests.
The greatest good for the greatest number.
F. optimism & self-confidence –* anything is possible (a reversal of medieval thinking).
G. tolerance –* a greater acceptance of different societies and cultures.
H. freedom –* a mind as well as a society free to think, free from prejudice.
I. mass education.
J. legal / penal reforms –* Beccaria, Bentham.
II. The Philosophes:
A. Not really philosophers, but men who sought to apply reason and common sense to nearly all the major
institutions and mores of the day.
B. They attacked Christianity for its rejection of science, otherworldliness, and belief in man’s depravity
C. Their major sources:
LOCKE –* man’s nature is changeable and can be improved by his environment.
NEWTON –* empirical experience and the rationality of the natural world.
BRITAIN –* exemplified a society in which enlightened reason served the common good.
D. France became the center for Enlightenment since its decadent absolutism and political and religious
censorship seemed to prove the need for reform.
E. Paris salons.
F. Diderot’s Encyclopedie.
FRANCOIS QUESNAY –* land is the only source of wealth, and agriculture increases that wealth;
therefore, the mercantilists were wrong to put so much importance on the
accumulation of money.
ADAM SMITH –* Wealth of Nations –* he challenged mercantilist doctrine as selfish and unnatural;
the interdependence among nations; “Father of Modern Capitalism”.
H. Montesquieu –* The Spirit of the Laws
– admired the British government.
– separation of powers in the government.
– checks and balances.
I. Rousseau –* The Social Contract
– “Father of Romanticism”.
– he differed from the other pholosophes, esp. Locke:
– law is the expression of the “General Will.”
– rejected science and reason; go with your feelings (inner conscience).
– “Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains!”
J. Voltaire — Candide
– champion of individual rights.
– “I do not agree with a word you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!”
– leading advocate of Enlightened Despotism.
III. Enlightened Despotism:
– Frederick I (1714-1740) — the “Seargent” King.
– Frederick II (1740-1786)
B. Habsburg Austria:
– Maria Theresa (1740-1780) –* Pragmatic Sanctions.
– Joseph II (1765-1790) –* considered to be the only true “enlightened” despot.
– Peter the Great (1682-1725) –* Westernization (”Windows to the West”).
– Catherine the Great (1762-1796) –* rigorous foreign policy; partitions of Poland.
IV. Results of Enlightenment Thought:
A. contributing factor in the American and French Revolutions.
B. Enlightenment thinking reflected in the U. S. Declaration of Independence.
C. Enlightened Despots.
D. European thought became centered on the belief in reason, science, individual rights, and the
progress of civilization.
E. New evangelical religious movements –* Pietists, Methodists.
ADDITIONAL TERMS TO KNOW:
philosophesphysiocratsutilitarianismcosmopolitanismsalonlaissez-faireImmanuel KantJohn WesleyMethodismPietismGeneral Will”Philosopher-King”
The Age of Reason
18th century intellectual movement based on reason caused by the scientific revolution
Questioned the physical universe
Centered in Paris -the modern Athens
Believed in natural laws – very secular
b) Established Church
Very important to American Revolution
1) Natural science should be used to understand all aspects of life
a) Nothing was to be accepted on faith
b) Caused conflict with the church
2) Scientific laws were capable of discovering human and natural laws
3) Humans could create better societies and people
Philosophe (Fr. Philosopher) but not only a French movement
Critics of absolutism did not face death for their beliefs like in other countries
French was the lingua franca -international
language of educated
Critics of the Old
Developed new ideas about God, human nature, good and evil, and cause and effect relationships
Humans were basically good, but corrupted by society
Ideas were established by Marquis de Condercet in Progress of the Human Mind
Bernard de Fontenelle popularized science and made it easy to understand Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds
Fontenelle brought science and religion into conflict (Catholics and Protestants scientists believed their work exhalted God)
Tabula Rasa theory
all ideas were from experience
Govt. social contract
Life, liberty, property
People are the power
Constitutional monarchy and defended the Revolution
Baron de Montesquieu
Different political theories for different times
Established separation of powers
Wrote The Persian Letters which criticized European customs
Wrote The Spirit of the Laws (1748) showed that governments were shaped by history.
A strong upper class was necessary to prevent abuses: despotism could be avoided if power was shared: but he was not a democrat
Admired the English system
Greatly influenced Franklin
French, Fran?ois Marie Arouet.
Imprisoned in the Bastille for being critical of the king
Moved to England
Madame du Ch?telet
Had an affair with his niece
Enlightened Despotism – best government was a good monarch
He continually challenged the Church
Deism – God was a clockmaker who built the universe and then let it work. rejected fundamental doctrines of Christianity
Most philosophes hated religious toleration
Died a millionaire because of shrewd business investments
He was a reformer not a revolutionary
Initially banned by the government
Not every article was original but the overall effect was revolutionary
Swiss, brilliant but neurotic
People are good
Natural education Emile
Social Contract based on two concepts: the general will and popular sovereignty
“All men are born free . . .”
Law and Order
Critics of the old legal system
Denounced torture and capital punishment
Rehabilitation of criminal
Critical of mercantilism
Govt. has three duties:
a) defense against invasion
b) maintain civil order
c) sponsor public works
Did not call for harsher laws and more police to protect economic interests
Believed in the “invisible hand” of free competition
In France the Physiocrats advocated laissez-faire economics.
Quesnay, advisor to Louis XV denounced mercantilism and stressed the importance of gold and silver
Insisted that land was the only source of wealth
Should be one tax on wealth derived from the land
Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776)
Production comes from the workers
According to Peter Gay there were 3 periods of the Enlightenment roughly :
a) dominated by Montesquieu and Voltaire
before 1750 – set the tone of the movement
b) Franklin, Hume, Rousseau
mid-century fused anticlericalism and scientific speculation into a modern world view
c) Holbach and Beccaria
politics, social reform, legal reform, metaphysics
Criticism progressed by criticizing itself
Enlightenment centered on about twenty big names – but many more followers
Roughly 1689 (Montesquieu born) to 1789 (Holbach died)
First half were deists who focused on natural law; second half were atheist focused on utility
Timid political ideas were forced aside by more radical ideas
Although mostly Parisian the thinkers were characterized by anglomania
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