The Age Of Enlightenment Essay

2216 words - 9 pages

The Enlightenment was a period in the eighteenth century where change in philosophy and cultural life took place in Europe. The movement started in France, and spread to Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Germany at more or less around the same time, the ideas starting with the most renowned thinkers and philosophers of the time and eventually being shared with the common people. The Enlightenment was a way of thinking that focused on the betterment of humanity by using logic and reason rather than irrationality and superstition. It was a way of thinking that showed skepticism in the face of religion, challenged the inequality between the kings and their people, and tried to ...view middle of the document...

Stokstad posits that these ideas have roots in the previous scientific revolution of the century before it, with philosophers such as Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes establishing what we now know as the scientific method based on logical reasoning, educated guesses and controlled experiments to prove them. The astronomer Galileo Galilei confirmed a previous theory by Nicolaus Copernicus that the sun did not revolve around the Earth and that it was the other way around-- the planets revolved around the sun. These theories and practices went against the Church's teachings, and Galileo in particular was forced to take back what he said on his observations. Other scientists made discoveries on smaller scales relating to the animal kingdom and plant life, and artists were used to convey the new-found information by painting or drawing those findings. (p. 756) With the different revolutions and events that took place before the eighteenth century, it could be said that the Enlightenment was just a logical progression and the next step.
Like the scientific revolution before it, the new Enlightenment era's ideas were spread both through art and through writing, in texts such as Denis Diderot's Encyclopedia which was printed and sold to the French middle class. The Encyclopedia held the most current ideas concerning the arts, sciences, and the merits of human freedom. The advances as a result of the Industrial Revolution allowed for the Encyclopedia and other materials such as newspapers and pamphlets to be released in large quantities at a lower prices and a faster rate, spreading information to the people who then financed the intellectual pursuits with their money and helped to solidify the ideas of the Enlightenment. Women with wealth also took part in the spread of Enlightenment ideals and the intellectual movement with the existence of French salons, allowing scholars to meet, discuss and debate those ideals without the formal setting provided by universities. As these values were promoted and shared, the ideals found their expression through the American Revolution.
The American Revolution was influenced heavily by the political ideas of the Enlightenment. After being taxed unfairly by the British government to pay for wars overseas, the colonists stood up against their oppression with Enlightenment principles forming a foundation for their beliefs. The American Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution reflect Enlightenment ideals closely, being inspired by the intelligence movement and specifically the works of John Locke and other philosophes such as Rousseau, Voltaire, and Kant. Rousseau's ideas, shown in his work The Social Contract, went against the notion of an absolute monarchy by stating that "Man is born free, but today he is everywhere in chains" (p. 2)
John Locke's Two Treatises of Government set up what we now know as democracy, with the government controlled by votes of the people instead of divine right or...

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