During the Enlightenment in the 1700s, European scientists and philosophers began examining the world through reason, rather than religious faith. The Enlightenment's leading intellectuals were inspired by 17th century thinkers such as John Locke, Francis Bacon, Pierre Bayle, Benedict de Spinoza, and Rene Descartes. Their ideas touched many aspects of life including politics, economics, science, and religion.
Prominence of Science
The Enlightenment thinkers celebrated the accomplishments of a wide number of scientists, but they disagreed on the impact of science. The French philosopher, mathematician and political scientist Nicolas de Condorcet praised scientific progress as beneficial to prosperity, yet the French writer and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau complained that science contributed to inequality and created technology for violence.
The Enlightenment thinkers found both the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches oppressive. They mistrusted traditional religious beliefs such as miracles, divine intervention, and the claim that Jesus was the son of God. Most Enlightenment thinkers were deists who believed God created the universe and then left it alone.
Rights and Politics
The Enlightenment thinkers promoted the political concept known as natural rights. This theory was developed in the 17th century by the philosophers Hugo Grotius, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Samuel von Pufendorf. The theory of natural rights claims that people are born with certain inalienable rights that the government cannot take away, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness mentioned in the American Declaration of Independence. The American and French revolutions were motivated by the idea of natural rights. Enlightenment thinkers worked towards gaining civil liberties, such as free trade, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression, from Europe's existing kings.
In 1748, the French philosopher Montesquieu published the book "The Spirit of the Law", exploring the idea that the Western, or European, countries had developed from republics to modern capitalist monarchies, while Eastern, or Asian, countries remained dominated by despotism, or rule by a few. Montesquieu's ideas developed into two different branches of thought. Conjectural history explored humanity's economic development through four stages: hunter-gatherer, nomadic, agricultural, and commercial. The new social science of political economy, which later developed into economics, explored the relationships between production, buying, selling, and government. Montesquieu's arguments in favor of constitutional government heavily influenced the U.S. Constitution.
Source: The Age of Enlightenment for Kids
Copyright Frank B. Chavez III