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The Enlightenment

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Notes for teachers who are covering the age of the Enlightenment

A Reading in the Salon of Mme Geoffrin by Anicet Lemonnier

“A Reading in the Salon of Mme Geoffrin,” 1755, By Anicet Charles Gabriel Lemonnier. Marie Geoffrin was one of the leading female figures in the French Enlightenment. She hosted some of the most important Philosophes and Encyclopédistes of her time.

Introduction

For now, this introduction has been loosely adapted from the Wikipedia article.

French historians traditionally place the Enlightenment between 1715 (the year that Louis XIV died) and 1789 (the beginning of the French Revolution).

International historians often say that the Enlightenment began in the 1620s, with the start of the scientific revolution.

Earlier philosophers whose work influenced the Enlightenment included Bacon, Descartes, Locke, and Spinoza.

Many of the Enlightenment thinkers are known as Les philosophes -French writers and thinkers – who – circulated their ideas through meetings at scientific academies, Masonic lodges, literary salons, coffee houses, and in printed books and pamphlets.

The ideas of the Enlightenment undermined the authority of the monarchy and the Church. These ideas paved the way for the political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Major figures of the Enlightenment included Beccaria, Diderot, Hume, Kant, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Adam Smith, and Voltaire.

Some European rulers, including Catherine II of Russia, Joseph II of Austria and Frederick II of Prussia, tried to apply Enlightenment thought on religious and political tolerance, “enlightened absolutism.”

Benjamin Franklin visited Europe and contributed to the scientific and political debates there; he brought these ideas back to Philadelphia. Thomas Jefferson incorporated Enlightenment philosophy into the Declaration of Independence (1776). James Madison, incorporated these ideas in the United States Constitution during its framing in 1787

Secondary section (to be re-titled)

In his famous 1784 essay “What Is Enlightenment?”, Immanuel Kant defined it as follows:

“Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. Such immaturity is self-caused if its cause is not lack of intelligence, but by lack of determination and courage to use one’s intelligence without being guided by another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Have courage to use your own intelligence!”

By mid-Century the pinnacle of purely Enlightenment thinking was being reached with Voltaire.

Born Francois Marie Arouet in 1694, he was exiled to England between 1726 and 1729, and there he studied Locke, Newton, and the English Monarchy.

Voltaire’s ethos was:  “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities” – that is, if people believed in what is unreasonable, they will do what is unreasonable.

Reforms sought

The Enlightenment sought reform of Monarchy by laws which were in the best interest of the subjects, and the “enlightened” ordering of society.  In the 1750s there would be attempts in England, Austria, Prussia and France to “rationalize” the Monarchical system and its laws. When this failed to end wars, there was an increasing drive for revolution or dramatic alteration. The Enlightenment found its way to the heart of the American Declaration of Independence, and the Jacobin program of the French Revolution, as well as the American Constitution of 1787.

Common values

Many values were common to enlightenment thinkers, including:

✔ Nations exist to protect the rights of the individual, instead of the other way around.

✔ Each individual should be afforded dignity, and should be allowed to live one’s life with the maximum amount of personal freedom.

✔ Some form of Democracy is the best form of government.

✔ All of humanity, all races, nationalities and religions, are of equal worth and value.

✔ People have a right to free speech and expression, the right to free association, the right to hold to any – or no – religion; the right to elect their own leaders.

✔ The scientific method is our only ally in helping us discern fact from fiction.

✔Science, properly used, is a positive force for the good of all humanity.

✔ Classical religious dogma and mystical experiences are inferior to logic and philosophy.

✔ Theism – the belief in a God that wants morality – was held by most Enlightenment thinkers to be essential for a person to have good moral character. 

✔ Deism – to be added

✔ Some classical religious dogma has been harmful, causing crusades, Jihads, holy wars, or denial of human rights to various classes of people.

Learning Standards

Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework

High School World History Content Standards

Topic 6: Philosophies of government and society Supporting question: How did philosophies of government shape the everyday lives of people? 34. Identify the origins and the ideals of the European Enlightenment, such as happiness, reason, progress, liberty, and natural rights, and how intellectuals of the movement (e.g., Denis Diderot, Emmanuel Kant, John Locke, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Mary Wollstonecraft, Cesare Beccaria, Voltaire, or social satirists such as Molière and William Hogarth) exemplified these ideals in their work and challenged existing political, economic, social, and religious structures.

New York State Grades 9-12 Social Studies Framework

9.9 TRANSFORMATION OF WESTERN EUROPE AND RUSSIA:

9.9d The development of the Scientific Revolution challenged traditional authorities and beliefs.  Students will examine the Scientific Revolution, including the influence of Galileo and Newton.
9.9e The Enlightenment challenged views of political authority and how power and authority were conceptualized.

10.2: ENLIGHTENMENT, REVOLUTION, AND NATIONALISM: The Enlightenment called into question traditional beliefs and inspired widespread political, economic, and social change. This intellectual movement was used to challenge political authorities in Europe and colonial rule in the Americas. These ideals inspired political and social movements.

10.2a Enlightenment thinkers developed political philosophies based on natural laws, which included the concepts of social contract, consent of the governed, and the rights of citizens.

10.2b Individuals used Enlightenment ideals to challenge traditional beliefs and secure people’s rights in reform movements, such as women’s rights and abolition; some leaders may be considered enlightened despots.

10.2c Individuals and groups drew upon principles of the Enlightenment to spread rebellions and call for revolutions in France and the Americas.

History–Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools

7.11 Students analyze political and economic change in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries (the Age of Exploration, the Enlightenment, and the Age of Reason).
1. Know the great voyages of discovery, the locations of the routes, and the influence of cartography in the development of a new European worldview.
2. Discuss the exchanges of plants, animals, technology, culture, and ideas among Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the
major economic and social effects on each continent.
3. Examine the origins of modern capitalism; the influence of mercantilism and cottage industry; the elements and importance of a market economy in seventeenth-century Europe; the changing international trading and marketing patterns, including their locations on a world map; and the influence of explorers and map makers.
4. Explain how the main ideas of the Enlightenment can be traced back to such movements as the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution and to the Greeks, Romans, and Christianity.
5. Describe how democratic thought and institutions were influenced by Enlightenment thinkers (e.g., John Locke, Charles-Louis Montesquieu, American founders).
6. Discuss how the principles in the Magna Carta were embodied in such documents as the English Bill of Rights and the American Declaration of Independence.

AP World History

The 18th century marked the beginning of an intense period of revolution and rebellion against existing governments, and the establishment of new nation-states around the world.

I. The rise and diffusion of Enlightenment thought that questioned established traditions in all areas of life often preceded the revolutions and rebellions against existing governments.

Also see AP Worldipedia. Key Concept 5.3 Nationalism, Revolution, and Reform

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