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An introduction to the philosophes of the enlightenment era

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau stated that society should be ruled by the "general will" of the people;
  • Western science and technology, he says, is immoral because there is no concern with the consequences of progress, but focus only with progress itself;
  • Traditional Islam in the Modern World;
  • A later, religious reaction against the church's dogmatic outlook was the Pietist movement of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries;
  • His Two Treatises was published shortly after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, clearly reflecting the political fallout from that event.

The Age of Reason, as it was called, was spreading rapidly across Europe. In the late 17th century, scientists like Isaac Newton and writers like John Locke were challenging the old order. Newton's laws of gravity and motion described the world in terms of natural laws beyond any spiritual force. In the wake of political turmoil in England, Locke asserted the right of a people to change a government that did not protect natural rights of life, liberty and property.

People were beginning to doubt the existence of a God who could predestine human beings to eternal damnation and empower a tyrant for a king. Europe would be forever changed by these ideas. In America, intellectuals were reading these ideas as well. On their side of the Atlantic, Enlightened ideas of liberty and progress had a chance to flourish without the shackles of Old Europe. Religious leaders began to change their old dogmatic positions.

They began to emphasize the similarities between the Anglican Church and the Puritan Congregationalists rather than the differences. Even Cotton Mather, the Massachusetts minister who wrote and spoke so convincingly about the existence of witches advocated science to immunize citizens against smallpox. Harvard ministers became so liberal that Yale College was founded in New Haven in 1707 in an attempt to retain old Calvinist ideas.

This attempt failed and the entire faculty except one converted to the Church of England in 1722.

  1. He saw truth as more subjective and all disciplines as created by elites who control the academy, who determine, often based on self-interests, the standards of normality.
  2. Influenced by British Deism, Voltaire maintained that religion must be a moral, rationalistic natural religion.
  3. This way, the claim of reason to sole validity in the Enlightenment started to decline.
  4. While they understood the unique role of revelation and differentiated between what could and what could not be rationally established, they were convinced that revelation could still be defended by reason.
  5. When he was in Paris, the universe is full of something like turbulent ether, upon his arrival in London he discovers that the same space is empty.

By the end of the century, many New England ministers would become Unitarians, doubting even the divinity of Christ. John Locke defended the displacement of a monarch who would not protect the lives, liberties, and property of the English people.

  • The integration of algebraic thinking, acquired from the Islamic world over the previous two centuries, and geometric thinking which had dominated Western mathematics and philosophy since at least Eudoxus, precipitated a scientific and mathematical revolution;
  • It helped create the intellectual framework not only for the American Revolutionary War and liberalism, democracy and capitalism but also the French Revolution , racism , nationalism, secularism, fascism , and communism;
  • The general will aims, as the will of all people, at the happiness of everybody in the society;
  • Taken to its logical extreme, the Enlightenment resulted in atheism;
  • Today, many conservative and evangelical Christians see the Enlightenment tradition as a continued challenge to their faith.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau stated that society should be ruled by the "general will" of the people. Baron de Montesquieu declared that power should not be concentrated in the hands of any one individual.

He recommended separating power among executive, legislative, judicial branches of government. American intellectuals began to absorb these ideas.

7a. The Impact of Enlightenment in Europe

The delegates who declared independence from Britain used many of these arguments. The constitutions of our first states and the United States Constitution reflect Enlightenment principles. The writings of Benjamin Franklin made many Enlightenment ideas accessible to the general public.

The old way of life was represented by superstition, an angry God, and absolute submission to authority.

  • While Montesquieu dealt with the political institutions prevalent in the time, Rousseau was concerned about the Ideal conditions and the principles of what the government ought to be;
  • Stanford University Press, 2002;
  • After Diderot became a naturalistic materialist and consequently the content of Encyclopedia, too, became materialistic, d'Alembert quit working for Encyclopedia as the co-editor.

The thinkers of the Age of Reason ushered in a new way of thinking. This new way championed the accomplishments of humankind. Individuals did not have to accept despair.

Science and reason could bring happiness and progress. Kings did not rule by divine right. They had an obligation to their subjects. Europeans pondered the implications for nearly a century. Americans put them into practice first.