The Enlightenment is the period in the history of western thought and culture, ranging somewhere from the middle-decades of the seventeenth century through the eighteenth century, it was characterized by dramatic revolutions in science, philosophy, society and politics; these revolutions blew away the medieval world-view and led in our modern western world. It also is described as the culmination of the movement toward modernity initiated by the Renaissance. The motto of Enlightenment is “have the courage to use your own understanding.”
Both the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution were the result of the Renaissance. During the Renaissance, Scholars learned of ancient discoveries in mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy that the church had abolished. The Renaissance also encouraged individual scholars to question the Church’s teachings. The Scientific Revolution enabled the Enlightenment.
The Scientific Revolution was the emergence of modern science during the early modern period, when developments in mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology, medicine, and chemistry revolutionized views of society and nature. During the Scientific Revolution, the view of nature gave people a new way of understanding the world. The church argued that the Scientific Revolution was a threat for a couple of reasons. The church said that the Scientific Revolution, 1) changed what people thought and 2) how people thought. The Church was instinctively hostile to a process that threatened its own supremacy over what people thought. Church officials did not want to change the centuries-old system in which their own scholars and teachers understood the world in accordance with their faith, and reiterated that the people accept this interpretation rather than thinking about the matter for themselves.
The key natural philosophers of the Scientific Revolution were Nicolaus Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Francis Bacon, Descartes, and some other people. These notable figures were apart of the Scientific Revolution that led to the formulation of many modern sciences. Some refer to the “Scientific Revolution” as the period between Nicolaus Copernicus and Isaac Newton.
Nicolaus Copernicus, viewed as the initiator of the Scientific Revolution, was a mathematician and astronomer who proposed that the sun was stationary in the center of the universe and the earth revolved around it, also known as the heliocentric theory. Copernicus and his heliocentric theory were not welcomed with open arms by the church. The church disputed Copernicus’s concept for many, many years. The theory that all other bodies revolved around the Earth had become part of religious teaching, which was angrily opposed by the church. The Catholic Church declared that it was contrary to the scriptures.
Isaac Newton’s work was the height of the Scientific Revolution. Newton gathered information about astronomy and took it to a whole other level. He developed an accurate comprehensive model of the workings of the universe with his three laws of motion based on the law of universal gravitation. He revealed his work and different theories in a book called The Principia, referred by some as the most important book in the history of science.Newton also was the inventor of calculus and he also proved that sunlight is the combination of several colors.
Johannes Kepler was a mathematician, astrologer, and astronomer. He contributed to the Scientific Revolution because he came up with the laws of planetary motion. The three laws of planetary motion are 1) The Law of Orbits, 2) The Law of Areas, and 3) The Law of Periods. The Law of Orbits states all planets move in elliptical orbits, with the sun at one focus, the Law of Areas is a line that connects a planet to the sun sweeps out equal areas in equal times, and the Law of Periods expresses that the square of the period of any planet is proportional to the cube of the semi-major axis of its orbit. These three laws of planetary motion helped Isaac Newton form his theory of universal gravitation.
Galileo Galilei, referred to some as “The Father of Modern Science”, produced a number of scientific insights that established the foundation for future scientists. Galileo invented the telescope, the compass, and the thermometer. With the invention of the telescope, Galileo made some major discoveries. He discovered and observed the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, the phases of Venus, sunspots and the rugged lunar surface. Galileo made enemies with the Catholic Church because Galileo abandoned the geocentric theory in which the Church believed in for the heliocentric theory. Galileo was to be charged with heresy, a crime for which people were sometimes sentenced to death but Galileo was only sentenced to house arrest. He was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life because he published statements that were against the church in his book, “The Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.” Even though he was placed under arrest for the rest of his life, his book was banned, and he was forced to claim that he had been wrong, that the Earth did not move. Galileo Galilei was one of the truly greatest of scientists of all time.
Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes were two philosophers who were instrument in articulating the implications of the Scientific Revolution. Both Bacon and Descartes adopted new methods for seeking and evaluating truth. The new methods they came up with were the inductive method and deductive method. Bacon came up with the inductive approach, which was the careful observation of nature and the systematic accumulation of data; drawing general laws from the knowledge of particulars; and testing these laws through constant experimentation. Bacon was among the first to appreciate the value of the new science for human life. Rene Descartes, known as the founder of modern philosophy, formulated the deductive method. In the deductive approach, which is employed in mathematics and physics, truths are derived in successive steps from first principles, indubitable axioms. Descartes also was the inventor of geometry. Descartes said that mathematics is the key to understanding both the truths of nature and the moral order underlying human science.
The Scientific Revolution changed the world in many ways. It changed the perspectives of many people regarding the physical world around them. Many people were excited about all these new discoveries that Copernicus, Newton, Kepler, and Galileo made during this revolution but others were furious about these new discoveries and theories regarding the world including the Church. Scientists who criticized the Church were brought before Inquisition and they were either charged with heresy, tortured, executed, or placed under house arrest. One key natural philosopher was brought before Inquisition but was lucky enough to be placed under house arrest, Galileo Galilei, was placed under house arrest for abandoning the geocentric theory, the theory that the church believed and believing in the heliocentric theory.
The Scientific Revolution did two things; 1) It changed the way people viewed science and 2) It continued to diminish the power of the Church. This new outlook generated by the Scientific Revolution served as the foundation of the Enlightenment. The Scientific Revolution gave thinkers great confidence in power of the mind, which had discovered nature’s laws, reinforcing the confidence in human abilities expressed by Renaissance humanists. The Scientific Revolution ended in 1700 and thus the Age of Enlightenment had begun.
The Enlightenment was a sprawling intellectual, philosophical, cultural, and social movement that spread through England, France, Germany, and other parts of Europe during the 1700s. The Enlightenment produced numerous books, essays, inventions, scientific discoveries, laws, wars and revolutions. Enlightenment thinkers felt that change and reason were both possible and desirable for the sake of human liberty. Enlightenment philosophes provided a major source of ideas that could be used to undermine existing social and political structures. The Enlightenment had many major figures including John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Denis Diderot, Voltaire, Baron de Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant.
The Enlightenment in England had two major figures; Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Thomas Hobbes argued that man in his natural state is selfish and savage and therefore a single absolute ruler is the best form of government. Hobbes is best known for his book, Leviathan, a lengthy, groundbreaking work that explores human nature. He argues that human nature is inherently bad and that humans will remain in a constant a state of war, vying for power and material resources, unless awed by a single great power. John Locke was an English political philosopher who argued for man’s essentially good nature; advocated representative government as an ideal form. Locke published two important writings during his time, 1) Essay Concerning Human Understanding and 2) Two Treatises of Government. In the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke puts forth his optimistic idea that man’s mind is a blank slate and that man can subsequently learn and improve through conscious effort. His other writing, Two Treatises of Government, is better known and is considered the founder for modern political thought. The work encourages Locke’s ideas for an ideal representative government and makes suggestions that would eventually be developed into ideas such as separation of powers.
During the French Enlightenment, three news political figures came into the picture; 1) Denis Diderot, 2) Baron de Montesquieu, and 3) Voltaire. The French Enlightenment became the heart of political and intellectual thought in the 1700s. The philosophers during the French Enlightenment were “deists” when it came to their faith. Deists believed in a God who created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life, exerting no influence on natural phenomena, and giving no supernatural revelation. The philosophers despised organized religion and the Church’s traditional idea of the “chain of being.” (God first, then angels, monarchs, aristocrats, etc.) The Church absolutely hated the philosophers and everything they believed in.
Denis Diderot was a writer and a philosopher during the French Enlightenment. He is best known for editing the Encyclopedia, where he attempted to gather essentially all of human knowledge gathered in various fields up to that point in history. After his editing work with the Encyclopedia, he also gained interest for his support of John Locke's theory of knowledge where he invaded conventional morality and was imprisoned at Vincennes for a total of three months as a result.
Baron de Montesquieu was a French philosopher who believed that all things were made up of rules or laws that never changed. He put effort into studying these laws scientifically with the hope that knowledge of the laws of government would lessen the problems of society and promotes human life. According to Montesquieu, there were three types of government: a monarchy, a republic, and despotism. A monarchy is a form of government where the ruler is either a king or queen. A republic is a form of government in which representatives of the citizen body rule a state. Despotism is a form of government where a single entity rules with absolute power. The entity may be an individual, as in an autocracy, or it may be a group, as in an oligarchy. Montesquieu’s most well known work is The Spirit of Laws. In The Spirit of Laws, Montesquieu wrote that a Republic should have three branches, the legislative, executive, and judicial — with the separation of the three powers. He believed that this is the form of government which best-guaranteed liberty.
François-Marie d'Arouet, better known as Voltaire, was a French writing and public activist who was significant during the French Enlightenment. Voltaire’s goal was to announce numerous reforms into France, including freedom of the press, religious toleration, a fair system of criminal justice, proportional taxation, and curtailment of the privileges of the clergy and nobility. Voltaire was also known for generating works in just about every form of literacy including plays, poems, novels, essays, and historical works. When it came to religion, Voltaire was a deist, he believed in God but he disliked organized religion very much. Voltaire and the Catholic Church did not get along very well. Voltaire viewed the Catholic Church as a fountainhead and bulwark of evil. Voltaire was criticized by a lot of people because he always pointed out problems but he never presented any solutions, although he didn’t present any solutions he did caused a lot of change.
In the German Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe were the key people associated with the German Enlightenment. The German Enlightenment was very different than the English and French Enlightenment. The Germans were not an unhappy with the Church as were the French during their Enlightenment. As a result, the German philosophers such as Kant, Leibniz, and Goethe disproved the idea of empiricism; refusing to believe that a simplistic set of laws, akin to the laws of physics or astronomy, could dictate the operation of human society that the French came up with.
Immanuel Kant was the looked at as the last major philosopher in the Enlightenment period. Kant wrote three books, 1) the Critique of Pure Reason, 2) the Critique of Practical Reason, and 3) the Critique of the Power of Judgment. These books were important because in these books, Kant disputed that the human understanding is the source of the general laws of nature that structure all our experience; and that human reason gives itself the moral law, which is our basis for belief in God, freedom, and immortality. With that being said, Kant’s idea is to unify the theoretical and practical parts of his philosophical system.
The Enlightenment ended in the 1800s, it ended as a result of the French Revolution. The French Revolution’s idea was to implement orderly representative assemblies but quickly turned into chaos and violence. Romanticism was another factor that really hurt the Enlightenment. Romanticism was more tempting to less-educated common folk and dragged them away from the empirical, scientific ideas of earlier Enlightenment philosophers. However, the discoveries, inventions, and theories of the Enlightenment philosophers continued to influence Western society for centuries. The Enlightenment was significant because it led to the creation of a structure of government and its relationship with the people that oddly enough is still used today and led to the nullification of most monarchs that terrorized people.