Newton- championed reason and rational thinking as a forerunner to the Enlightenment. Locke

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Overview of the Age: Termed the Enlightenment, this age was a movement of intellectual people who believed reform and change was possible and necessary. It grew with the emergence of “print culture,” combining Renaissance Humanism with rational thinking from the Scientific Revolution. They believed that nature could be measured and therefore so could human nature including society, politics and economics. Two groups of people emerged: the philosophes that wrote, leading the enlightened movement, and the Enlightened Despots that used enlightened thinking to better, if not their rule, the appearance of their rule.

Five Big Points

1. Emergence of Print Culture 2. Philosophes

3. Enlightened Despots 4. New Religious Trends

5. Rationalism

Hit List/ IDs:

Newton- championed reason and rational thinking as a forerunner to the Enlightenment.

Locke- forerunner of the Enlightenment who used Scientific Rev. reason in psychology.

Tabula rasa- “blank slate” used to describe Locke’s idea of the mind which starts empty and builds on external experiences.

Print culture- during the age, there was a dramatic ↑ of printed works and literate people & a widespread use for communication, expression and spreading ideas.

Philosophes- group of enlightened thinkers who applied rational thinking to every day institutions but were not full time philosophers.

Voltaire- Enlightened writer who satirized war, religious persecution & optimism

Denis Diderot- led the Encyclopedia which was the first major compilation of history and knowledge, gave some women opportunities to write, and threatened the church.

Deism- new religion based on rational thinking which said god was a cosmic watchmaker

Hume- criticized religion, saying religions were not supported by rational thinking.

Beccaria- On Crimes and Punishment, applied rational thinking to the judicial system.

Physiocrats- believed that wealth laid in the amount of land someone/nation owned.

Adam Smith- Wealth of Nations, instead of mercantilism he wrote about a free trade system checked by supply and demand as well as wealth in professions and resources.

Enlightened Absolutism/Despots- Absolute rulers who usually used enlightened thought as a façade to centralize power and ↑ support with the promise of reform.

Montesquieu- Believed in a gov’t that used checks and balances to decentralize power.

Rousseau- believed in a truly direct democracy, and different spheres for the sexes.

Salons- parties were the philosophes discussed there latest ideas, some hosted by women

Frederick the Great- Enlightened Despot of Prussia reformed laws to extend his power

Joseph II- Enlightened Despot of Austria, cold, rational ruler for the better of his nation

Catherine the Great- Enlightened Despot of Russia ↑ nobles rights, expanded Russia and ruled like a politique

Partition of Poland- the Eastern Enlightened Despots agreed to slice up a reforming Poland in a conservative response to the French Rev.

Key Events of the Chapter

1748- Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws 1776- Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations

1759- Voltaire’s Candide 1789- French Revolution

1762- Rousseau’s Social Contract and Émile 1792- Wollstonecraft’s Vindiction

1764- Beccaria’s On Crimes and Punishments of the Rights of Woman

1772- First complete Encyclopedia edition 1793- Second Partition of Poland

1772- First Partition of Poland 1795- Third Partition of Poland

Intellectual Movements/Historical Trends

The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that championed applying rational thinking to all of life’s social, economic, and political institutions. There was an increase in literate people who had more opportunities for education and expression. These radical ideas challenged the church, absolute rulers, and conservative thought. It also led to revolution and consequent repression.

Political Ideology Changes

The philosophes disagreed on many things but especially on new forms of government. However, they all wanted to replace the conservative divine right monarchs. They were influenced by the American Revolution. It started as early as the seventeenth century when John Locke advocated natural rights and criticized absolute rulers. On the whole these changes were very liberal and even radical.

Changes in Economic Structure

When the philosophes applied rational thinking to the economy, they redefined the idea of wealth. The physiocrats believed that wealth lay in the amount of land. Adam Smith wrote in his The Wealth of Nations that he believed wealth lay in specialized workers, using natural resources and free trade. The thinkers sought to limit government regulation of the economy, mercantilism, and stop the misconception that wealth was the amount of gold someone had.

Thematic Essays

a. Describe and compare the political views of 18th century Enlightened thinkers Montesquieu and Rousseau.

Intro: During the Enlightenment, the philosophes formed new ideas about all parts of life by applying the rationalism that had been used on nature in the Scientific Revolution, on human nature. These writers especially worked to find better forms of government to replace the conservative rules of absolutists, but disagreed strongly with each other about which new government was best. Two of the most influential enlightened political thinkers were Montesquieu and Rousseau, both of whose writing would impact Europe greatly in the following centuries. Montesquieu was liberal but tried to keep his ideas within some of the constraints of the time while Rousseau was much more radical and only received a following after the Enlightenment. In the end, Rousseau had a greater impact on European politics because his work eventually provoked radical political criticism and future revolutionaries.

Montesquieu’s Key Ideas

  1. Governments should be formed based on the political climate of a region.

  2. These governments should vary from region to region due to different climates.

  3. Montesquieu believed best form of government was the constitutional monarchy.

  4. He also believed the best contemporary model was that of Britain.

  5. One of the most widely read books of the time was his Spirit of the Laws.

  6. He said a monarchy’s power should be divided between separate branches.

  7. His theories influenced most emerging democracies in the next few centuries.

Rousseau’s Key Ideas

  1. Believed the current society was corrupting human nature.

  2. However, he believed the purpose of a society is to nurture better people.

  3. “All men are born free, but everywhere there are chains”- Social Contract

  4. Society is more important than its citizens who are “free” to obey the law.

  5. People would obey the law b/c it was decided on democratically with general will.

  6. Believed in a radical direct democracy.

  7. Men and women exist in separate spheres of living.

  8. His work would later set an example for future radicals and political critics.

Conclusion: So because Montesquieu proposed a constitutional monarchy that was acceptable during the age his ideas were able to directly impact the current generation. On the other hand, Rousseau proposed an extremely radical direct democracy that was rejected by his contemporaries but was able to influence later generations. While Montesquieu influenced many of his contemporaries, the work of Rousseau would be received by later generations to justify their own radical movements and even the French Revolution.

b. Describe how the rise of contrasting religious views emerged against the traditional concepts of the church and define the new life of deism.

Intro: During the age of Enlightenment, contrasting religious views emerged against the traditional concepts of the church. According to many philosophes, religious toleration was important to leading a virtuous life. Other philosophes attacked the churches and the clergy. Deism also arose during this era, which was a religion developed by the philosophes, that was without fanaticism and intolerance like many religions of the time. All these concepts were views against the traditional church views. First, toleration was completely against what the church had been doing for hundreds of years. Next, the criticism of the church was aimed at many of the churches traditional concepts. They questioned the morality of the bible and the truthfulness of priests. Finally, Deism was a religion that was developed in response to all the things that were wrong with the Catholic Church. Each of these things were views against the traditional concepts of the church.


  1. In 1763 Voltaire published Treatise on Tolerance

  2. Life on earth and human relationships should not be subordinated to religion

  3. Secular values and considerations were more important than religious ones

Criticism of Religion

  1. Voltaire questioned the truthfulness of priests and the morality of the Bible

  2. Philosophical Dictionary – Voltaire pointed out inconsistencies in biblical narratives and immoral acts of the biblical heroes.

  3. David Hume argued that no empirical evidence supported the belief in miracles

  4. Edward Gibbon explained rise of Christianity in terms of natural causes rather than influence of miracles and piety.

  5. Baron d’Holbach and Julien Offray de La Mettrie – Atheism and materialism

  6. Many philiosophes were critical of Judaism, setting the stage for anti-Semitism.


  1. Sought to develop a religion with fanaticism and intolerance

  2. Wanted a religious life that didn’t substitute church authority with the authority of human reason

  3. Promoted religion as natural and rational not supernatural and mystical

  4. Proposed the idea of God as a cosmic watchmaker who let nature take its course.

Conclusion: When the philisophes applied rationalism to the traditional church, they found much need for reform. The most prevalent developments included toleration, Deism, and radical criticism of religions in general, all in direct opposition to the conservative Catholic Church. The critics made it clear that the once powerful Catholic Church was loosing its status, power and influence. It also showed a continuing de-emphasis on religion and a shift toward secular thought. These conflicts around religion spread tensions across Europe.

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