After the Scientific Revolution, new ideas made scholars and philosophers rethink other aspects of society. These aspects included government, religion, economics, and education. These scholars started the Enlightenment, a movement which uses reason and thought to solve problems. This movement was also called the Age of Reason and reached its peak in the 1700s. This brought many changes to the Western world.

  • Two Views on Government

    Thomas Hobbes and John Locke came up with key ideas leading to the Enlightenment. These two Englishmen both lived through the political turmoil but they had very different ideas about the role of government and human nature.

    • Hobbes’s Social Contract
      • Thomas Hobbes wrote a work called Leviathan which expressed his views. His life during the English Civil War had shown him that humans a naturally wicked and governments were needed to keep order.
      • In order to keep order, people must give up their rights to a ruler. This was called the social contract. The most effective government was one which has unlimited power.
    • Locke’s Natural Rights
      • Locke, another philosopher, had a more positive outlook on human nature. In his experience, people could change and improve. People can govern themselves and improve.
      • He believed all people are born equal with rights such as life, liberty, and property. The goal of having government is to protect these rights. If the government fails, the people have the right to get rid of it. The government’s power comes from the people (democracy). His ideas helped start rebellions against unjust rulers.
  • The Philosophes Advocate Reason

    The peak of the Enlightenment was in the 1700s in Paris. Everyone who wanted to discuss politics came to Paris, and they agreed on five key concepts: Reason, Nature, Happiness, Progress, and Liberty.

    • Voltaire Combats Intolerance
      • Francois Marie Arouet, pen name Voltaire, was one of the most powerful philosophes. He wrote over 70 books about politics.
      • Voltaire used satire against his opponents, becoming enemies of the church, upper class and government. This resulted in the French court sending him to prison twice and exile to England.
      • Even though these powerful enemies tried to stop him, he still fought for tolerance, reason, and freedom of religion/speech. He was the one who said: “I do not agree with a word you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.”
    • Montesquieu and the Separation of Powers
      • Baron de Montesquieu was another influential French writer. He was devoted to studying political liberty, and believed that Britain was the best-governed and most politically stable country.
        • Montesquieu described the British government as the best because it separated power between the king-ministers, Parliament, and judges
      • Montesquieu’s ideas about British were not completely accurate. However, his ideas still became part of a book which became the bases for further governments. This idea later became known as “checks and balances”
    • Rousseau: Champion of Freedom
      • Jean Jacques Rousseau was another philosophe. He was devoted to individual freedom, and strongly disagreed with other philosophes.
      • Most philosophes believed in reason, science and art. Rousseau argued that civilization corrupts people.
      • The only good government was one that was freely created by the people and guided by a direct democracy. This view differed from Hobbes because Rousseau believed in an agreement among free individuals.
      • Rousseau argued that all people are equal and titles of nobility should be abolished. His ideas inspired many leaders in the French Revolution.
    • Beccaria Promotes Criminal Justice
      • An Italian philosophe named Cesare Beccaria began to think about the justice system. It was his idea that the justice system should preserve order, rather than avenge crimes. He fought against torture, cruel/arbitrary punishments, and irregular proceedings in trials.
      • He also said that the amount of punishment should be based on the seriousness. (no capital punishment)
  • Women and the Enlightenment
    • While the philosophes challenged traditional ideas about government and society, they did not challenge the traditional views about women. Rousseau in particular felt that a girl’s education should only involve learning to be a good daughter and wife.
    • Others believed that allowing women to read would teach them to become wicked. However, others believed that women should learn and be more equal with men.
    • Some women also tried to improve their status. The English writer Mary Astell published a book in 1694, describing the lack of education for women. In other writings, she used arguments about government to criticize the relationship between men and women.
    • In the 1700s, other women began to continue her work. Mary Wollstonecraft encouraged women to enter male-ruled fields such as medicine and politics.
    • Rich women would gather in salons and share ideas.
    • One woman who was educated in the sciences was Emilie du Chatelet. She was a wealthy lady trained as a physicist. She translated Newton’s work from Latin into French, helping to stimulate interest in science in France.
  • Legacy of the Enlightenment

    The Enlightenment writers fought against many traditional ideas, including the divine right of monarchs, the combination of church and state, and the existence of unequal people. The philosophes created new theories and encouraged them but were not revolutionaries(rebels). These ideas helped shape future civilizations.

    • Belief in Progress
      • Scientists like Galileo and Newton discovered ways to find out the secrets of nature. More scientists followed and made key discovers in many fields. These successes helped make people more confident about the ability to change and solve problems.
    • A More Secular Outlook
      • The enlightenment helped promote faith in science and reduced faith in church. As people began to be less focused on church and government, they focused on individual accomplishments.
      • Voltaire and other critics attacked Christianity, as they wanted to rid religious faith and promote tolerance of religions.
    • Importance of the Individual
      • Adam Smith (British thinker) thought about creating an economy based on individual self-interest.