World History 10- The Enlightenment

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The Enlightenment

An eighteenth century intellectual movement whose three central concepts were the use of reason, the scientific method, and progress. Enlightenment thinkers believed they could help create better societies and better people. Their belief was strengthened by some modest improvements in economic and social life during the eighteenth century.

3 Central ideas of Enlightenment

1)Reason: The most important and original idea was that the methods of natural science could be used to examine and understand all aspects of life. Everything was to be submitted to rationalism. 2) Scientific Method: The scientific method was capable of discovering the laws of human society as well as those of nature. 3)Progress: The goal of Enlightenment thinkers to create better societies and better people by discarding outmoded traditions and embracing rationalism.

Reason and Rationalism

The general opinion among Enlightenment thinkers that nothing should be accepted on faith and that everything should be subjected to secular critical examination.

Emergence of Enlightenment

The new generation, between 1687(Newton’s publication of "Principia") and 1715(the death of Louis XIV), tied the knot between the scientific revolution and created a new outlook on life. 3 main causes: 1) Thirty Year’s War – Anti-religious sentiment 2) Pierre Bayle – Rise of Skepticism 3) Global Knowledge – Global knowledge about foreign cultures and customs. 4) John Locke – New theory on how human beings learn.

Thirty Year’s War

In the wake of the 30 Years War, many questioned religious truths and if they could be proved. The need for religious unity was also challenged. -Isaac Newton(+others) believed that they were explaining God’s work, unlike during the Enlightenment

Pierre Bayle

A famous French-Huguenot skeptic who found refuge in the Netherlands. Bayle critically examined past religious beliefs and persecutions in "Historical and Critical Dictionary". He concluded that nothing can ever be known beyond all doubt, a view known as skepticism. -Most famous advocate of skepticism

Global Knowledge

The rapid growth of travel literature on non-European lands and cultures led to discoveries that all people had their very own beliefs and customs. Ex: In Europe a man bowed before a woman to show respect, while in Siam a man turned his back. They began to look at truth and morality in relative, rather than absolute, terms.

John Locke

Locke’s "Essay Concerning Human Understanding" was a key intellectual inspiration that set forth a new theory about how human beings learn. His essay rejected Descarte’s view that people are born with certain basic ideals, but insisted that all ideas are derived from experience. Argument Summary: – the human mind at birth is a tabula rasa on which the environment determines an individual’s understanding and beliefs. Thus, human development is determined by education and social institutions. is the environment

Tabula Rasa

literally, a "blank tablet." It is incorporated into Locke’s belief that all ideas are derived from expierence and that at birth the human mind is like a blank tablet on which the environment writes the individual’s understandings and beliefs.


A philosophy based on the idea that nothing can ever be known for certain, most prominently enunciated by Pierre Bayle.

What two literary works were a key intellectual inspiration of the Enlightenment?

Newton’s "Principia" and Locke’s "Essay Concerning Human Understanding" was a key intellectual inspiration of the enlightenment.


Intellectuals in France who proclaimed that they were bringing the light of knowledge and reason to their fellow creatures in the Age of Enlightenment.

In what country did the Enlightenment reach its peak?

FRANCE. for 3 reasons: 1)French was the international language of the educated class, and France was still Europe’s wealthiest and most populous country. 2)Censorship was very strict in eastern and east-central Europe 3)French philosophes made it their goal to reach a larger audience of elites, many of whom were joined together in the 18th century concept of the "republican of letters"


Montesquieu set out to apply the critical method(developed during Scientific Revolution) to the government. He argued for a SEPARATION OF POWERS, with political power divided and shared by a variety of classes and estates holding equal rights and privileges. He argued this because, in "Spirit of Laws" he showed that forms of government were shaped by history, geography, and customs, while also focusing on the conditions that would promote liberty and prevent tyranny. Admired England for constitutional Government.

Separation of Powers

The belief, developed by Montesquieu, that political power in society should be dispersed and shared rather than focused in a single individual or institution.


Big influence on early Romantic movement. He was passionately committed to individual freedom but: – he attacked rationalism and civilization as destroying, rather than liberating, the individual. – The basic goodness of the individual was tainted and corrupted by society -"The Social Contract" put forward two fundamental concepts 1.The General Will 2.Popular sovereignty -Despite his otherwise radical beliefs, he urged a very traditional and conservative role for women, excluding them from political life and assigning them to the domestic sphere.

General Will

A political concept, first set forth by Rousseau, that refers to the collective desires of the citizenry as opposed to individual interests. The general will is sacred and absolute, reflecting the common interests of the people, who have displaced the monarch as the holder of sovereign power.

Reading Revolution

The transition in Europe from a society where literacy consisted of patriarchal and communal reading of religious texts to a society where literacy was commonplace and reading material was broad and diverse.

Public Sphere

An idealized intellectual environment that emerged in Europe during the Enlightenment, where members of society came together as individuals to discuss issues relevant to the society, economics, and politics of the day. The public sphere was generally limited to the rich, educated class but enlightenment ideology did reach some of the commoners/general public.


French ‘philosophe’. Lived in England for 3 years and returned to France to live with Madame du Chatelet. Voltaire mixed glorification of science and reason with an appeal for better individuals and institutions. Views on Society: -Wanted to reform, not a revolutionary -He believed the best one could hope for in government was a good monarch. Praised England for their ‘freer’ society -Didn’t believe in social or economic equality Views of religion: -"radical" views of religion + philosophy for time -Works challenged Catholic Church and theology. -He believed in God but in a deistic God -Hated religious intolerance. Instead promoted simple piety and human kindness as religion.

Madame du Chatelet

Madame Chatelet was a woman from a high aristocracy who studied math and physics. Became Voltaire’s longtime companion for 15 years. Published scientific articles and translated Newton’s "Principia" into French. She was the finest example of an elite French woman in science, but suffered because of her gender. She was excluded from the Royal Academy of Sciences because she was a woman.

Race and the Enlightenment

Scholars only beginning to analyze links between Enlightenment ideas about race and its notions of equality, progress, and reason. However, there are clear parallels between the use of science to propagate racial hierarchies and its use to defend social inequalities between men and women. The new powers of science and reason were thus marshaled to imbue traditional stereotypes with the force of natural law. The Enlightenment created the word ‘race’, they argued that humans originated with one species that then developed into distinct races due to climactic conditions. But emerging ideas about racial difference taught Europeans that were biologically superior as well. But James Beattie argued that Europeans had started as savage as non-whites and that many non-Euro people had achieved civilization.

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