The Enlightenment

The development of humanity is divided into different stages. Some of them provided the human beings with tragic events while others were inert. Nevertheless, only a few of these stages gave the people impetus to improvement. One of them, without any doubts, is the Enlightenment (mid-decades of the seventeenth century through the eighteenth century). During this time, western thought and culture were enriched with different inventions, theories, and breakthroughs. This process was presented in the form of revolutions in all spheres of life: science, philosophy, society, and politics. In general, Enlightenment can be defined as the triumph of human mind, which transformed the Western world into an intelligent and self-aware civilization.

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The beginning of the Age of Enlightenment is associated with the finding of Copernicus. With the help of the researches, he understood that traditional geocentric universal structure presented by the Christian religion was not correct. He provided the society with the proofs of heliocentric system of the universe (Kidner, 2014). It gave the opportunity not only to direct the development of such sciences as astronomy and geography but also humanity as a whole in the correct way. Scientific Revolution helped people to escape from the chains of primitive medieval worldview and stand on the way of the rationalistic analysis. It  allowed the human beings to go beyond the frames of dogma.

Scientific discoveries showed that it was possible to explain almost all notions in the world not only with the help of the Bible and sacred texts but also the common reason. Due to it, the philosophy of Enlightenment was in the confrontation with traditional religion. It was presented in the form of deism, which can be defined as a new form of religious thought, which rejects the supernatural origin of God. According to it, God can be associated with natural laws. A human being is not a simple object of influence, but an active force, which can make this impact (Kidner, 2014). The philosophy of deism had a great effect on the society. On the one hand, it underlined the weak sides of conventional religion. For example, it revealed the evil face of Inquisition, disguised under the divine will. On the other hand, deism has made people change from the inert objects into the creators of their fate.

These changes can be noticed in the development of new areas of knowledge, especially philosophy. During this time, the activities of new intellectuals transformed conventional Western outlook. In other words, new theories replaced the outdated ancient concepts presented by Greek philosophers (Kidner, 2014). Plato and Aristotle’s method of understanding a material phenomenon through discovering its “essence” was replaced by the strategy to look not for essence but for the physical causes of notions. For instance, an active method of getting knowledge – experimentation, replaced the ancient method – passive observation. The philosophers of the Enlightenment did not present their ideas as facts. They treated them as hypotheses, which should be verified through empirical evidence (Wootton, 1996). The famous intellectuals of the Age of Reason are Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, Benedict Spinoza, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and John Locke (Kidner, 2014).

The change in the religious outlook had an influence on the political sphere. Firstly, the divine rights of a king were doubted. In France, it inspired people to protect their rights. They did it not only with the help of open confrontations but also using their hidden weapon – knowledge. For instance, during the reign of Louis XIV, people were not allowed to express their opinion, philosophers organized secret gatherings called ‘salons’ (Kidner, 2014). They provided intellectuals with all necessary conditions to share their findings without control of religious or administrative organizations. On the one hand, it may seem that such a method of revolt against the king did not have any results as ideas were proclaimed behind the closed doors. However, on the other hand, it becomes clear that salons were the starting point for the following revolution in France. The main reason for it is the distribution of the salon ideas through letters, sent to different periodicals. Secondly, the rights of human beings were presented as the political value. It can be noticed with the help of analysis of Hobbes’s and Lock’s ideas. According to them, all people were born with equal rights from the position of nature. Only future social roles could limit or extend their opportunities. In the article “Second Treatise on the Government,” Lock underlined that natural rights of all people such as life, property, and liberty were equal. The oppression of them by the means of state led to the natural wish to restore justice. This desire was realized in the society in the form of revolution (Perry, 2014). American activists acquired this theory. They used it as the basis for the revolution of equality. For instance, Jefferson used Locke’s theory as the main argument for war against Great Britain and its tyranny. That is why there is a strong connection between the philosophy of the Enlightenment and American Declaration of the Independence.

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To sum up, the Age of Enlightenment was a turning point on the way of human beings’ development. The main cause for it is the triumph of reason, which brought philosophical theories, religious beliefs, and political system to the new heights. The Enlightenment gave an opportunity for humanity to become an active force, released from the oppression of religious dogma. It inspired people to strive for building a society of dignity and equality.

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