18th Century European Enlightenment. Essay

823 words - 3 pages

The Enlightenment is a name given by historians to anintellectual movement that was predominant in the Western world duringthe 18th century. Strongly influenced by the rise of modern scienceand by the aftermath of the long religious conflict that followedthe Reformation, the thinkers of the Enlightenment (called philosophesin France) were committed to secular views based on reason or humanunderstanding only, which they hoped would provide a basis forbeneficial changes affecting every area of life and thought.The more extreme and radical philosophes--Denis Diderot, ClaudeAdrien Helvetius, Baron d'Holbach, the Marquis de Condorcet, andJulien Offroy de La Mettrie (1709-51)--advocated a philosophicalrationalism deriving its methods from science and natural philosophythat would replace religion as the means of knowing nature and destinyof humanity; these men were materialists, pantheists, or atheists.Other enlightened thinkers, such as Pierre Bayle, Voltaire, DavidHume, Jean Le Rond D'alembert, and Immanuel Kant, opposed fanaticism,but were either agnostic or left room for some kind of religiousfaith.All of the philosophes saw themselves as continuing the work ofthe great 17th century pioneers--Francis Bacon, Galileo, Descartes,Leibnitz, Isaac Newton, and John Locke--who had developed fruitfulmethods of rational and empirical inquiry and had demonstrated thepossibility of a world remade by the application of knowledge forhuman benefit. The philosophes believed that science could revealnature as it truly is and show how it could be controlled andmanipulated. This belief provided an incentive to extend scientificmethods into every field of inquiry, thus laying the groundwork forthe development of the modern social sciences.The enlightened understanding of human nature was one thatemphasized the right to self-expression and human fulfillment, theright to think freely and express one's views publicly withoutcensorship or fear of repression. Voltaire admired the freedom hefound in England and fostered the spread of English ideas on theContinent. He and his followers opposed the intolerance of theestablished Christian churches of their day, as well as the Europeangovernments that controlled and suppressed dissenting opinions. Forexample, the social disease which Pangloss caught from Paquette wastraced to a "very learned Franciscan" and later to a Jesuit. Also,Candide reminisces that his passion for Cunegonde first developedat a Mass. More conservative enlightened thinkers, concernedprimarily with efficiency and administrative order, favored the"enlightened despotism" of such monarchs as Emperor Joseph II,Frederick II of Prussia, and Catherine II of Russia.Enlightened political thought expressed demands for equality andjustice and for the legal changes needed to realize these goals. Setforth by Baron de Montesquieu, the changes were more boldly urged bythe contributors to the...

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