The Birth Of Modern European Thought Study Notes

1998 words - 8 pages

The New Reading PublicIn 1850 about half the population of western Europe and a much higher proportion of Russians were illiterate. That situation changed during the next half century.Advances in Primary EducationThe attack on illiteracy proved most successful in Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Scandinavia, where by 1900 approximately 85 percent or more of the people could read.The new primary education in the basic skills of reading and writing and elementary arithmetic reflected and generated social change. They also hoped that literacy might help the poor to help themselves and might create a better, more productive labor force.They soon discovered that much of the education that led to better jobs and political influence was still open only to those who could afford it.Reading Material for the Mass AudienceAdvances in printing and paper technology lowered production costs. The number of newspapers, books, magazines, mail-order catalogs, and libraries grew rapidly. Other publishers produced newspapers with specialized political or religious viewpoints. Probably more people with different ideas could get into print in the later nineteenth century than ever before in European history.Because many of the new readers were only marginally literate and still ignorant about many subjects, the books and journals catering to them often were mediocre.Science at Mid-CenturyIn about 1850 Voltaire would still have felt at home in a general discussion of scientific concepts. The basic Newtonian picture of physical nature that he had popularized still prevailed.Comte, Positivism, and the Prestige of ScienceThe French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857), developed a philosophy of human intellectual development.Comte thought that positive lows of social behavior could be discovered in the same fashion as laws of physical nature.Popularizers, such as Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) in Britain and Ernst Haickel (1834-1919) in Germany, wrote and lectured widely on scientific topics.Darwin's Theory of Natural SelectionEarlier writers had believed that evolution might occur; Darwin and Wallace explained how it could occur.Darwin's and Wallace's theory represented the triumph of naturalistic explanation, which removed the idea of purpose from organic nature. Eyes were not made for seeing according to the rational wisdom and purpose of God but had developed mechanistically over time. The idea that physical and organic nature might be constantly changing allowed people in the late nineteenth century to believe that society, values, customs, and beliefs should also change.In The Descent of Man, he applied the principle of evolution by natural selection to human beings. Not since Copernicus had removed the Earth from the center of the universe had the pride of Western human beings received so sharp a blow.Science and EthicsHerbert Spencer (1820-1903), a strong individualist, believed that human society progressed through competition.They...

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