Section: Wed 5:00 pm-6:00 pm
Qinyu Xu, ID:912109109
The Two Sides of Science Developed from the Age of Enlightenment
The Europe in 18th century was in an age of dramatic revolution, not only in politic fields, but also in philosophy, ideology, economics and arts. People generally called that age as ‘Age of Enlightenment’, which included a range of ideas focused on reason and scientific methods as the primary source of authority and legitimacy. Such intellectual movement was a turning point in the mankind history leading people to view the world more rationally and pursuit ideas like liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government and separation of church and state. Voltaire, one of the most renowned philosophers during the age of enlightenment, was a precursor of the enlightenment advocating autonomous human reason and attacking Christianity. His distinguished essay ‘Letters on England’ described his experience living in England and was known as the reflection of his ideology on science and reason. However, not everyone in the 18th century and 19th century agree with such scientific rationalism. The Romanticism, an ideology derived from enlightenment in late 18th century, emphasized more on human emotion, individuality, and new forms of expression. One of representative literature written by Mary Shelly in 19th century, ‘Frankenstein’, revealed negative side of scientific rationalism, and emphasized the significance of ethic and emotions. By comparing Voltaire’s Letter and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, we can see that although two ideas seem very contrast to each other, from the 18th century to nowadays, people always pursuit to reconcile and synthesis scientific rationalism and romanticism because they are both necessary parts to advance human civilization.
Scientific rationalism was a primary idea advocated by Voltaire in his letters on England. Even in the parts that seem not related too closely to the science, he continuously reminded the essentiality of rational thinking and scientific methods. In Letter V-on the church of England, Voltaire evaluate English clergy that “All the clergy (a very few excepted) are educated in the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge, far from the depravity and corruption which reign in the capital.” This is a clear evidence showed that Voltaire believed even the clergy, a figure strongly related to religion, need to obtain education with sciences and reasons in order to get qualified. On the other hand, Voltaire mentioned depravity and corruption in order to contrast and attack the idea of corruptive religion power over many states of Europe. Therefore, reflecting his idea of separation of church and state and thinking rationally with scientific measures rather than believing in superstitious revelation of the world by religion.
Voltaire also wrote about empirical scientific experiment in his letter which affirmed his fascination toward science. In the Letter XL-on inoculation, he...