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THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT


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Author Topic: THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT  (Read 1227 times)
Bianca
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« on: May 18, 2008, 09:01:33 am »









Origins



After the revolution of knowledge commenced by René Descartes and Isaac Newton, and in a climate of increasing disaffection with repressive rule, Enlightenment thinkers believed that systematic thinking might be applied to all areas of human activity, and carried into the governmental sphere, in their explorations of the individual, society and the state.

Its leaders believed they could lead their states to progress after a long period of tradition, irrationality, superstition, and tyranny which they imputed to the Middle Ages.

The movement helped create the intellectual framework for the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions, Poland's Constitution of May 3, 1791, Russia's 1825 Decembrist Revolt, the Latin American independence movement, and the Greek national independence movement. In addition, Enlightenment ideals were influential in the Balkan independence movements against the Ottoman Empire, and many historians and philosophers credit the Enlightenment with the later rise of classical liberalism, socialism, democracy, and modern capitalism.

The Age of Enlightenment receives modern attention as a central model for many movements in the modern period. Another important movement in 18th century philosophy, closely related to it, focused on belief and piety. Some of its proponents, such as George Berkeley, attempted to demonstrate rationally the existence of a supreme being. Piety and belief in this period were integral to the exploration of natural philosophy and ethics, in addition to political theories of the age. However, prominent Enlightenment philosophers such as Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and David Hume questioned and attacked the existing institutions of both Church and State. The 19th century also saw a continued rise of empiricist ideas and their application to political economy, government and sciences such as physics, chemistry and biology.

The continent of Europe had been ravaged by religious wars in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. When political stability had been restored, notably after the Peace of Westphalia and the English Civil War, an intellectual upheaval overturned the accepted belief that mysticism and revelation are the primary sources of knowledge and wisdom. Instead (according to scholars who split the two periods), the Age of Reason sought to establish axiomatic philosophy and absolutism as foundations for knowledge and stability. Epistemology, in the writings of Michel de Montaigne and René Descartes, was based on extreme skepticism and inquiry into the nature of "knowledge."

The goal of a philosophy based on self-evident axioms reached its height with Baruch (Benedictus de) Spinoza's Ethics, which expounded a pantheistic view of the universe where God and Nature were one. This idea then became central to the Enlightenment from Newton through to Jefferson. The ideas of Pascal, Leibniz, Galileo and other natural philosophers of the previous period also contributed to and greatly influenced the Enlightenment. Cassirer argued that Leibniz’s Treatise On Wisdom "identified the central concept of the Enlightenment and sketched its theoretical programme. There was a wave of change across European thinking, exemplified by Newton's natural philosophy, which combined mathematics of axiomatic proof with mechanics of physical observation, a coherent system of verifiable predictions, which set the tone for what followed Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica in the century after.

The Age of Enlightenment is also prominent in the history of Judaism, perhaps because of its conjunction with increased social acceptance of Jews in some western European states, especially those who were not orthodox or who converted to the officially sanctioned version of Christianity. Antisemitism, however, continued to remain a visible phenomenon throughout much of Europe during the Enlightenment, and a number of major Enlightenment figures were noted antisemites.  The period is known as Haskalah in Jewish historiography, and the term carries the same connotations of "enlightenment" in Hebrew.

Many of the Founding Fathers of the United States were also influenced by Enlightenment-era ideas, particularly in the religious sphere (deism) and, in parallel with liberalism (which had a major influence on its Bill of Rights, in parallel with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen), socialism and anarchism in the political sphere.

Recent research has also shown that women played an important, if somewhat limited, role in the Enlightenment, producing an unprecedented volume of published works.
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