The Enlightenment and its Main Ideologies: (question 4)
The Age of the Enlightenment was an era in the Western history that involved a change in the ideology that existed traditionally. During this age, people became more and more focused on science as a source for all answers. In addition, reason was the main idea that was brought forward with people abandoning the traditional way of life. The Enlightenment era brought forward many philosophers who were concerned with springing up ideas that would become utilized in the lives of the people. The Enlightenment age sprung in the eighteenth century in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Britain, Portugal and other Western countries.
One of the main ideologies that were brought up during the Enlightenment period was the belief in natural laws and science (Coffin and Stacey 87). During this period, science was to form laws that were used to define the society and how it was developed. Scientific progress was highly evident during this period with many scientific scholars coming up with theories to explain the world. During this age, whatever truth the people knew was questioned and people searched for answers to everything. This meant that experimentation was a key objective of the scientists during this age. The scientists tried to explain the meaning of all phenomena that existed in the world. The influence of science on people’s lives could be seen with the support that people gave to the scientists. In addition, people changed their belief systems from solely religious to scientific. The impact that science had on the social structures of the age was also important. People began to find new ways to expand their resources through scientific means. This had a great impact on religion with people moving away from religion, which was considered an important part of culture. The changes in cultural aspects eventually led to changes in political and economical lines of thought with science becoming a key driving force in different economies. It is interesting to note that science became amazingly popular during this age.
Science during the Enlightenment was brought forward by several thinkers or philosophers, who were celebrated for their expertise in different sections of science. One such thinker was Galileo Galilei, who was an Italian scientist (Wiesner, et al. 100). He is renowned worldwide for his contributions in astronomy and physics. One of his greatest achievements was the modifications he made to the telescope. Using the new model, he could observe the stars and the moon, a feat that no other person had been able to achieve. He is also applauded for his observations that supported Copernicanism and its effect on the analysis of the earth as the centre of the universe. His contributions to the theory of motion in Physics were later used by Isaac Newton. In this perspective, Isaac Newton is also another renowned scientist during the Enlightenment. His achievements have led to his recognition worldwide since his theorems are still in use today. One of his most accepted theories is the law of attraction, which had never been discovered before. In addition, he was also a famous mathematician mainly credited for the binomial theorem. He also contributed to other mathematical and astronomical discoveries. This shows the importance that science held during the Enlightenment. Science became an important vehicle of the different ideas of this period.
The Enlightenment is sometimes referred to as the age of reason where most philosophers advocated for the use as opposed to political dependency in making decisions. Reason meant that people should be set free so that they act freely without interference from political and social leaders (Coffin and Stacey 125). Philosophers in this age advocated for human progress in different areas without the intrusion of the government that had been seen traditionally. In addition, the thinkers of this period brought forward the idea of the human being as a rational being who should be allowed to act within their own mindsets. Moreover, they wanted to prove that human beings were born good and would act in a reasonable manner if only he is granted total freedom. Traditionally, the church and political leaders were the key decision makers and the people only followed what they were told. This created a form of oppression, which the Enlightenment thinkers were opposed to. Philosophers believed that ignorance was the main killer to democracy, as people did not have the knowledge to help them make informed decisions. People were encouraged to think for themselves in order to have a society that would have a better sense of reason. In addition, individualism was encouraged whereby the people would have a sense of independence over their lives. This also involved the implementation of a person’s rights over what he or she did or did not do. People had an equal opportunity to everything and the political elite did not have a right to deny people certain resources that were available to them.
One of the great advocates for reason was John Locke, an English philosopher. One of his main ideas was that man is a rational being who can use his mind to make rational decisions (Wiesner et al. 150). He defines human beings depending on their abilities to think reasonably in order to make wise decisions. Locke is also renowned for his depiction of a human being as being conscious of what is around him, thus being able to reason. Locke also came up with the definition of ‘the self’, which is capable of analyzing feelings and using them to analyze the needs of specific people. Locke’s theories also affect the way people view education with emphasis on teaching children as opposed to adults. In addition, Locke advocated for the use of government resources to protect the rights of the people. Another famous advocate for reason was Francois-Marie Aroute, commonly referred to as Voltaire. He was from France and his theories were popular during the Enlightenment. He believed that the world could only be understood from the basis of reason. This meant that whatever a person believed had to be based upon reason. He even thought that there was no faith without reason. He was a chief campaigner for freedom of expression whereby he expected the government to give people the freedom to criticize it without confrontation. The French government viewed him as a rebel and his campaigns caused him trouble with political leaders. He believed that people should not believe what they are told by leaders without analyzing it first and reasonably coming up with a conclusion.
Another principle that was defined during the Enlightenment was the issue of toleration. This was advocated for philosophers who encouraged people to tolerate each other even if they differed in terms of their opinions and beliefs (Coffin and Stacey 178). During this period, people had differing views especially in religion thus causing unending wars. Culture was also a point of difference among the people and thus it was difficult for people living in the same country and hence constant ethnic wars that were spurred by differences of opinions. In addition, it was common to find people who differed on the political arena creating wars that would result in numerous killings during this period. However, the philosophers of the Enlightenment preached tolerance where people were advised to accommodate each other opinions since people were different and had freedom of expression. It was important for people to be allowed to say whatever they felt without being persecuted for saying it. In most European countries, there existed persecution of people based on religious beliefs with the existence of conflict between Catholics and Protestants. This is what the Enlightenment thinkers denounced and instead preached tolerance. This was an important concept that would eventually lead to the establishment of a peaceful world. According to these philosophers, violence was not a solution to the differences that existed during this period. There had to be other means of achieving consensus. Tolerance was seen as the only way, through which people could survive in the same world without the involvement of violence. As the Enlightenment age progressed, philosophers became more active in advocating for tolerance among different groups. In this period, freedom and tolerance were interrelated and important components of the period.
One of the Enlightenment thinkers on tolerance was Denis Diderot, a French philosopher. His perspective of a peaceful society was based upon toleration of other people (Wiesner et al. 271). This meant that people from different backgrounds should be able to live together without the possibility of violence. However, Diderot also raised questions over religion saying that the Roman Catholic Church imposed too much moralistic views on its followers. This made their life rigid and the rules could not be easily followed. In addition, he also supported the concept of freedom of thought for every person and that human beings had the ability to reason and come up with individualistic decisions. He wrote works in support of other Enlightenment views. Voltaire was also a popular advocate for tolerance. He even wrote an essay on toleration. He not only advocated for religious tolerance but also for social tolerance. He understood that people had cultural difference and that these could be used as an avenue for violence. In this view, he was highly opposed to violence and encouraged people to tolerate each other despite their difference of opinions.
The Enlightenment was a period that brought many changes to the society and the way people viewed different issues. The idea of natural law that embodied the scientific elements discovered during this period was very popular. In addition, science was seen as a tool for human development in different areas of people’s existence. The capacity of human beings to use reason as a means of independency was also emphasized with people being encouraged to take an individualistic perspective. In conclusion, the different thinkers or philosophers found in this period created new ideas that had not been experienced traditionally.
Coffin, Judith and Robert, Stacey. Western Civilizations, Second Brief Edition, Volume 2, New York: W. W. Norton, 2009.
Wiesner, Merry Julius, Ruff, and William, Wheeler. Discovering the Western Past: A Look at the Evidence, Volume II (Sixth Edition). Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. Print.