Enlightenment was a wide academic and intellectual movement in the 18th century that promoted science and rationality and defied superstition. This intellectual movement was supported by the famous minds of Europe and America like Immanuel Kant, Rene Descartes, John Lock, Newton, Leibniz, Montesquieu, Voltaire, etc.
Immanuel Kant said that Enlightenment was mankind’s escape from his self-imposed tutelage, in other words, earlier the man had somehow wrapped himself up in a mental straightjacket but with Enlightenment developing a sense of intellectual freedom ceasing to be depended upon authorities such as kings, priest, God, etc. and was at last thinking for himself. Enlightenment was a wide academic and intellectual movement in the 18th century that promoted science and rationality and defied superstition. This intellectual movement was supported by the famous minds of Europe and America like Immanuel Kant, Rene Descartes, John Lock, Newton, etc. The Enlightenment thinkers envisioned themselves as beginning an age of altruistic, rational, and advancement of society backed by the growing capability of human reason. They wanted to free society from superstitions, feudalism, political despotism, and religious intolerance.
The Enlightenment thinkers envisioned themselves as beginning an age of altruistic, rational, and advancement of society backed by the growing capability of human reason. They wanted to free society from superstitions, feudalism, political despotism, and religious intolerance.
Characteristics of Enlightenment:
The main idea of Enlightenment is to promote reason and rationality. People of that time (i.e. 18th century) believed that it was important to think for themselves. They could not simply get the truth out of books or from institutions like the church. They have to criticize existing authorities. Instead of looking at faith as traditional Christendom and as the ultimate truth about things, they had to use their own reason on the evidence that was provided. After Newton had discussed the laws of gravity and discovered the laws of mechanism, Newton became one of the great kings of Enlightenment thought, and people look back to Newton and said if Newton had discovered the laws of the universe on the basis of reason, experiment, and observation, they can also go forward understand nature, change nature for human benefit by using their own reason.
Enlightenment marks the change from an essentially religious outlook. If we go back to the age of Milton, people still believed in Satan, in witches and demons, in burning in hell in everlasting perdition, etc. By the end of the 18th-century people were still Christian and religious but they had a naturalistic and secular view about religion because of the growing tendency of Enlightenment. People were thinking in terms of what men could do for themselves by using their own reason.
Dependence on reason was nothing novel; the ancient thinkers such as Aristotle and Plato had advocated reason as the power whereby we could acquire universal truths. Medieval Christian philosophy recognized that reason was an essential element of a genuine spiritual frame of mind but it was only a mere component and required to be leveled by faith and revelation. But during the 18th century, what was new to the Enlightenment was its emphasis on reason as the central capacity whereby we could obtain knowledge. For Enlightenment thinkers, reason does not need any faith or divine revelation. More importantly, the reliance on reason weakened dependence on any kind of authority like Church, state, politics, or of any influential individual.
The important Enlightenment thinkers:
Three important forerunners of Enlightenment belief were the English intellect Francis Bacon, French philosopher Descartes, and the Dutch thinker Spinoza. If we talk about the important works of Bacon, then they were “The Advancement of Learning” and “The New Organon” in which he expressed the technique of induction through which we establish truth or knowledge on the ground of real observation of several experiences or occurrences. An example of induction is that
Shyam likes literature;
Today’s lecture is about T.S Eliot;
Shyam will like today’s lecture.
Bacon maintained that induction, as the technique of modern science, was a more constructive way to understanding than the medieval dependence of deduction. The example of deductive reasoning is that
All sports bikes must go over 100 KMPH;
The Yamaha R15 is a sports bike.
Therefore Yamaha R15 can go over 100 KMPH.
So according to Bacon, the only means through which we can reach true knowledge or truth is inductive reasoning.
Read More: Francis Bacon as an Essayist
French philosopher Descartes is frequently considered the father of modern philosophy. In his famous work, “Discourse on Method”, Descartes at first doubted the deliverances of his senses, as they frequently mislead us; then he questioned the procedure of reasoning; he reckoned that our universe might be an illusion. But in suspecting everything to be misleading or fake, Descartes speculated: “I think, therefore, I am”. Descartes advanced to recognize his fundamental self with the exercise of thinking, identifying himself as a thinking human being, separated from everything else. In this manner, he distinguished between the mind and the body. According to him, our mind is the thinking object and our body is associated with the world of physical extension. In such a way, Descartes maintained a mechanistic vision of the universe.
The third important philosopher of the enlightenment was Spinoza. His own nonconformist and heretical ideas led to his exclusion from the Hebrew community. Spinoza also provoked Christian clergymen by his unconventional outlook of the Bible. In his well-known work “Ethics”, he has laid more emphasis on rationality than passion.
John Lock as an Enlightenment thinker:
In the 18th century, there was a development of intellectual tendency and print tradition. Lock is an all-around intellect at the end of the 17th century. He is also important in politics because it’s he who came up with the idea that the state is not God-given via the Divine Right of the king but is something created by men for their own benefit. Locke also comes with a notion of modern man. Man, he says, is not created with original sin in him and he is not inherently wicked; rather man is born as a blank sheet of paper, you can create whatever sort of man by environmental influences, by education, by experiences, and what this means is that education became important. So, Man became a creature of indefinite possibility for progress.
To conclude we can say that Enlightenment brought the whole vision of the improvement of the individual person.
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