UNIVERSITY OF THE SOUTHERN CARIBBEAN
MARACAS ROYAL ROAD, MARACAS, ST. JOSEPH.
A Research Paper
Presented in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Course
HIST105: World Civilizations II
INSTRUCTOR Dr. Fiona Rajkumar
15 April 2019
The Enlightenment was seen as one of the most significant intellectual revolutions of western civilizations which eventually spread across the continent and the rest of the world by the seventeenth century. This Enlightenment was challenging the world’s already existing concepts and assumptions.
It is man leaving his own immaturity which would be seen as the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another person. the term Enlightenment owes it origin to the fact that the philosophers of this movement believed that they lived in and enlightened age. They viewed the past as a time of the superstition and ignorance and they thought human beings were now emerging from the darkness and into the sunlight. The eighteenth-century philosophers popularized general perceptions of the conduct which in time were widely accepted in most civilized societies.
These philosophers made incredible outlooks on war and mocked the idea of military glory. They preached religious tolerance, free speech, a free press and they were even favourable to the sanction of liberties, equality of citizens and they wanted freedom of movement. The Enlightenment was a cosmopolitan movement, not restricted to England and France as in Germany, Italy and Spain, thinkers carried out campaigns against outdated ideas in science, religious and political obscuration. The scientific revolution shed light on the assumption that the world is stable, fixed and finite. This revolution proposed that the universe was moving and almost infinite subjecting to the laws of nature. It also brought about methods showing truth about the traditional authorities such as Aristotle, Ptolemy and the Church and was replaced and corrected by Skeptism, Rationalism and rigorous reasoning based on the observed facts and mathematical law. “Science, consequently, is essentially to acquire meaningful knowledge about reality and therefore for human self-knowledge, happiness and salvation. But science not only helps us grasp reality and remove irrational fears and anxiety, it also improves human life in other ways by emancipating man from the anxieties and pressures arising from his basic bodily needs. The scientific revolution provided a new model for solving problems through rational thought and experimentation rather than on the authority of religion.” (Israel, 45). Enlightenment men of science began to explore prevalent theories about the structure of the universe, and even the type of knowledge that was possible for the human mind to understand. A Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe set the step for the study of modern astronomy by constructing an observatory and gathering data for over twenty years on the location of the stars and planets. His greatest involvement was the collection of data, but his limited knowledge of mathematics barred him from making some sense out of his data collection.
Johannes Kepler, another German astronomer and associate to Brahe, used his data to support Brahe’s information and Copernicus’ idea that the planets move around the sun in elliptical, not circular orbits. Kepler’s three laws of planetary motions were based on mathematical relationships and precisely projected the movements of planets in a sun-centred universe. His work therefore destroyed the work of Aristotle and Ptolemy. Galileo Galilei, a Florentina continued the outbreak on outmoded views of science. Using observation rather than theory to help him articulate ideas. Galileo established experimentation which was the foundation of modern science. He applied new approaches to astronomy by using the newly designed telescope. In using this, he discovered the four moons of Jupiter, and that the moon had a mountainous surface, much like the earth. His discovery destroyed an earlier notion that planets were crystal spheres and dared the traditional belief in the unique relationship between the earth and the moon. The greatest figure of the Scientific Revolution was Sir Isaac Newton an Englishman. In his book Principia Mathematica (1687), he combined the ideas of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo into one system of mathematical laws to explain the logical manner in which the planets revolved around the sun. His main thesis was the law of universal gravitation. According to this law, everyone in the universe attracts every other body in exact mathematical relationships. Newton’s law mathematically proved that the sun, moon, earth, planets, and all other bodies moved in accord with the same basic force of gravitation.
Voltaire, he was considered to be the greatest of all Enlightenment philosophers, he challenged the authority of the Catholic Church. He believed in God but his God was a deistic God. Voltaire hated religious intolerance, urged religious freedom, and thought that religion creased the human spirit. In his book, Candide, he wrote against the tribulations of prearranged religion, and in his Treatise on Toleration, he argued for religious tolerance. Voltaire denounced organized religion because it exploited people’s ignorance and superstitions. Deism was intended to construct a more natural religion based on reason and natural law. However, other philosophers wrote journals and essays to popularize their idea which was to show the need for change. Some of them rejected the traditional belief that God controls the universe and arbitrary determines the fate of humanity, instead they sought a natural religion that followed the dictates of reason. The outcome was seen as a religious orthodoxy.
Some people became atheists, denying the existence of God and denouncing religion as a tool of priest and politicians. Others became agnostics who neither affirm not deny the existence of God. But as said before the majority of the people were deists who were willing to go along with the suggestion that God existed and had created the universe but insisted that after the act of creation, God allowed the universe to function according to natural laws. Initially the deists could have it both ways, meaning they could accept the teachings of Christianity but at the same time disregard supernatural elements such as the virgin birth, the resurrection, the divinity of Christ and the divine inspiration of the Bible.
The Enlightenment can mostly be identified by its political affiliation and accomplishment. This period was known for impacting three political revolutions, The English Revolution of 1688, The American Revolution of 1775-83 and The French Revolution of 1789-99. In politics the philosophers displayed a key phrase “social contract.” This theory of government was not new, English political theorist, John Locke, formulated an essay on civil government which defined government as a political contract between rulers and the ruled. He believed that people are born with good but they make the choice as social inequalities develop to surrender their individual rights to the community in order to be free thus making the government necessary. And this movement was used widely throughout the French Revolution and the rule of Adolf Hitler to justify dictatorship. In Locke’s Two Treaties of Government (1690) he outlined a theory of modern politics based on people’s natural rights: life, liberty and the ownership of property. To him, the task of state was to protect these rights and that government was granted power in order to assume their subject of welfare.
Baruch Spinoza also greatly contributed to the political development during the enlightenment period. In his main political work, he expanded on the rational naturalism, opposes superstition, argues or tolerance and the subordination of religion to the state and pronounces in favour of qualified democracy. He believed that liberalism was perhaps the most charismatic political philosophy of the Enlightenment period. Thomas Hobbes, in his Leviathan (1651), guards the complete power of the political sovereign, and opposed to the revolutionaries and reformers in England. Hobbes’ work originates the modern social contract theory, which includes Enlightenment conceptions of the relation of the individual to the state. According to the general social contract model, political authority is grounded in an agreement often understood as ideal, rather than real among individuals, each of whom aims in this agreement to advance his rational self-interest by establishing a common political authority over all. According to the general contract model political authority is grounded not in conquest, natural or divinely instituted hierarchy, or in obscure myths and traditions, but rather in the rational consent of the governed. In doing this Hobbes influences the Enlightenment process of secularization and rationalization in political philosophy.
To conclude, the Enlightenment was a cosmopolitan movement, not restricted to England and France as in Germany, Italy and Spain, thinkers carried out campaigns against outdated ideas in science, political and religious obscuration. Tycho Brahe set up steps to study modern astronomy but lacked some knowledge, his assistant Johannes Kepler picked up where he left off and destroyed previous philosophers’ views, Galileo continued the studies with the newly designed telescope and Sir Isaac Newton concluded the study with his law of universal gravitation. Voltaire argued for religious tolerance and an orthodoxy of atheist, agnostics and deists formed. John Locke believed that humans were born good and free and that they chose to give their freedom to a community leader thus forming democracy and lastly Baruch Spinoza and Thomas Hobbes believed in liberalism and formed secularization and rationalization.
Bristow, William, “Enlightenment”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
Israel, Jonathan I. Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1659-1750. Oxford University Press, 2001. pp 45, 208 & 242.
Ralston, Shane J. “American Enlightenment Thought”, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: A Peer-Reviewed Academic Resource. Pennsylvania State University, 2010.
Sherman, Dennis, et al. World Civilizations: Sources, Images and Interpretations Vol II. McGraw-Hill Inc, 1994. pp 69, 70, 75, 87 & 88.
Stavrianos, S. L. A Global History: The Human Heritage 3rd ed., Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1983. pp 339, 340 & 341.
The Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment 1500-1780. Online PDF.
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