The? Age of Enlightenment? is a term used to describe the trends in thought and letters in Europe and the American colonies during the 18 th century. It originated in the scientific and intellectual revolutions of the seventeenth century. Enlightenment thinkers felt that change and reason were both possible and desirable for the sake of human liberty. Enlightenment philosophes provided a major source of ideas that could be used to undermine existing social and political structures. The main thinkers of the time, like Adam Smith, were called philosophes. The philosophes believed that human aspirations should not be centered on the next life, but rather on the means of improving this life.
Worldly happiness was placed before religious salvation. Individualism, reason, and optimism are just three of the many ideas that came from the Enlightenment period. These ideas were the backbone of the Enlightenment movement that brought about these monumental changes in the way people thought about things. There were many results of the enlightenment period.
It was a contributing factor in the American and French Revolutions. Enlightenment thinking is reflected in the United States Declaration of Independence. European thought became centered on the belief in reason, science, individual rights, and the progress of civilization. The Enlightenment brought out the thought of individualism, which says that people should do whatever would help them gain happiness. Adam Smith is also a believer in individualism.
He said, ? It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner? but from their regard to their self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities, but of their advantages. ? (55) The Enlightenment is also known as the? Age of Reason. ? People came to assume that through reason, an unending progress would be possible in knowledge, technical achievement, and moral values. Smith used reason to come up with the regulator of self-interest, which is competition.
? Suppose we have one hundred manufacturers of gloves. The self-interest of each one will cause him to wish to raise his price above his cost of production and thereby to realize an extra profit. But he cannot. If he raises his price, his competitors will step in and take his market away from him by underselling him.
Only if all glove manufacturers combine and agree to maintain a solid front will an unduly high price be charged. ? the collusive coalition could be broken by an enterprising manufacturer from another field? who decided to move his capital into glove manufacture, where he could steal away the market by shading his price. ? (56) Optimism came from a belief that anything is possible if you work for it. This is the complete reversal of medieval thinking.
In the medieval period, a person could not change anything. Smith is an optimist in his thinking of how people will react to Economic Freedom. ? Economic freedom is thus more illusory than at first appears. One can do as one pleases in the market. But if one pleases to do what the market disapproves, the price of individual freedom is economic ruination. ? (58) Another aspect of the Enlightenment is the idea of skepticism.
People wouldn? t have wanted to change the establishment, if they did not think it could be bettered by change. Smith is also a skeptic accumulation of goods for personal sake. ? But? accumulation would soon lead to a situation where further accumulation would be impossible. For accumulation meant more machinery, and more machinery meant more demand for workmen.
And this in turn would sooner or later lead to higher and higher wages, until profits? the source of accumulation? were eaten away. ? (65) Revolt against tradition is an idea of the Enlightenment. This is the writing that went against everything that people had known to be true. It undermined the government and the church.
Adam Smith? s works are revolutionary in thought. ? And finally, the book is a revolutionary one. To be sure, Smith would hardly have countenanced an upheaval that disordered the gentlemanly classes and enthroned the common poor. Another idea is Academic specialization.
In order for the economy to be more productive, people should be educated in one profession. Therefore, they know all there is to know about what they are going to do in life. They will be the best at what they do. Smith is a firm believer in Specialization.
? ? Smith comments on a pin factory: ? One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth pints it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operation; to put it on is a peculiar business; to whiten it is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into paper? But though they were very poor, and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the necessary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves, make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. ?