What is Enlightenment In the eighteenth century in France Britain and Germany a general intellectual move towards greater reliance on the human sciences and their relevance to the boundaries of existing knowledge began. This movement was referred to as "The Enlightenment." As the name suggests the movement set out to shed a greater on humanity, human nature and the nature of existence. A great desire was shared to determine the extent of our knowledge of the world and for ways to gain a greater understanding of it. This movement relied on a mass rejection of tradition and already called for the removal of all established conceptions and prejudices commonly held.
The Catholic Church, and indeed all religions came under heavy scrutiny and rejection due to their all pervasive grip on all matters educational, scientific and philosophical. Religious morals and guidelines also came to be disregarded in philosophical terms. Science, logic and rationalism became the principal tools of philosophy in this era as was evidenced by the new methods employed in argument, debate, analysis and critique. Tradition in all its forms, be it religious or scientific was eschewed in favour of a clean slate from which to begin re-assessing what we can know. Although Descartes was the first Philosopher to employ reason as a tool and Francis Bacon greatly influenced Enlightenment thought it is John Locke, an English Protestant philosopher based in Amsterdam who is perceived to be the father figure of this movement. In France a legion of intellectuals known as the philosophes became a phenomena, and globally thinkers such as Hume and Kant helped define the enlightenment movement.
In order to understand what the Enlightenment is one must consider the historic a period it influenced and took its influence from. SOCIAL CLIMATE AND CULTURE. The enlightenment took place against a historical background of momentous cultural change. The reformation of the fifteenth century and the great split of the Catholic Church into Roman Catholicism and the various forms of Protestantism led to much intellectual chagrin with the prevalent Churches.
The main effect of the reformation was its undermining of clerical authority in all things intellectual, artistic and philosophical. This factored greatly in paving the way for the rejuvenating Renaissance period experienced in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During the Renaissance scholars began to study in their own right, free of the shackles of religous sponsorship and its entailing limitations. This form of study and self-improvement is exactly what the enlightenment was intended to allow the common man. One of the implications of the movement is that any man can better himself through education. As such modern science and philosophy prospered and flourished and began to advance at a more rapid pace than had ever been seen before.
A scientific revolution took place. This revolution further tore down reliance on tradition. Man began to re-assess his position in nature through scientific method. This reliance on scientific method became all pervasive in the philosophy of the time. Furthermore the enlightenment heralded in a more rational time in political thought and came at a time of great revolution. In England inspired by this new Enlightenment thought, the Monarchy abdicated its sovereignty to the English Parliament in sixteen-eighty-eight, indicative of a re-appraisal of the belief that the monarch was God's voice on earth and ruled by divine right.
This led to a time of great growth and change in England. England established the first "Bill of rights" protecting its subjects and itself. London became a cosmopolitan capital and a centre of great learning and innovation. The country experienced an Agricultural revolution as a result of the rapidly advancing scientific progress brought about through the Enlightenment.
In France a similar growth period was being experienced. Paris became the focal point of all enlightenment thought. Philosophical texts the world over were being universally written in French, which was seen as indicative of the new intellectual sophistication growing around the world in this time period. Paris had become the epitome of cultural sophistication and was seen as the pinnacle of what society can be. It set the tone in literature, art, fashion and science. Within this newly intellectual society an elite group of prevalent thinkers, known as the "Philosophes" became key to the spread of the enlightenment and its ideals.
THE PHILOSOPHES AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT'S OBSESSION WITH KNOWLEDGE. The Philosophes were Parisian noblemen who shared a common interest in all things philosophical and scientific. Their search and thirst for knowledge exemplifies the intellectual climate of the enlightenment era. They could be described as the "militant wing" of the enlightenment movement as they were dedicated to the spread of these new ideals.
These men were not professional philosophers nor even academics in the classical sense, but rather a community of intellectuals with common interests. As was encouraged by the scientists, philosophers and novelists of the time this group discussed, argued, dissected collaborated and created the key ideas prevalent at the time. They shared a common desire for knowledge and went out of their ways to ensure the spread of this knowledge to all. Regular open houses were held in the "Salons" of Paris which could be attended by anyone with an interest could come and share in the debate of knowledge. It was one of these men, Denis Diderot, who made possibly the most relevant contribution of the enlightenment to society. It is a contribution characteristic and significant of the enlightenment and its relevance is Unarguable - The Encyclopaedia.
This encyclopaedia aimed to be the comprehensive resource of all the knowledge in the world. It took twenty years to complete the project which consisted of approximately 75, 000 entry's and 2, 500 illustrations and engravings. It held enough information to make up twenty-eight separate volumes. The Encyclopaedia was of immense fascination to the public at large. With the encyclopaedia, the Philosophes campaigned to spread the new science and philosophy to the public readership. This was made possible due to the further advances the enlightenment encouraged in the field of printing and the printed word.
THE RELEVANCE OF RELIGION TO THE ENLIGHTENMENT. Although the tradition and theology of the Christian religions were widely debated and criticised it would be wrong to believe that the enlightenment heralded an age of decline for the church. In time, and after much debate many of the enlightenment thinkers began to extol e God as still being of scientific and philosophical relevance. God became identified with nature in certain dissertations. It was held that the newly discovered regularities of the natural world testified to the existence of a higher power. The example of the watch found in the desert is used to verify this; If one was to find a perfectly working watch in the desert, one would assume that it was left there by a watchmaker.
God is compared to this watchmaker and the world the watch. The many intricately working processes of the world are so perfect that they can only have been instigated by some first source. Rather than the fear of a public backlash, the churches problems lay elsewhere. The theological reliance on miracles and scripture was seen as ignorant or blind to the new scientific "certainties" discovered by the Enlightenment. The Scottish philosopher David Hume was the principal critic of this reliance on the unprovable non-scientific world. The real relevance to religion of the enlightenment was its relegation from being the figurehead of all scientific and philosophical thought that it had come to be.
Humanity became viewed in a more non-denominational light, rather as separate groups of different Religions or creeds. Atheism and faith were viewed equally, and as such equally irrelevant to enlightenment thought. It no longer mattered what you believed in or if you believed in anything at all. Religous effects on philosophy and science was now negated. Reaction to the Enlightenment It is undeniable that the enlightenment has deeply affected the world today. The American and French revolutions were innately inspired by the Enlightenment.
Humanity's renewed faith in the possibility of change and positive progress was key to the seeds of these revolutions being sown. However, a greater reliance on Science has lead to a similar blind faith in Sciences all-encompassing relevance. Many would contend that scientific thought is no more relevant to the world than religous thoughts and can just as easily be called into question. Criticism of the enlightenment. The end of the Enlightenment period came with the beginning of the Romantic period of the early nineteenth century.
It was in fact one of the most noted Enlightenment thinkers Jean-Jacque Rousseau who was at the forefront of the Romanticism period. Rousseau criticised the enlightenment for being to concerned with the external world, and that the only way one could really learn anything about oneself or the world a greater emphasis should be placed on internal study. Rather than study knowledge's relevance to the world, Rousseau wanted to study knowledge's relevance to himself. Rousseau sought to bring about an "Inner Enlightenment." The Romanticism era became a time where blind optimism, pessimism and thought were used rather than employing reason, rationale or science.
A new era of thought was heralded in. In modern times such thinkers as Hans-Georg Gadamer try to criticise the still pervasive influence of the enlightenment. Gadamer criticicizes the enlightenment s distrust of tradition and established boundaries. To ignore these factors like the enlightenment does denies the impossibility of making them irrelevant. He contends that the clean slate analysis of the world as used in the enlightenment can never allow us a realistic view of the world as in our daily lives there is no way we can ignore them.