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The major changes that occurred in europe and america during the enlightenment period

The Enlightenment was both a movement and a state of mind. The term represents a phase in the intellectual history of Europe, but it also serves to define programs of reform in which influential literati, inspired by a common faith in the possibility… A brief treatment of the Enlightenment follows. For full treatment, see Europe, history of: The powers and uses of reason had first been explored by the philosophers of ancient Greece.

Enlightenment

The Romans adopted and preserved much of Greek culturenotably including the ideas of a rational natural order and natural law. Amid the turmoil of empire, however, a new concern arose for personal salvationand the way was paved for the triumph of the Christian religion. Christian thinkers gradually found uses for their Greco-Roman heritage. The system of thought known as Scholasticismculminating in the work of Thomas Aquinasresurrected reason as a tool of understanding but subordinated it to spiritual revelation and the revealed truths of Christianity.

The intellectual and political edifice of Christianity, seemingly impregnable in the Middle Agesfell in turn to the assaults made on it by humanismthe Renaissanceand the Protestant Reformation. The Renaissance rediscovered much of Classical culture and revived the notion of humans as creative beings, and the Reformation, more directly but in the long run no less effectively, challenged the monolithic authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

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For Martin Luther as for Bacon or Descartes, the way to truth lay in the application of human reason. Received authority, whether of Ptolemy in the sciences or of the church in matters of the spirit, was to be subject to the probings of unfettered minds. The successful application of reason to any question depended on its correct application—on the development of a methodology of reasoning that would serve as its own guarantee of validity.

Such a methodology was most spectacularly achieved in the sciences and mathematicswhere the logics of induction and deduction made possible the creation of a sweeping new cosmology. The success of Newtonin particular, in capturing in a few mathematical equations the laws that govern the motions of the planetsgave great impetus to a growing faith in the human capacity to attain knowledge.

At the same time, the idea of the universe as a mechanism governed by a few simple—and discoverable—laws had a subversive effect on the concepts of a personal God and individual salvation that were central to Christianity. Inevitably, the method of reason was applied to religion itself.

What was the impact of the Age of Enlightenment?

The product of a search for a natural—rational—religion was Deismwhich, although never an organized cult or movement, conflicted with Christianity for two centuries, especially in England and France. For the Deist, a very few religious truths sufficedand they were truths felt to be manifest to all rational beings: Beyond the natural religion of the Deists lay the more radical products of the application of reason to religion: The Enlightenment produced the first modern secularized theories of psychology and ethics.

John Locke conceived of the human mind as being at birth a tabula rasaa blank slate on which experience wrote freely and boldly, creating the individual character according to the individual experience of the world.

Supposed innate qualities, such as goodness or original sinhad no reality.

ADDITIONAL MEDIA

In a darker vein, Thomas Hobbes portrayed humans as moved solely by considerations of their own pleasure and pain. The notion of humans as neither good nor bad but interested principally in survival and the maximization of their own pleasure led to radical political theories.

  1. This expansion in turn played a major role in the many other transformations—social, political, and cultural—of the early modern age.
  2. Understandably, historians have had difficulty defining the exact place of this complex century in the course of European development.
  3. It coincided with a boom in exploration, trade, marriage and diplomatic excursions... The writings of Benjamin Franklin made many Enlightenment ideas accessible to the general public.

Where the state had once been viewed as an earthly approximation of an eternal order, with the City of Man modeled on the City of God, now it came to be seen as a mutually beneficial arrangement among humans aimed at protecting the natural rights and self-interest of each.

The idea of society as a social contracthowever, contrasted sharply with the realities of actual societies. Thus, the Enlightenment became critical, reforming, and eventually revolutionary.

Locke and Jeremy Bentham in England, MontesquieuVoltaireJean-Jacques RousseauDenis Diderotand Condorcet in France, and Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson in colonial America all contributed to an evolving critique of the arbitrary, authoritarian state and to sketching the outline of a higher form of social organization, based on natural rights and functioning as a political democracy.

7a. The Impact of Enlightenment in Europe

Such powerful ideas found expression as reform in England and as revolution in France and America. The more rarefied the religion of the Deists became, the less it offered those who sought solace or salvation. The celebration of abstract reason provoked contrary spirits to begin exploring the world of sensation and emotion in the cultural movement known as Romanticism.

The Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution severely tested the belief that an egalitarian society could govern itself. Learn More in these related Britannica articles: