Hope > The Enlightenment
> A Summary of what happened...
The 18th-century Enlightenment may be represented as a new way of thinking about mankind and the environment. The main proponents of this intellectual movement, the philosophes, were primarily men of letters - men like Voltaire, Locke, Diderot, Montesquieu and Rousseau - but their views stemmed from the scientific revolution of the previous century. The discoveries of Galileo, Kepler and Newton in physics and cosmology revealed a universe that was infinite, yet governed by universal laws that could be discovered by the human intelligence.
The philosophes were convinced that all creation was similarity rational, so that it was possible for man to uncover laws which regulated society, politics, the economy, and even morality. Once understood these laws would teach mankind not only what we are, but what we ought to be and do.
For the philosophes, much of Western Christian civilization was incompatible with such a rational order. The absolute monarchy, the aristocratic society which dated from the Middle Ages, the established church, all came under their scrutiny. 'Despotism, feudalism, clericalism' became the objects of their criticism and satire.
Though some of their more daring ideas never passed the censor, the philosophes conveyed their message to the public through the printed word. Their greatest monument was the Encyclopédie - entitled 'A Rational Dictionary of the Arts and the Sciences' and edited by Denis Diderot. The first volume appeared in 1752, the last of 35 in 1780, and it expressed the author's pride in the European achievement since the Renaissance.
From the evils of 'despotism, feudalism, clericalism' the main people of the Revolution adapted the watchword of 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity', drawing on notions from the Philosophes and the Enlightenment. Many important documents of the Revolution (The Declaration of the Rights of Man, The Constitution of 1791) owe debt to Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau.
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John Locke's central ideas were that of:
Baron de Montesquieu's central ideas were that of:
François Marie Arouet, more commonly known as Voltaire, worked to incorporate philosophy as it was practiced by the English, into French intellectual life. He would attack aristocracy, as such was imprisoned in the Bastille. He persisted on persuading for religious tolerance within society. He believed that all religions and practices were equal as they were all drawn from the same source, the need for something to believe in. Many of his books that we still read today have as their theme religious tolerance.
Jean Jacques Rousseau merely recycled older Enlightenment ideas, but was able to spark the public with his ability to imply the obvious. The central idea he dealt with most is summed up in the first sentence of his most famous work, The Social Contract: "Man is born free but everywhere is in chains." This contract of his plays on the feudal system, but places it more into a governmental role. Once rulers cease to protect the ruled, the social contract is broken and the governed are free to choose another set of governors or magistrates. This became the primary force behind the Declaration of Independence.