An introduction to the philosophes of the enlightenment era

When these modern conditions did not exist, the Enlightenment or something like it did not emerge, simply because there was no need for a new epistemology. The trading house floor, in which people of various nationalities, languages, cultures, religions come together and trade, each in pursuit of his own self-interest, but, through this pursuit, supplying the wants of their respective nations and increasing its wealth, represents for some Enlightenment thinkers the benign, peaceful, universal rational order that they wish to see replace the violent, confessional strife that characterized the then-recent past of Europe.

The Enlightenment: Introduction

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. He holds the inference from the phenomenon of the curious adaptation of means to ends in nature to the existence of an intelligent and beneficent author to be so natural as to be impervious to the philosophical cavils raised by Philo.

Age of Enlightenment

Thus, the good of things, including human beings, for Shaftesbury as for Clarke, is an objective quality that is knowable through reason. Learn More in these related Britannica articles: It is significant that both Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, the two founders of modern moral sense theory, articulate their ethical theory in conjunction with an aesthetic theory.

If our evidence for the truth of propositions about extra-mental material reality is always restricted to mental content, content before the mind, how can we ever be certain that the extra-mental reality is not other than we represent it as being.

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. The Savoyard Vicar continues: As the processes of industrialization, urbanization, and dissemination of education advance in this period, happiness in this life, rather than union with God in the next, becomes the highest end for more and more people.

He credited this century of philosophers as creating not so much an epistemology as a compelling narrative of Enlightenment which explained the ideas of Reason and Natural Rights that would change the culture.

In his recent book, The Enlightenment: Consequently, when established political power violates that law, the people are justified in overthrowing it.

Hume also articulates skepticism with regard to reason in an argument that is anticipated by Bayle. Was the Enlightenment the preserve of an elite, centred on Paris, or a broad current of opinion that the philosophesto some extent, represented and led.

In fact, Descartes argues that all human knowledge not only knowledge of the material world through the senses depends on metaphysical knowledge of God. Through the postulation of a realm of unknowable noumena things in themselves over against the realm of nature as a realm of appearances, Kant manages to make place for practical concepts that are central to our understanding of ourselves even while grounding our scientific knowledge of nature as a domain governed by deterministic causal laws.


Whereas Leibniz exerts his influence through scattered writings on various topics, some of which elaborate plans for a systematic metaphysics which are never executed by Leibniz himself, Wolff exerts his influence on the German Enlightenment through his development of a rationalist system of knowledge in which he attempts to demonstrate all the propositions of science from first principles, known a priori.

By the eighteenth century, a critical mass of philosophical thinking and social custom had emerged, reflecting a newly capitalistic form of exchange and the consequent rise of a middle class.

In On the Reasonableness of ChristianityLocke aims to establish the compatibility of reason and the teachings of Christianity. Madison argues that popular government pure democracy is subject to the evil of factions; in a pure democracy, a majority bound together by a private interest, relative to the whole, has the capacity to impose its particular will on the whole.

The defense of common sense, and the related idea that the results of philosophy ought to be of use to common people, are characteristic ideas of the Enlightenment, particularly pronounced in the Scottish Enlightenment.

The contract consists in the self-alienation by each associate of all rights and possessions to the body politic. Prior to the Enlightenment in the West, ethical reflection begins from and orients itself around religious doctrines concerning God and the afterlife.

The very title of J. First, as implied above, it becomes increasingly implausible that the objective, mind-independent order is really as rationalist ethicists claim it to be.

Given the negative, critical, suspicious attitude of the Enlightenment towards doctrines traditionally regarded as well founded, it is not surprising that Enlightenment thinkers employ skeptical tropes drawn from the ancient skeptical tradition to attack traditional dogmas in science, metaphysics and religion.

The claim that we can apprehend through our unaided reason a universal moral order exactly because moral qualities and relations in particular human freedom and equality belong to the nature of things, is attractive in the Enlightenment for obvious reasons.

In his second set of Boyle lectures, A Discourse Concerning the Unchangeable Obligations of Natural ReligionClarke argues as well that the moral order revealed to us by our natural reason requires the existence of a divine legislator and an afterlife, in which the supreme being rewards virtue and punishes vice.

Thus, a deist typically rejects the divinity of Christ, as repugnant to reason; the deist typically demotes the figure of Jesus from agent of miraculous redemption to extraordinary moral teacher.

But authors such as Spinoza in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus present ways of interpreting scripture according to its spirit, rather than its letter, in order to preserve its authority and truth, thus contributing to the Enlightenment controversy of whether some rationally purified version of the religion handed down in the culture belongs to the true philosophical representation of the world or not; and, if so, what its content is.

The question of how to ground our claims to natural freedom and equality is one of the main philosophical legacies of the Enlightenment. According to a common Enlightenment assumption, as humankind clarifies the laws of nature through the advance of natural science and philosophy, the true moral and political order will be revealed with it.


Thus, the despairing attitude that Hume famously expresses in the conclusion to Book One of the Treatise, as the consequence of his epistemological inquiry, while it clashes with the self-confident and optimistic attitude we associate with the Enlightenment, in fact reflects an essential possibility in a distinctive Enlightenment problematic regarding authority in belief.

Kant follows Rousseau, and disagrees with empiricism in ethics in the period, in emphasizing human freedom, rather than human happiness, as the central orienting concept of practical philosophy.

What were essentially political slogans, designed to delegitimize the ruling class, became, over time, ideals which would not be forgotten, but it would take time for the Enlightenment to become more than the concepts of speculative philosophers and the cant of aspiring politicians to become a gradually unfolding reality that would impact all people, not just white males with property.

The Age of Enlightenment, an introduction

Thus, the despairing attitude that Hume famously expresses in the conclusion to Book One of the Treatise, as the consequence of his epistemological inquiry, while it clashes with the self-confident and optimistic attitude we associate with the Enlightenment, in fact reflects an essential possibility in a distinctive Enlightenment problematic regarding authority in belief.

The ambiguous upshot of the work can be taken to be the impotence of rational criticism in the face of religious belief, rather than the illegitimacy of religious belief in the face of rational criticism.

The investigator determines whether a proposition is dubitable by attempting to construct a possible scenario under which it is false.

Such powerful ideas found expression as reform in England and as revolution in France and America. Two main questions and, relating to each, two schools of thought can be identified. Europe and its tributaries.

However, the liberal conception of the government as properly protecting economic freedom of citizens and private property comes into conflict in the Enlightenment with the value of democracy.

The Enlightenment was a period of profound optimism, a sense that with science and reason—and the consequent shedding of old superstitions—human beings and human society would improve.

You can probably tell already that the Enlightenment was anti-clerical; it was, for the most part, opposed to traditional Catholicism. History of Europe - The Enlightenment: 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 of a better world, outlined specific targets for criticism and.

Enlightenment thinkers called the Philosophes, and to understand how they con-tinue to influence our basic notions about the nature of man and his world. The unit introduces key members of the Philosophes through short excerpts from their works.

The Enlightenment: Introduction

The selections illustrate the social concerns of Enlightenment thinkers in society, politics, and education. The Age of Enlightenment: The 18th Century Philosophers, selected, with Introduction and Commentary (The Mentor Philosophers) [Isaiah Berlin] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers.

Vintage Paperback/5(5). In general terms, the Enlightenment was an intellectual movement, developed mainly in France, Britain and Germany, which advocated freedom, democracy and reason as the primary values of society.

The powers and uses of reason had first been explored by the philosophers of ancient Greece. The Romans adopted and preserved much of Greek culture, notably including the ideas of a rational natural order and natural law.

Italy: The era of Enlightenment .

An introduction to the philosophes of the enlightenment era
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