Major Contributors Of Enlightenment Movement

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The eighteenth century was a period of Enlightenment as well as an intellectual movement and was known as the age of reason. Many philosophers contributed to the term Enlightenment because it was the awakening to a new outlook on life. Intellectuals realized that they could come up with theories and logic on their own without the guidance of another. The seventeenth century was a revolution of scientific break through based off of previous theories throughout the years. This gave intellectuals reason to believe that if philosophers during that time period could come up with new inventions to advance science based off others accomplishments, then reason and the theory of the scientific method could be applied to real life to find laws that will govern human society. The enlightenment was a movement of encouragement to everyone to contemplate and use their own intelligence and reason. Enlightenment thinkers argued that providing reason could end superstitious beliefs and religious skepticism. Faith in literature and the belief that God and a divine king should have absolute power were diminishing. Man began to empower himself and in addition, independence and equality of mankind became more widely spread.

Prime factors to the development of the Enlightenment derived from Issac Newton and John Locke. Issac Newton was known as genius among all species. The intellectuals believed that if they followed his rules of reasoning, they would find ways to govern themselves with natural laws. Along with Newton’s idea of reasoning, John Locke contributed with his essay, Concerning Human Understanding. Locke assumed everyone was born with a blank slate in their mind and their knowledge was formed based off of their environment and experiences they encounter. He alleged that heredity or religion did not play a role in the building of character. Based upon these combined notions and other factors, an era of Enlightenment was born.

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Among the intellectuals during that period who introduced the Enlightenment, a majority were French, social reformers ranging from the upper to the lower class. These intellectuals were also known as philosophes. The philosophes advertised to apply the principle of reason and rational reproach to every aspect of life. One of the first philosophes to contribute to this movement was Charles de Secondat, the baron de Montesquieu. Montesquieu’s work contained the Persian Letters. These letters attacked religion, slavery and the scheme to use reason to liberate humans. His most famous work was The Spirit of the Laws, which was also known as the separation of powers. He believed that England should separate into Legislative, Judicial and Executive powers, which would give each state more freedom and security. This idea later contributed to the United States constitution. The second philosophe and most famous was Francois- Marie Arouet or Voltaire. Voltaire supported religious toleration and was well known for criticizing the traditional religion. He strongly believed in deism along with the vast majority of philosophes. Deism was based on the Newtonian World-machine. They believed that God created the universe however; he did not directly have any power or involvement of running it. They believe the world is structured by the natural laws. Voltaire strongly believed in religious toleration. He supported the notion that there could be a peaceful environment with more then one religion.

Another major contributor to the Enlightenment was the philosophe Denis Diderot. His most famous involvement was the twenty-eighth volume of the Encyclopedia. His work became a solid defense mechanism against old understandings. Diderot’s goal was to change the way people thought and he did precisely just that. In the Encyclopedia he attacked religious superstition as well as promoting religious toleration and social, economic and political reform. Following Diderot was Adam Smith. Adam Smith was a Scottish philosopher who devised the term laissez-faire, which also means let the people do what they choose. Smith attacked the concept of mercantilism in The Wealth of Nations. He came up with three principles of economics, thus included the principle of free trade, labor theory of value and the theory that the state should not interfere in economic troubles. Free trade meant that if another country produced the same product for a cheaper price then it is better to consume it from that country. Smith’s labor theory of value was the image that farmers, merchants and artisans were the true value of the nation. Finally, the principle that the state should not interfere meant that the individual should have economic liberty because the government should only protect, maintain and serve the society. Adam Smith’s principles led to economic liberalism.

A later period of philosophes arose beginning with Jean-Jacques Rosusseau. Rosusseau created the social contract. This social contract basically alleged that people were born with freedom but when they enter society they are conformed by chains and laws that limit everyone. His social contract was a general will that compelled everyone to have self-interest and foster his or her natural intelligence. He believed people should be in touch with the instincts of the heart, which led to the movement of romanticism. Rosusseau raised debate to the idea of gender.

The final major contributor to the Enlightenment was Ceasare Beccaria. He wrote an essay on Crime and Punishments. He believed that imprisonment was a better tactic then torment and brutality. His work along with a growing sentiment against torture led to the decline of capital and corporal punishment.

Many of the philosophes I mentioned along with other contributors helped cultivate the movement of the Enlightenment. The eighteenth century created a new worldview. This movement shaped the world and lead to the improvement of a better society.

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