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Philosophy in the Age of Reason

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1 Philosophy in the Age of Reason
THE ENLIGHTENMENT Philosophy in the Age of Reason

2 The Scientific Revolution
The Scientific Revolution took place in Europe between the 17th and 18th centuries. During this period in history there were several important scientific discoveries that began to change the way most people interpret the world: Natural Law. One of the most famous scientists of this time period was Isaac Newton, who made some significant contributions to the world of physics and mathematics (i.e., “three laws of motion,” “universal gravitation,” “calculus,” etc.).

3 The Enlightenment Begins
The new scientific discoveries convinced educated Europeans of the power of human reason. Natural law (“rules discoverable by reason”), the principle that drove the Scientific Revolution, inspired social scientists to use the power of reasoning to better understand and solve social, economic, and political problems. Using the methods of this new science, reformers thus set out to study human behavior and solve the problems of society. This new way of thinking was called “The Enlightenment” because human minds became “enlightened” by reason. During this time new important thinkers emerged, such as Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Voltaire.

4 Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher, believed that only a powerful government could ensure an orderly society. Hobbes argued that people were “naturally cruel, greedy, and selfish.” And if not strictly controlled, they would fight, rob, and oppress one another. To escape this “brutish life” people would have to entered into a social contract by which they’d give up their freedom for an organized society—with the help of a powerful (absolute) government.

5 John Locke Locke believed that people were naturally reasonable and moral and that they have certain natural rights—which belonged to all humans from birth. Locke’s natural rights included: the right to life, liberty, and property. The best type of government, according to Locke, had to have limited power and was accepted by all citizens. Locke proposed that a government had an obligation to the people it represented and if it failed, the people had the right to overthrow that government and replace it with another one.

6 Montesquieu The Enlightenment ideas quickly spread into France.
The French thinkers were known as the “philosophes.” Montesquieu, a French philosopher, criticized the idea of absolute monarchy and advanced the idea of separation of powers in government. Montesquieu felt that the best way to protect liberty was to divide the various functions of the government among three different branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. The three different branches should be able to check each other (“checks and balances”) in order to prevent abuses.

7 Voltaire & Rousseau Voltaire, another French enlightened philosopher, defended the principles of freedom of speech and fought inequality, injustice, and superstition in society. He also targeted corrupt government officials and idle aristocrats. Voltaire was also against the slave trade and religious prejudice. Rousseau believed that people in their natural state were basically good but became corrupted by the evils of society, especially the unequal distribution of property. He proposed that some limitations on society were necessary but they should be minimal and that only governments that had been freely elected should impose such controls. Rousseau also felt that the good of the community should be placed above individual interests.

8 New Economic Ideas The new French economists (physiocrats) inspired by the Philosophes, based their new thinking on natural laws. Physiocrats rejected mercantilism (that is, government regulation of the economy) in favor of a policy known as “laissez faire,” which promoted the idea of allowing businesses to operate with little or no government inter-ference. They also supported free trade and opposed tariffs. Scottish economist Adam Smith, in his work The Wealth of Nations, argued that free market should be allowed to regulate business activity. He was a strong supporter of the laissez faire policy.

9 Enlightenment Ideas Spread
Paris, France became the heart of the Enlightenment. Enlightenment ideas quickly spread through many levels of society in Europe. During the Middle Ages, most Europeans had accepted without question a society based on divine-right rule, a strict class system, and a belief in heavenly reward for earthly suffering. But in the Age of Reason such ideas seemed unscientific and irrational. During this time period the Enlightenment would have a profound influence not only on science but on the arts as well (music, literature, theatre, architecture). Even some European monarchs studied the ideas of the Enlightened philosophers and implemented some of them (Catherine the Great of Russia, Frederick the Great of Prussia).

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