Enlightenment definition/Top Enlightenment Ideas/Characteristics

The Enlightenment was a philosophical and intellectual movement that took place between the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe, especially in France. Enlightenment thinkers advocated individual freedoms and the use of reason to validate knowledge. Enlightenment definition

Also called the “Century of Enlightenment” , the Enlightenment movement represents the rupture of ecclesiastical knowledge, that is, the domination that the Catholic Church exercised over knowledge. And it gives way to scientific knowledge, which is acquired through rationality.

The Enlightenment is a movement of the Modern Age that broke with theocentrism – a doctrine that puts God at the center of everything – and started to see the individual as the center of knowledge.

The Enlightenment can be understood as a break with the past and the beginning of a phase of human progress . This phase is marked by a revolution in science, the arts, politics, and legal doctrine, for example. Enlightenment definition

The Enlightenment wanted to be freed from the darkness and obscurity provided by absolutist regimes and the influence of the Catholic Church. Many of them were against established religion, but they were not atheists, they believed that man would reach God through reason.

Contrary to what religion preached, the Enlightenment intellectuals defended that man was the holder of his own destiny and that reason should be used to understand human nature.

Reason was, therefore, a central element of Enlightenment ideals, after all, only rationality could validate knowledge . They believed that education, science and knowledge were the key to this liberation.

This understanding was in opposition to knowledge based on religious beliefs and mysticisms, which for the Enlightenment philosophers, blocked the progress of humanity. Enlightenment definition

Top Enlightenment Ideas

  • End of church dominion over knowledge
  • Reason as a driver of knowledge
  • Individual as the center of knowledge

Characteristics of the Enlightenment

  • Defense of rational knowledge;
  • Opposition to mercantilism and monarchical absolutism;
  • Supported by the bourgeoisie;
  • Defense of the natural rights of the individual (freedom and free possession of goods, for example);
  • God is present in nature and in man himself;
  • Defense of economic freedom (without State interference);
  • Advocacy for greater political freedom;
  • Anthropocentrism. Enlightenment definition

Importance of Enlightenment

science progress

During this period, knowledge breaks the boundaries of imagination and starts to be built based on scientific observations, with empirical experiments.

It was at that moment that man discovered how the orbits of the planets and the blood circulation in the human body worked. The creation of the microscope allowed the field of view to be widened and the understanding of nature to be expanded. Enlightenment definition

Robert Hooke (1635-1703) created the compound microscope and is considered the discoverer of the cell.

Electricity, the formation process of planet Earth, the working principle of vaccines, the existence of bacteria and protozoa and the law of universal gravitation were discovered.

All these advances in science were fundamental to making the Industrial Revolution possible years later.

policy development

Illuminists were also responsible for the evolution of political thought and the role of the state in society. In general, these thinkers were opposed to absolutist regimes, in which a small portion of the population enjoyed privileges and the rest of the population was oppressed. Enlightenment definition

Central to the Enlightenment’s political discussions were the individual liberties of citizens. For these philosophers, the State should guarantee individual rights, freedom of expression, legal equality, justice and ownership of goods.

The democratizing principles, however, were not applied in all countries influenced by Enlightenment ideals. In some countries, what is conventionally called “enlightened despotism” was formed, an absolutist political system that implemented some ideas of the Enlightenment .

In these countries, monarchs continued to exercise their absolute power, but they had to know the Enlightenment principles or be advised by philosophers of that current.

In these cases, however, no reforms were carried out to restructure society or guarantee greater participation by the people in political decisions. Enlightenment definition

Enlightenment thinkers

Meet some of the leading Enlightenment philosophers and their ideas:

Voltaire (1694 – 1778)

Voltaire, pseudonym of François-Marie Arouet, was a French philosopher member of the bourgeoisie. An ardent critic of absolutism and the power exercised by the Catholic Church, the pillar of his philosophy was freedom of expression and thought . Enlightenment definition

He argued that the State should be a constitutional monarchy and that the monarch should be advised by philosophers. Voltaire was an admirer of the English Constitution and in his work “Philosophical Letters” compared religious tolerance and freedom of expression in England to backward French society.

Montesquieu (1689 – 1755)

French and linked to the aristocracy, Montesquieu developed in his main work – “The Spirit of Laws” – the Doctrine of the Three Powers. Most modern states today have their structure based on this idea.

This doctrine defends the division of power between the legislature, executive and judiciary. For the philosopher, “every man who has power is tempted to abuse it”, thus, the separation of powers would be a way to curb such abuses. Enlightenment definition

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778)

Rousseau was born in Switzerland but lived most of her life in France. The philosopher was a defender of democracy and a critic of private property , which for her was the origin of inequalities and social evils.

His main work was “Social Contract”, where he describes that in order to build a harmonious society, people should obey the general will. This would only be possible with a Social Contract , according to which men should give up some rights in favor of the community.

The Origin of Enlightenment

During the Middle Ages, between the 5th and 15th centuries, European society was marked by the strong influence of the Catholic Church .

The church defended a theocentric view of society and much of the knowledge was the result of religious beliefs, prophecies and people’s own imagination. Enlightenment definition

Between the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Modern Age, the progress of science begins to call into question much knowledge and the very understanding of the world proposed by religion.

The discovery that the Earth was not the center of the universe, for example, undermined the supremacy of ecclesiastical knowledge.

The absolutist regime was also another factor of dissatisfaction for a large part of the population. These societies were divided into estates and the clergy and nobility – who were at the top of the social pyramid – enjoyed privileges, which were supported by the taxes of the people. Enlightenment definition

This set of discontents on the part of the population would lead to the French Revolution, which was inspired by Enlightenment ideas and represents the main milestone of this intellectual movement.

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