Standard WHI.34..........................................................................................................................Standard WHI.36

Explain how the Enlightenment contributed to the growth of democratic principles of government, a stress on reason and progress, and the replacement of a theocentric interpretation of the universe with a secular interpretation.

Mary Astell, early English feminist
Mary Astell, early English feminist

Topics on the Page

Notable Philosophers and Their Works
  • Democratic Principles of Government
  • Stress on Reason and Progress
  • Secular Interpretations
The Age of Enlightenment and the Political Empowerment of Women
Lesson Plans

Focus Question: How did the Enlightenment contribute to the growth of democratic principles of government?

timeline2_rus.svg.pngChronological list of The Enlightenment's most notable philosophers and their works
  • 1651 Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan
  • 1690 John Locke: Two Treatises on Government
  • 1697 Mary Astell wrote Serious Proposal to the Ladies,
    • It proclaimed that women needed to be better educated
  • 1721 Montesquieu: Persian Letters.
  • 1733 Voltaire: Philosophic Letters to the English.
    • A criticism of the problems that beset France.
  • 1739-40 Hume: Treaties on Human Nature.
  • 1748 Montesquieu: The Spirit of Laws.
    • It argued that the condition of the country would determine its political and social structure.
  • 1751 Voltaire: The Age of Louis XIV.
  • 1751-65 Diderot: The Encyclopedia.
1754 The French and Indian War begins
  • 1758 Voltaire: Candide.
  • 1762 Rousseau: The Social Contract and Emile.
    • Both were influential. The Social Contract was a philosophical attempt to unite the liberty of the individual with the authority of the government.
  • 1763 Voltaire: Treaties on Toleration
1763 The French and Indian War ends; Great Britain wins decisively.
  • 1764 Beccaria: On Crimes and Punishment.
  • 1770 Holbach: Systems of Nature.
    • It expounded that the universe is made up of both matter and motion.
  • 1774 The Declaration of Independence is drafted.
1775 The American Revolution begins.
  • 1776 The Wealth of Nations is published by Adam Smith.
1783 The American Revolution ends.
  • 1784 Immanuel Kant: Critique of Pure Reason. Illustrates his analysis of the human mind and how it relates to nature.
  • 1787 Marquis de Condorcet publishes On The Admission to the Rights of Citizenship.
    • He states that women have the same natural rights as men.
1789 The French Revolution Begins
  • 1791 Olympe do Gouges: Declaration of the Rights of Women
  • 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of The Rights of Women
  • 1791 Thomas Paine: Rights of Man
  • 1794 Thomas Paine: The Age of Reason

timeline2_rus.svg.pngHere is an interactive timeline of Enlightenment Philosophy

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 12.30.24 PM.pngClick here for a lesson plan and outline for The Age of Revolution.

Here is a link to a comprehensive website on The Age of Enlightenment. This page includes basic background, as well as links to several of the most important primary sources of the period. As well as a detailed list of useful web resources.

Click here for more background on the Enlightenment and its origins.

Click here for an essay "Enlightenment throughout Europe"

Democratic Principles of Government

Society is a contract between individuals and a larger entity. The social contract theory argues that governments are created by the people in return for needs, such as safety from crime, poverty, and illiteracy. Two main theories came from this: divine right and natural law. John Locke argued a government could only be legitimate if it protected the idea of social contract theory. A video Breakdown of the subject can be seen here

primary_sources.PNGThe Declaration of Independence reflects Enlightenment philosophy, including the concept of self-determination. Locke also believed that a government should have a system of checks and balances.

Click here for a link on American Enlightenment thought, and see how it is similar and different to that of European thought.

Following the Declaration of independence, The Declaration of the Rights of Man, was produced in 1789 and set for similar principles that would inspire the French Revolution.

Thomas Hobbes believed if natural law could be used to bolster the position of the monarchy it could also be used to assert the rights of subjects within the monarch.
external image 200px-Paperback_book_black_gal.svg.pngThis is found in his Leviathan. In this view, human beings are born with certain natural rights, and governments are established strictly for the purpose of protecting those rights.

Multimedia.png Check out this video that explains what the impact of Enlightenment on Democracy was.

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Stress on Reason and Progress

The Enlightenment advocated reason and believed that there is a systematic routine for progress.
  • Rousseau believed that man was good by nature and was simply corrupted by society.

  • He argued that the arts and sciences had not been beneficial to humankind because they were not human needs, but rather a result of pride and vanity.

  • He believed that knowledge made governments more powerful and crushed individual liberties.
  • Descartes thought that only knowledge of eternal truths like mathematics could be reached through reason alone. Other knowledge required experience of the world, aided by the scientific method.

Secular Interpretations

The Enlightenment was a time when the solar system was really discovered.
  • This was through the calculation of orbits, the discovery of the first planet since antiquity, and the calculation of the mass of the sun using Newton's theory of universal gravitation. These changes in the philosophy of science influenced both religious and secular ideas.
    • Before the Enlightenment, there was a Theocentricism belief of the universe. Theocentricism is the belief that God is the central aspect of our existence.
    • During the Age of Enlightenment, Secularism emerged. Secularism is an idea that religious issues should not be the basis of politics. Separation of church and state calls for the government and religious institutions is kept from each other.

The Enlightenment was a European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries in which ideas concerning God, reason, nature, and man were synthesized into a worldview that gained wide assent and that instigated revolutionary developments in art, philosophy, and politics.
  • Central to Enlightenment thought were the use and the celebration of reason, the power by which man understands the universe and improves his own condition.
  • The Enlightenment contributed to man's search for knowledge, freedom, and happiness. As opposed to living in society being told what to do by church and state, the Enlightenment caused people to question church and state and at times defy them.

The intellectual and political edifice of Christianity, seemingly impregnable in the European Middle Ages, fell in turn to the assaults made on it by humanism, the Renaissance, and the Protestant Reformation.

The sky according to Copernicus
The sky according to Copernicus

Humanism bred the experimental science of Francis Bacon, Nicolaus Copernicus, and Galileo and the mathematical rigor of René Descartes, G.W. Leibniz, and Sir Isaac Newton.

The Renaissance rediscovered much of classical culture and revived the notion of man as a creative being, while the Reformation, more directly but in the long run no less effectively, challenged the monolithic authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

For Luther as for Bacon or Descartes, the way to truth lay in the application of human reason. Received authority, whether of Ptolemy in the sciences or of the church in matters of the spirit, was to be subject to the probings of unfettered minds.

Click here to learn more about the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment produced the first modern secularized theories of psychology and ethics.

John Locke conceived of the human mind as being at birth a tabula rasa, a blank slate on which experience wrote freely and boldly, creating the individual character according to the individual experience of the world.

Supposed innate qualities such as goodness or original sin had no reality.

In a darker vein, Thomas Hobbes portrayed man as moved solely by considerations of his own pleasure and pain. The notion of man as neither good nor bad but interested principally in survival and the maximization of his own pleasure led to radical political theories. Where the state had once been viewed as an earthly approximation of an eternal order, with the city of man modeled on the city of God, now it came to be seen as a mutually beneficial arrangement among men aimed at protecting the natural rights and self-interest of each.

Female_Rose.pngThe Age of Enlightenment and the Political Empowerment of Women

The 1700's provided the world with some of the most influential philosophical and political achievements in history.
  • While the writings of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, as well as the many others, can be thought of as the genesis of what would become the American Revolution and the French Revolution and end with widespread political freedom and the birth of modern political theory.
  • However, another revolutionary influence of the age of reason was the introduction of the idea of the political empowerment of women.

  • Although the Age Of Enlightenment brought about great change in the ways people thought about themselves and the world, it did not result in a drastic change for the everyday lives of women in society. It did however lead to the creation of feminism, the idea that women should be equal to men in all aspects of life, and gave way to some very influential female thinkers such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympe De Gouges.
  • Click here for a video on Olympe De Gouges and the rights of women

In addition to Condorcet, other relevant philosophers and writers on the changing views of women included

Quill_and_ink.pngMary Astell from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Influential Biography page on Olympe de Gouges

Mary Wollstonecraft
Wollstonecraft was a British writer and political activist and is considered the mother of liberal Feminism, her 1792 work titled A Vindication of the Rights of Women was the first of its kind in that it called for women to be educated and argued for their social and political equality. Click here for a lecture video on the subject.
    • Click here for an engaging lesson plan debating the ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft and Rousseau.
      • Click here to watch a 3-minute video on the philosophy of Mary Wollstonecraft.

Click here for a power point presentation on Women of the Enlightenment by Jennifer Boyer-Switala a history teacher at Lewisburg High School

Lesson Plans and Additional Resources

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Lesson plans for teaching the enlightenment and its effects to students of all ages.

Mr. Donn's webpage for the Enlightenment

Awesome Study Guide for Scientific Revolution

Multiculture persists through the Enlightenment

For a lesson plan on John Locke's principles, click here for a teachers' guide.