Saturday, 7 August 2021



The Enlightenment was a period of much intellectual and social growth. The way people looked at the world changed. During the Enlightenment, people started to believe that all men were free people. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen states “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.” This was a new concept at the time. People had previously not thought of every person as being equal. Everyone was equal and free to do as they wished, within certain guidelines. This allowed people to search the world around them and create new ideas and inventions. Now, people began to believe that one’s actions should be made to help the common good. The people of the time were able to explore their new world as long as they were not hurting the common good of their country.

The concept of all people being equal was one that was new to the people of the age of Enlightenment. Equality would grant all men in their government and let them explore the world around them. Jean-Jacques Rousseau demonstrates how the ideals of society were changing, how politics had been viewed before the Enlightenment. Only the nobles or other high officials were allowed to participate in politics. His reply to that answer shows that the Enlightenment thinkers believed they had the same rights as anyone else to participate in politics and government. The Enlightenment thinkers wanted everyone to have the same political rights. The views of the Enlightenment thinkers had the common good, or what was good for all people, as one of their priorities.

The Enlightenment thinkers knew that they should have an equal say in the government. But only the upper classes ruled, and they were unfair to the lower classes of people. This system did not make sense, because the lower classes were the majority of the people and did most of the work. The system that was in place created hostility towards the upper classes. The desire of the people to have their own rule in a representational form of government led to the unrest that caused the American Revolution (1775-1783), French Revolution (1789-1799) and England’s Glorious Revolution (1688-1689). The new governments that arose from these revolutions were more in touch with the needs of the people than their monarchial predecessors had been. The revolutionaries had so much bitterness towards those people with the power, that they went over the edge and treated those in power the same way they had been treated. These changes, however, allowed the common people much more freedom to do as they pleased, gave the common people more of a say in politics and also broke down some of the walls that separated the classes. Voltaire agreed that the upper classes and had too much power. He depicts those people from the upper two classes as being cruel and unjust.

The people of the Enlightenment wanted freedom which allowed them to pursue new fields of learning and broaden their knowledge. This led to much new advancement in the sciences. The fields of science were rapidly advancing, because of the new freedom that was part of the cause of the Enlightenment thinkers. But, along with the new rights and freedoms people were to be acquired, there would be new duties that they would also have.

The Enlightenment was an exciting period of time. The great thinkers of the time period brought some very radical changes into the world. They based all of their ideals on the principle that are men are equal. As a result of the freedoms they wanted, people would be able to do as they pleased and further the sciences, as long as it did not hurt the common good. They led the world into several revolutions that brought about great change. The people of the Enlightenment wanted to break down the barriers that separated the classes and shift the balance of power to the people. They had to make sacrifices as a result of the new privileges they gained, but it was at a price that everyone was willing to pay. They were willing to sacrifice for the common good, because it would benefit the majority. The ideals and ideas the Enlightenment sparked helped to shape the society of today.


Enlightenment thinkers, who believed that reason would lead to universal and objective truths, criticized the institutions of absolute monarchy and the established church [the Catholic Church], which were the controlling sources of government and learning. This criticism was based upon the abuses of both institutions. Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu, and Rousseau were contributors and their works was a declaration of intellectual independence for men of all social classes in Europe which would allow the inquisitive to learn without having to rely upon the nobleman or the priest. The thinking of the Enlightenment philosophers helped to affect the French Revolution.

The Enlightenment was the Age of Reason; the leading thinkers were French: Voltaire, Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau’s social contract, the proposal that legitimate political authority must emanate from a social contract agreed upon by every citizen with the purpose of the mutual protection of all.

Thus, the group collectively is more important than each individual that makes it up. The sovereign and the general will are more important than its subjects and their particular wills.

England, too, had its share of great thinkers during this period as well: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, and Jeremy Bentham. Of these men, John Locke is the most prominent known as “The Father of Classical Liberalism.” Like Rousseau, he believed that limits must be placed upon government. His theory of the natural rights of men placed emphasis upon the individual and argued that governments should have only limited powers. Like Rousseau, Locke believed that once a government usurps too much power, it should be overthrown by its citizens. Locke was also a proponent of religious tolerance.

Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher made monumental contributions in ethics, aesthetics, epistemology, and metaphysics; for Kant’s writings influenced nearly every philosophical movement that followed his time, making him one of the central personages of modern philosophy.


Immanuel Kant: What is Enlightenment? 1784 ~ Link

BASO-1 Introduction to Sociology-1, BLOCK-1 Sociology Discipline and Perspective ~ Link

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