What is the Enlightenment?

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Updated: May 06, 2020
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What is the Enlightenment? It is more than just the commence of the dark ages, it was the basis for all free intellectual human development and the development of the fundamentals of science as we know it today. It was the age of the scientific revolution, the age of replacing darkness. The outlook on everyday lives were overturned from superstition and blind faith to reason and science. It began with a snowball effect of many small advances, which triggered the larger ones. With centuries of mistreatment from the monarchies and churches, the citizens had become unhappy and it was a time of change for when the most intelligent and vocal individuals spoke out. Such as many well known Philosophers, like Immanuel Kant. He responds to the broad question posed a year prior, “What is the Enlightenment? It all began with studies in the fields of earth science and astronomy.

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The small flame began to burn when, Galileo made it apparent that the entire universe does not revolve around us humans. His invention of the telescope allowed him to determine the planets revolved around the sun not earth. Moreover, Johannes Kepler discovered the orbits of the planets are in an elliptical pattern, not a circle, this disproved the churches perspective that the symbol of the circle meant perfection. These broke the laws and dynamics of religion which threatened the overall credibility in the doctrines of religion itself. Another major influence to the Enlightenment was the work of Sir Isaac Newton. He had outlined the three laws of gravity and introduced the scientific method, which, not only would state a law, but the law itself had to be proven over and over. This allowed individuals to test their own theories of self interest, enabling them to expand their minds and intellectual thoughts. Scientists received surrounding prejudice from the community of religious individuals because they felt threatened by the attempt of science to explain faith.

After the impact of the 30 Years War,  the Holy Roman Empire had dismantled and gave majority of the power to France. In response, the treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648. This led to the decline of the Holy Roman Empire, which allowed each state to choose their own religion. This was the start to the end of dogma. The peak of the enlightenment was a time in between the Glorious Revolution and the French Revolution. After succeeding in the Glorious Revolution, James II and William and Mary of Orange took over the throne and they signed the bill of rights, which gave more freedom to the people, by equally distributing the power amongst parliament and the monarchy. In result of the Glorious Revolution, philosophers all sought to the power of reason and sought to discover natural laws which governed their society.

(Many Philosophers, like Kant, published their intellect perceptions of the way civil freedom should be. Without the help of these scholar philosophers there might’ve not oben was to help shake the oblivious nonage of men. SuchThomas Hobbes published the Leviathan in 1651, he took a sociological perspective, his perspective of a social contract, people by nature are self serving and preoccupied with gathering limited resources. Also stated that the person with absolute authority should be responsible for ensuring the protection and prosperity of his people. In 1748, Montesquieu going upon John Locke’s work, writes “the Spirit of the Laws he focused on the separation of powers, he stated no part of government should have too much power over a state. The government should have divisions.

Diderot writes the “Encyclopedia he wrote 35 volumes which spread throughout the people through the press, he praised the ideas on the Enlightenment in his book. Was only interested in collecting as much knowledge for the book. This allowed the ideas of enlightenment to spread all throughout europe. Adam Smith publishes his “the Wealth of Nations and was the first man to advocate the free market, he states that if the market were free of government regulation the participants would become richer. He invented the term Laissez-Faire.)(idk if i wanna keep all this)

In Immanuel Kant’s essay he responds the the question, “What is the Enlightenment?

He states, “Enlightenment is the man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.(30).

In this period man lacks the courage to think, decide for himself without the guidance from another. It is because churches have distinguished themselves as guardians, it had become so comfortable for man to accept to only be a minor. Although, it was difficult to emerge from this state, Kant argues the only way for man to enlighten himself is by cultivating the mind, to reshape its process of thought. His motto was “Sapere Aude!(30). which means dare to be wise, during this age it was only the strongest intellectually and vocally which spoke out against the government.

Kant believes the government should follow along the guidelines of his moral philosophy, the concept of Autonomy. The concept of autonomy is simply the right of oneself to make decisions excluding the intervenance of others, to make decisions through independence of the mind after a personal reflection, it is the moral right to have the control over the events in oneself life. During this time, power was transitioning farther from totalitarianism the more and more enlightened society became. Kant preferred the rulers to allow there subjects to think as they please and overall just required to protect their monarchy, this can tie into Kant’s belief of which he created the categorical imperative. Allowing society to have free will and open mindness to critic the governing, means the ruler would have to have his society’s best interest at heart in order to have the greatest amount of happiness amongst his people to do what is moral even his it isn’t in his best interests.

Kant introduces this topic discussed as the Categorical Imperative in his book Metaphysics of morals, how his Categorical Imperative works is, the decisions being made which you’re about to make should be moral even if there is lack of personal desire and interest to the decision. It is simply decided to what is a moral universal law. Humans a rational beings capable of making rational decisions and should not be used as a tool to another.

Kant is widely supportive Frederick the great’s governing system and uses him a prime example in his essay. He states it is the monarchs job to ensure one man does not prohibit the salvation of another man. And for rulers that would not have interest in playing guardian of the arts and sciences, a ruler which favors these will go to greater extent. “A prince considers his duty not to dictate anything to his subjects in religious matters, but to leave them to complete freedom. If he repudiates the arrogant word “tolerant, he is himself is enlightened(31). He should not dictate anything religious to his people, it is none of his business, he is to leave them to complete freedom. Along with acting as a tolerant, a enlightened ruler of which commands a disciplined army to ensure public safety.

The emergence from self-imposed nonage is diminishing. In this respect our age is the age of enlightenment and the century of Frederick the Great (31).Frederick the Great he grew up studying sciences and mathematics and he expanded his knowledge to all different fields, to study the writers and thinkers of the century. When it came time for him to take the throne he he allowed his subjects to have free religion and use of sciences and art because he believed it was what was best for his society of rational humans. Kant states, friedrich “deserves to be praised by a grateful world and posterity as that man who was the first to liberate mankind from dependance (31). Friedrich assured that total independence from religious dogma would be a principle in the public sphere of his nation. He provided religious tolerance, to allow his citizens to express their beliefs without the fear of being punished by the religious authorities. This created freedom of the press, which allowed writers journalists scholars to publish any materials to express their opinions or to start a debate. The press became a platform for debate and social inquires, people are finally able to intervene with the politics of their nation. This new political sphere was developed among Prussia only strengthening the importance of Autonomy.

The prussian public had begun an awakening, away from dogmatism, totalitarianism, and prejudice. Kant states that an awakening can simply begin with the freedom, freedom to make public use of one’s reason in all matters. “This enlightenment requires nothing but freedom ,freedom to make public use of one’s reason to all matters(31). The public had become a place for expanding knowledge and thought. In relation to the new public spheres, salons were commonly were met at, they provided a meeting place for intellectual conversations, they were meetings with scholars, wealthy laymen to discuss the topics of and ideas of philosophy, politics, and religion. Some significant philosopher attendees were voltaire, montesquieu, diderot, rousseau. The enlightenment culture would be almost impossible without the use of a public sphere, abling society to discuss, argue and explore intellectual ideas and concepts. Without the combination of culture, the intellectual aquiry of arts and other manifestations and political to express judgement over sensible circumstances, the public sphere would not be adequate for enlightenment.

Kant often uses the term “nonage which is correlation to a period of immaturity. It is hard to begin self-salvation and to escape nonage when it has become second-nature, it has become too comfortable. Once man has thrown off nonage, there will be a spread of appreciation of one’s value, and the duty to think for oneself. Dogmas and formulas pressured on by the monarchies and church are only everlasting nonage, inhibiting natural gift of intellectual thought. He states the only way to escape from nonage is by cultivating the mind.

The churches paternalism has led to a closed minded society, hindered from the opportunity to think for themselves. The churches and monarchies have been shielding the people of the freedom of their own intellect. Kant argues, the church is a political force of which uses the doctrine to constrain the minds of human behavior, by defining and binding these doctrines the church is able to control the growth of reason. And as for a pastor, is one to swear on oath on a unalterable doctrine, a contract to which only keeps enlightenment further from humanity. This nonage created by religion is a crime against human natures destiny to progress. But as a philosopher, he speaks, “it is in your own-self interest not to dissent to a set of beliefs and hinder your development of reason. During this time, it was very difficult for the minors to transition of thinking outside the church and on their own.

When asked “are we living in the enlightenment age? Kant answers, no, we are not in the Enlightenment age, we are in the age of enlightenment, it is a slowly gradually increasing process of which individuals are now reaching salvation. The public will only reach enlightenment slowly, the field of working towards religious truth is now opened. The gradual great social change had begun. But as for the process of enlightenment, it will never be complete because there is constant evolvement of human understanding. Enlightenment is the freedom to think and make use of ones reason in all matters. Now that free thought has acted upon man, the guardians had no other option but to treat man with dignity.

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What Is The Enlightenment?. (2020, May 06). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/what-is-the-enlightenment/