The Philosophical DictionaryThe Enlightenment
- . An eighteenth-century movement that placed great emphasis on the use of reason in the development of philosophical, social, political, and scientific knowledge. Enlightenment philosophers include Bayle, Hume, Wollstonecraft, Kant, and many lesser figures.
- . The Age of Enlightenment (from the German word Aufklärung, meaning "Enlightenment") refers to either the eighteenth century in European and American philosophy, or the longer period including the seventeenth century and the Age of Reason. It can more narrowly refer to the historical intellectual movement The Enlightenment, which advocated Reason as a means to establishing an authoritative system of aesthetics, ethics, government, and logic, which would allow human beings to obtain objective truth about the universe. Emboldened by the revolution in physics commenced by Newtonian kinematics, Enlightenment thinkers argued that same kind of systematic thinking could apply to all forms of human activity. The Enlightenment is often closely linked with the Scientific Revolution, as both movements emphasized empiricism, reason, science, and rationality.
- The intellectual leaders regarded themselves as a courageous elite who would lead the world into progress from a long period of doubtful tradition, irrationality, superstition, and tyranny, which they imputed to the Dark Ages. The movement helped create the intellectual framework for the American and French Revolutions, the Latin American independence movement, and the Polish Constitution of May 3; and led to the rise of classical liberalism,democracy and capitalism. It is matched with the high baroque and classical eras in music, and the neo-classical period in the arts; it receives contemporary attention as being one of the central models for many movements in the modern period.
- The Enlightenment influenced the Jewish Haskalah, which in Western Europe and particularly in Germany resulted in the elevation and eventual replacement of Yiddish by Hebrew, as well as the Jewish reform and Zionist Nationalist movements.
- The Enlightenment was not a movement that solely occurred in Germany and France, but spread into other countries such as Spain and England as well. Many of the Founding Fathers of the United States were also heavily influenced by Enlightenment era ideas, particularly in the religious (Deism), economic ( the "free market"), and governmental (United States Bill of Rights) spheres.
- As we begin our study of sociological theory, we will be entering the period known as the Enlightenment. We will learn about some of the key persons who influenced the social thought of the classical and contemporary theorists included in our textbooks. By learning the terms described here you will be prepared to study the social thought of the Enlightenment.
- So, don your Enlightenment costume and join the party!
Some Key Philosophers of the Enlightenment
Our textbook, Classical Sociological Theory, begins by presenting the social thought of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In describing their work it is necessary to know some key points of science and social thought advanced by René Descartes, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and Georg Hegel.