Enlightenment Of 18th Century Essay Research Paper

Enlightenment Of 18th Century Essay, Research Paper


enlightenment was a great time of change in both Europe and America. Some of the

biggest changes, however, happened in the minds of many and in the writings of

many philosophers. These included some of the beliefs of David Hume, Jean

Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Francois Voltaire. Writers during this time

focused on optimism, which is the opinion to do everything for the best (Chaney

119), and the best for these philosophers was to stretch the minds of the

ordinary. David Hume was Scottish and was born on April 26, 1711 and died in

1776. He states that he was not born into a rich family and was born into the

Calvinist Presbyterian Church. However, after being influenced by the works of

Isaac Newton and John Locke he began to draw back from the Church. He writes in

Enquiry, "The idea of God, as meaning an infinitely intelligent, wise and

good Being, arises from reflecting on the operations of our own mind, and

augmenting, without limit, those qualities of goodness and wisdom." (Pomerleau

214) The questions he brought up against religion were that concrete experiences

must lead us and that we must think about the quality of the stories that were

handed down to us. He wanted everyone to only believe the actions that one

experienced, there has to be proof. He also believed that there were four basic

problems to the stories that we hear. First of all, the facts to the stories are

never the same to everyone. Second, we stretch the truth to make everything

interesting. Third, people who do not understand these stories tend to make

things up. Finally, not all of the religions agree. Therefore, the stories

conflicted each other leaving a person to not know what to believe. He believes

that "Our most holy religion is founded on Faith, not on reason; and it is

a sure method of exposing it to put it to such a trial as it is, by no means,

fitted to endure." (215) Hume also believed in the social contract. This is

that kings are in power because of luck and citizens should have control over

their own power. During Hume’s lifetime a representative government was not

something that countries thrived on. He also thought that the duties of men were

to love children and to pity those that are less fortunate. He also thought that

one should respect other’s properties and keep our promises. Hume argued that we

are born into our family with the knowledge passed on to us, from this point

Hume says that government is only an interference in the lives of people. He

uses the example of American Tribes where no one needs a government to keep

peace within the group (Pomerleau 222). These are the two main points that Hume

tried to make. They are the basis of what got people to think about their lives

and decide that what they have now might not be the best thing that their life

can accomplish. From his points of view, we can move on to another influential

philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau. Jean Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva in

1712. His first years in his life were very hard because his mother died shortly

after birth and he was sent to live with his aunt. However, his life turned

around and he married and began his life as a philosopher. Rousseau was involved

with the social contract like Hume. His book, however, did not become popular

until after the French Revolution because these were the conditions that the

revolution was based on (Chambers 669). His ideal government would contain a

small state, prevention of overpowering businesses, and equality in rank and

fortune (Castell 419). He distrusted the aristocrats because he believed they

were drawing away from traditions that were once held very high ("The

Enlightenment," http). To him kings are just concerned with themselves and

when one dies, another one is needed. None of these people ever take in to

consideration the less fortunate. Everyone has to move to the beliefs of one

man. Rousseau felt that the government should be in the hands of many, not just

one. Ideally, everyone in a society needs to be in agreement with one another.

Another belief that Rousseau represented was deism, which is that god created

the universe and then allowed it to run according to natural law and not

interfering with it anymore. Again, these questions began to be disputed and the

people began to realize that their lives could mean more than just what the

higher officials might say. They began to think about what life and the world is

really about. This brings us to the next philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Immanuel

Kant was born on April 22, 1724. Kant studied both Hume and Rousseau and

rethought his aspects of science and shifted a little towards philosophy. In

addition to his thinking, he also spent a lot of time lecturing at Konigsberg,

Martin Knutzen. His two main scientific questions dealt with how far can the

scientific method be applied to everything and how to explain scientific

knowledge. He realizes that both of these cause the mind to start with some

given information and an answer is then given for humans to understand (Stumpf

302). Kant was firm in his belief on a priori knowledge, which is the knowledge

that is prior to experiences, but he also states that not everything can be

based on experiences since we cannot experience everything. From these beliefs,

he also believed in two realities, phenomenal and noumena. Phenomena, derived

from a Greek word meaning "that which appears," (Castell 599) is the

world as we experience it and noumena is intelligible or nonsensual reality. In

the world we only experience phenomena because noumena is present but it is

external from us and only appears as it is organized by us (Stumpf 312). From a

social standpoint, Kant believed that as long as a man could support himself and

owned property he should be qualified as a citizen. He states that if everyone

is required to pay for public welfare then everyone should have his or her

freedom guaranteed. If this if present then there is no need for a rebellion,

which will lead to a stronger government. Kant feels that this is hard to obtain

because people need a political balance but at the same time they need to be

able to keep their freedom. A type of freedom that he feels should be held by

all is the freedom that everyone is punished the same and the death penalty

should only be carried out only when an individual is proven guilty (Stumpf

316). Kant believed in God because he felt that if one would deny all existence

that did not support any logic, then nothing at all would exist to anyone. He

also states that "it is morally necessary to assume the existence of

God." (Stumpf 319) From this he also realizes that one does not necessarily

need to believe in God, but one needs to respect the beliefs "for duty’s

sake." When thinking about God, according to Kant, it is an experience that

we can not experience. Kant takes us to the last of the four major philosophers

on the enlightenment period, Francois Voltaire. He based a lot of his thoughts

on the three previous philosophers but did not speak to them directly. His

writings are fewer but more radical that the others. Francois Voltaire lived

from 1694-1778. To most he was known as the most vigorous antireligious debater.

He was the philosopher that was favoring deism the most. He wished that everyone

would stop Christianity and follow his beliefs. One reason that he felt this was

because from his experiences, bad things came from religion (Chambers 660).

Voltaire, unlike Rousseau, favored the aristocracy and was often invited to

their parties to talk about some of his ideas. From this Voltaire, unlike many

of the philosophers of his day, was often left to think about things on his own

("The Enlightenment," http) and another reason for this is because for

twenty eight years he was held in succession from Paris for some of his extreme

writings. One of the most disturbing things in Voltaire’s life was from the

earthquake in Lisbon on Nobember1, 1755. This was one thing that Voltaire could

not understand and thought about forever. He did not want to turn to God as

everyone else did, nor did he want to be on the side of the atheist. He was

stuck in the middle and only left with the thought of the innocent people that

were killed (Gay 52). For most of the philosophers during the time of the

Enlightenment, things were bad. Most of them had to publish their books in

secrecy and still had to deal with them getting burned as officials found out.

This would be a very big disappointment, but they later prove that some of their

beliefs are right when people begin to rebel because of the dramatic messages

that they sent to people. Whether philosophy, religion, or politics were the

basis of one’s reading they were generally flipped around. It is said that

educated people have the power to do anything, and during the Enlightenment this

source of power is obvious and is carried out. Whether the readers believed the

philosophers or not, it got the reader thinking and he talked to his friends and

the revolts began. The Enlightenment was a time of change but it was also a time

that dealt with the "unreality" that some thought could be but never

were because some were so extreme or contradicted each other from philosopher to



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