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Gitanjali Ramnarain

Prof. Romano
HIST 1000C
Tuesday/Friday 3:25pm
September 26,2014
Enlightenment Essay

The Enlightenment also known as the Age of Reason was an intellectual movement in
Europe during the 16
th
and 17
th
century. It helped shaped modern thinking through the many
diverse and conflicting ideas of philosophers. The Enlightenment changed medieval thinking to
secular thinking through the use of reason, the scientific method, and progress.
The use of reason was a characteristic of the Enlightenment that fueled most philosophers
and their beliefs. Reason enabled one to break free from all ignorant and irrational beliefs and it
taught people to learn and act correctly. It makes all humans equal, therefore causing them to
have equal treatment and rights under the law. Nothing was to be accepted on faith. Everything
had to be rationalized (a secular, critical way of thinking) before drawing conclusions. Most
philosophers used reasoning as a foundation to their principles and works. If someone doesnt
have reasoning that meant they lacked a characteristic that was given to everyone. It was proved
that everyone has reasoning, its only up to you if you wanted to use it or not. The church was
the authority figure of the time and told people how to behave, act and think. So when
philosophers started to reason to support their work, people started to separate themselves from
the church and began to believe what they wanted to. Ren Descartes (1590-1650) a French
philosopher who made his greatest achievements in math, believed that everything should be
doubted and that you had to use deductive reasoning. His reasoning led him to create Cartesian
dualism in which all reality can be reduced to mind and matter. Baron de Montesquieu (1689-
1755) was a French philosopher who was famous for his political writing. Through reasoning he
was able to create a way for the government and people to live together without there being any
tyranny. He figured out that the government was formed on history and believed that there
should be a separation of powers.
The scientific method helped to discover the laws of society and nature. This method
consists of various steps (hypothesis, experiment, ECT.) that have to be followed before you
draw conclusions. Galileo Galilei, Ren Descartes and Francis Bacon were both influential in
describing and allowing the improvement of the scientific method through scientific and
mathematical reasoning. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) is an Italian scientist who created the
experimental method. Instead of speculating what might or should happen, you would do
repeated amount of experiments to draw conclusions. This helped to guide Bacon and Descartes
to in creating some of their ideas. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was an English politician and
writer who encouraged the use of the scientific method. He argued that the researcher that wants
to learn more about leaves or rocks shouldnt speculate but gather many other specimens and
compare and analyze them. This was known as empiricism. Descartes deductive reasoning
helped to determine scientific laws from self- evident principles. This method was also known as
the scientific method. This method is very logical and rational which contributed to the clash of
philosophers and the church.
Progress was the goal of enlightened thinkers to create a better society and better people
by abolishing out-of-date traditions and embracing rationalism. Enlightened thinkers thought the
human mind could make great progress. A lot of philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes (1588-
1639), John Locke (1630-1704), Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) and Jean Jacques Rousseau
(1712-1778) all believed in progress. Locke believed that everyone had natural rights to life,
liberty and property and rulers have the responsibility to protect it. If they fail to protect it, the
people have a responsibility to change it, meaning that the people can change those who they
want to rule. As an early form of democracy, Locke believed that this method could create a
better society for the people. Hobbes on the other hand believed in a government that has
absolute control because people are created selfish and greedy. Progress helped to influence the
minds of philosophers to go against the church and strive to change society without their
influence.
With the use of reason, the scientific method and progress, the 21
st
century wouldnt have
been like what it is like today. Immanuel Kant, Baron de Montesquieu and John Locke played a
huge role in the creation of the United States government and those around the world.
Throughout the world, the Enlightenment has had a great impact on universal moral
and acceptances. We have an International Court of Justice and a Permanent International
Criminal Court to protect and judge those who are caught doing wrong. It is universally accepted
that there is global warming and something should be done to help stop it. Those who commit a
crime against humanity, should not be able to escape judgment and should face consequences
for that crime for example, the Holocaust. When Hitler started a war to abolish all Jews,
universally that was considered a crime against humanity and he deserved to be killed for his
actions. A crime against humanity was an enlightened idea by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) a
German philosopher who was a professor in East Prussia. On September 30, 1784 he came out
with a pamphlet, What is Enlightenment? he says, One age cannot enter into an alliance on
oath to put the next age in a position where it would be impossible for it to extend and correct its
knowledge, particularly on such important matters, or to make any progress whatsoever in
enlightenment. This would be a crime against human nature... We have a United Nations,
where each country can work together to create a better atmosphere and society for their people.
This is why we have international laws that are observed by most people where honor killing,
rape and forced marriages are not accepted. The Enlightenment has brought awareness to the
world which is larger than a small community or family. Now most nations tolerate different
religions and traditions so that there is a sense of security with those whom they rule. They have
found a balance between government and society. Without the Enlightenment we wouldnt have
all these laws and rights that are given to each individual today.
In particular the United States has been affected by the ideas and principles of
philosophers. Baron de Montesquieu applied the critical method to the government and created
his book, Spirit of Laws where he did a comparison of republics, monarchies, ad despotisms. He
focused on conditions that would promote liberty and tyranny. This was known as the separation
of powers; political power should be shared rather than it go to one person or an institution. The
three branches were the judicial, executive and legislative. This belief was applied to the
formation of the United States government where the power is distributed between the President
(Executive), Congress (Legislative), and Supreme Court (Judicial). John Locke states in his
work, Second Treatise of Civil Government, People have the natural right to life, liberty and
property. Rules have a responsibility to protect those rights. People have the right to change a
government that fails to do so. This quote is translated into The Declaration of Independence
where it states, certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of
Happiness.that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their
just powers from the consent of the government. Locke helped to form a way of protecting the
rights of the people living in America today. Without the help of Montesquieu and Locke,
America wouldnt have been as reformed compared to the past, the teachings and authority of the
church wouldnt have been questioned, and people wouldnt have been considered equal.
The Enlightenment was huge turning points in history for it enabled people to reason and
helped shape the modern human mind. Through the use of reason, the scientific method, and
progress, philosophers were able to create theories and think for themselves on equality and
power which helped to influence the world we have today. Kant, Montesquieu and Locke
participated in the development of the United States government and led it to become an equal
country were no tyranny existed.