The Enlightenment of the 18th Century
The Enlightenment Project
Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica)
Who? The intellectual elite of Europe (a tiny, but highly
Universe is governed by natural laws. It is a mechanism with patterns built
Science and Reason
natural laws are discoverable through the use of reason, specifically through
the use of the scientific method: deductive and inductive reasoning.
Applied to Human Affairs
applies to human nature and to human society. There are proper political
systems and proper economic systems.
are rational beings. We are born with an innate rational ability which, if
properly trained, enables us to develop a moral sense: an understanding of
correct and incorrect behavior.
Therefore Progress is possible
we fit our political and economic systems to the appropriate natural laws and
if we fit our legal system to our moral values, then progress is possible
towards a better world. Education is the key to achieving progress.
A Universal Civilization
are all alike, no matter what our cultural, religious or racial background
might be. There is a path which will lead us to a better place: emancipation,
affluence, and a civil society.
II. Enlightenment Goodies
Science and Technology
technological advancement is the result of the Enlightenment belief that
progress is possible by taking advantage of our understanding of the laws of
Our Political Values
political values are based on the enlightenment search for a perfect political
which protects our natural rights,
equality before the law,
the freedom of speech, press and religion,
checks and balances between separate branches of government
- separates church and state.
Our Economic Values
economic systems should follow a rational pattern governed by laws that have
been demonstrated by history. Both capitalism and socialism are children of
the enlightenment because both rely on rational approaches to the regulation
III. The Enlightenment and Religion
philosophes held that Christianity was harmful. Irrational beliefs held the
world back from progress: superstition, myth, unverifiable truths.
But also parallels
could call the philosophes' belief in progress a secular religion: the
philosophes were engaged in a mission to improve the world which imitated the
missions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Although Voltaire, D'Holbach and
Hume were agnostics or even atheists, their belief in progress had been
shaped by Christianity. In its essence the conception of natural law requires
the will to believe in a primary cause.
philosophes believed that religion served a useful function as a controlling
ideology for the masses which taught obedience through the fear of God.
philosophes believed that human nature had been so warped by environment that
it had been irremediably corrupted. Therefore, religion became a necessary
said, "I want my lawyers, my tailors, and even my wife to believe in
God." He also said, "If God does not exist, it would be necessary
to invent him."
An Alternative: Deism
in god based entirely on reason, without any
reference to faith, revelation, or institutional religion.
philosophes tried to resolve the conflict between science and religion by
inventing a 'rational religion'. Deists believed that God had created the
universe and then retired. The world works according to the laws he created.
The fact that the natural world is so well designed is evidence that God must
The Theodicy Issue
- "God's justice": an attempt to explain or defend
the perfect benevolence of god despite the apparent presence of evil in the world.
had to resolve a major philosophical dilemma to align their belief in God
with reason: If God is good and omnipotent, then how can evil arise?
In the Deist's Universe
solution to this dilemma was the doctrine of optimistic determinism which
argues that the universe is a wonderful mechanism governed by laws which work
to the benefit of human beings... but which can also create natural
disasters... which somehow must exist for the benefit of mankind, if not the
benefit of individual humans. (The Argument According to Design: Leibniz's
On a Human Scale
contrary to the Christian belief in original sin, humans are born good in that we possess reason and the ability to develop
a moral sense.
IV. The Enlightenment and Cultural Pluralism
philosophes asserted that all people are governed by the same natural laws
and are bound for the same universal future. They were cosmopolitan, members
of an international community which did not acknowledge national, cultural or
religious identity. Furthermore, the philosophes believed that all humans
possess certain natural rights regardless of their religion, culture or
thinkers will argue that cultural differences create people with different values
that should be respected, not homogenized into one universal system (and that
is not necessarily wrong.)
V. The Enlightenment and the Heart
philosophes held that human emotion is bad. Irrational passions are
the source of most of society's problems. Is reason always right?
VI. The Enlightenment Against Itself
- There are logical contradictions in some of the
assumptions of the philosophes:
the philosophes right to assume that the universe was created according to
they right to assume that all people possess natural rights?
these premises are not provable, shouldn't we doubt them?