During the 1500/1600s,The Scientific Revolution transformed the way people looked at the world. This led to a revolution in thinking called ‘The Enlightenment’
There were a number of Enlightenment Thinkers during this period in the 1600s. Check them out below!
Thomas Hobbes (England)
Hobbes wrote a book called ‘Leviathan’. In this book, he shared what he thought. He believed that people were naturally cruel, greedy and selfish from when they were born. He thought that without laws to keep people inline, society would be nasty. He thought that there needed to be a social contract so that societies could be organised, but he believed that only a powerful government could ensure an orderly society. He believed this government should be an ‘absolute monarchy’.
John Locke (England)
John Locke had a more optimistic view of human nature than Hobbes did. Locke believed that people were born being reasonable and moral. He share the idea that people had natural rights too, he believed that everyone had a right to life, liberty (freedom) and property. John Locke wrote a book called ‘Two Treatises of Government’. In this book he argued that people formed governments so that they would be able to protect their natural rights. John Locke also believed the best type of government was not one that had absolute power, but one that had limited power. He also thought that it was very important for this government to be accepted by the people. Locke also believed that if the government fails to meet the need of the people or begin to abuse their power, the people have the right to over throw the government!
In the 1700s, the Enlightenment spread to France. These thinkers were called ‘philosophes’. Here are some examples of philosophes.
Baron de Montesquieu:
Montesquieu studied the governments of Europe and he learned about various cultures and ancient history. Montesquieu did not agree with the idea of absolute monarchy and he criticised this. In 1748, he wrote a book called ‘The Spirit of Laws’ and he shared his thoughts on governments through out history here. He strongly believed in a separation of power or the need for a balance of power and that different parts of governments should check on each other. This is where the idea of checks and balances came from.
In his writing, Voltaire used wit to expose the abuses that were happening at the time. he wanted to bring attention to corrupt officials. He wanted to end inequality and injustice. He did not agree with slave trade or religious prejudice. His ideas offended the French government and Catholic Church. They believed that what he was saying and writing was heresy. As a result, he was imprisoned and forced into exile. He still defended the freedom of speech
Diderot is most famous for writing the Encyclopedia. He produced a 28 volume Encyclopedia over 25 years.He wanted to change the general way of thinking by explaining new ideas. This was the equivalent of Google back in those days! The Encyclopedia included articles from other leading thinkers in the world. Not all governments were very happy with these books. The Pope threatened to excommunicate people who read or bought the volumes. Again, the Church believed that what was written in the Encyclopedia was heresy and went against what the church said and believed.
During the years 1751 – 1789, around 20,000 copies of the Encyclopaedia were printed. This meant that new ideas spreading all over the world! It was revolutionary!!
Rousseau was a very controversial thinker. He believed that people were born good but that peoples’ natural innocence was corrupted by the evils of society. In 1762, his book, ‘The Social Contract’ was published. In this book, he highlighted that he felt society placed too many limitations on peoples’ behaviour, that there were too many rules. He believe that rules should only be made by governments that have been freely elected by the citizens.
As great as The Enlightenment was, unfortunately, it’s slogan ‘free and equal’ did not apply to women. Women’s’ rights were limited to the home and family, however, some women protested this in the mid 1700s.
Wollstonecraft (England) She accepted that a woman’s first duty was to be a good mother and stay at home, but, she felt women should be able to decide what is in her own interest and not be told what to do. In 1792 – ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women’ was published by her. In this book, she wrote that she wanted equal education for girls and boys.
Salons Originated in the 1600s. New literature, arts, science and philosophy were regular topics of discussion in salons. They were informal gatherings where philosophes and others exchanged ideas
Philosophes tried to persuade European rulers to adopt their ideas. Monarchs who adopted Enlightenment ideas became ‘enlightened despots’, such as Frederick the Great, Catherine the Great and Joseph II
Physiocrats were people focused on economic reforms
Laissez Faire was the idea that allowed business to operate without government interference