Enlightenment essay conclusion

Free Essay: The Enlightenment was a period in the eighteenth century where change in philosophy and cultural life took place in Europe. The movement started.
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The philosophes were deeply critical, indeed even openly hostile, to the organized religions of Europe, especially the Catholic Church whose priests, pope, and practices came in for severe criticism. The philosophes were not, with perhaps some exceptions like Voltaire at the end of his life, atheists, for many still believed in a god behind the mechanisms of the universe, but they railed against the perceived excesses and constraints of a church they attacked for using magic and superstition. Few Enlightenment thinkers attacked personal piety and many believed religion performed useful services.

Indeed some, like Rousseau, were deeply religious, and others, like Locke, worked out a new form of rational Christianity; others became deists. It was not religion which irked them, but the forms and corruption of those religions. The Enlightenment affected many areas of human existence, including politics; perhaps the most famous examples of the latter are the US Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. Parts of the French Revolution are often attributed to the Enlightenment, either as recognition or as a way to attack the philosophes by pointing to violence such as the Terror as something they unwittingly unleashed.

There is also debate about whether the Enlightenment actually transformed popular society to match it, or whether it was itself transformed by society. The Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries era was followed by that of a reaction, Romanticism, a turn back to the emotional instead of the rational, and a counter-Enlightenment.

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For a while, in the nineteenth century, it was common for the Enlightenment to be attacked as the liberal work of utopian fantasists, with critics pointing out there were plenty of good things about humanity not based on reason. Enlightenment thought was also attacked for not criticizing the emerging capitalist systems. There is now a growing trend to arguing that the results of the Enlightenment are still with us, in science, politics and increasingly in western views of religion, and that we are still in an Enlightenment, or heavily influenced post-Enlightenment, age.

More on the effects of the Enlightenment.

The Age Of Enlightenment In 18th Century History Essay

There has been a lean away from calling anything progress when it comes to history, but you'll find the Enlightenment easily attracts people willing to call it a great step forward. Share Flipboard Email. Rationalist ethics so conceived faces the following obstacles in the Enlightenment. First, as implied above, it becomes increasingly implausible that the objective, mind-independent order is really as rationalist ethicists claim it to be.

Second, even if the objective realm were ordered as the rationalist claims, it remains unclear how this order gives rise on its own, as it were to obligations binding on our wills. David Hume famously exposes the fallacy of deriving a prescriptive statement that one ought to perform some action from a description of how things stand in relation to each other in nature. Alongside the rationalist strand of ethical philosophy in the Enlightenment, there is also a very significant empiricist strand.

Empirical accounts of moral virtue in the period are distinguished, both by grounding moral virtue on an empirical study of human nature, and by grounding cognition of moral duties and moral motivation in human sensibility, rather than in reason. The Third Earl of Shaftesbury, author of the influential work Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times , is a founding figure of the empiricist strand.

Shaftesbury conceives the core notion of the goodness of things teleologically: something is good if it contributes to the well-being or furtherance of the system of which it is a part. Individual animals are members of species, and therefore they are good as such insofar as they contribute to the well-being of the species of which they are a part. Thus, the good of things, including human beings, for Shaftesbury as for Clarke, is an objective quality that is knowable through reason. However, though we can know what is good through reason, Shaftesbury maintains that reason alone is not sufficient to motivate human action.

Shaftesbury articulates the structure of a distinctively human moral sensibility. Moral sensibility depends on the faculty of reflection. When we reflect on first-order passions such as gratitude, kindness and pity, we find ourselves approving or liking them and disapproving or disliking their opposites. By virtue of our receptivity to such feelings, we are capable of virtue and have a sense of right and wrong.

In this way, Shaftesbury defines the moral sense that plays a significant role in the theories of subsequent Enlightenment thinkers such as Francis Hutcheson and David Hume. Doing what is morally right or morally good is intrinsically bound up with a distinctive kind of pleasure on their accounts. It is significant that both Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, the two founders of modern moral sense theory, articulate their ethical theory in conjunction with an aesthetic theory.

Arguably the pleasure we feel in the apprehension of something beautiful is disinterested pleasure. Our susceptibility to aesthetic pleasure can be taken to reveal that we apprehend and respond to objective or, anyway, universal values, not only or necessarily on the basis of reason, but through our natural sensibility instead.

Thus, aesthetics, as Shaftesbury and Hutcheson independently develop an account of it, gives encouragement to their doctrines of moral sensibility. But an account of moral virtue, unlike aesthetics, requires an account of moral motivation. As noted above, both Shaftesbury and Hutcheson want to do justice to the idea that proper moral motivation is not the pursuit of pleasure, even disinterested pleasure, but rather an immediate response to the perception of moral value.

The problem of giving a satisfying account of moral motivation is a difficult one for empiricist moral philosophers in the Enlightenment.


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While for Shaftesbury, at the beginning of the moral sense tradition, moral sense tracks a mind-independent order of value, David Hume, motivated in part by a more radical empiricism, is happy to let the objective order go. We have no access through reason to an independent order of value which moral sense would track.

For Hume, morality is founded completely on our sentiments. Such subjectivism is relieved of the difficult task of explaining how the objective order of values belongs to the natural world as it is being reconceived by natural science in the period; however, it faces the challenge of explaining how error and disagreement in moral judgments and evaluations are possible. But there are some philosophers in the Enlightenment who are radical in the revisions they propose regarding the content of ethical judgments themselves.

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The Marquis de Sade is merely the most notorious example, among a set of Enlightenment figures including also the Marquis de Argens and Diderot himself in some of his writings who, within the context of the new naturalism and its emphasis on the pursuit of pleasure, celebrate the avid pursuit of sexual pleasure and explicitly challenge the sexual mores, as well as the wider morality, of their time. Rousseau advances the cultivation and realization of human freedom as the highest end for human beings and thereby gives expression to another side of Enlightenment ethics.

As Rousseau describes it, the capacity for individual self-determination puts us in a problematic relation to our natural desires and inclinations and to the realm of nature generally, insofar as that realm is constituted by mechanistic causation. Though Rousseau places a great deal of emphasis on human freedom, and makes significant contributions to our understanding of ourselves as free, he does not address very seriously the problem of the place of human freedom in the cosmos as it is conceived within the context of Enlightenment naturalism.

Kant follows Rousseau, and disagrees with empiricism in ethics in the period, in emphasizing human freedom, rather than human happiness, as the central orienting concept of practical philosophy. Though Kant presents the moral principle as a principle of practical reason, his ethics also disagrees significantly with rationalist ethics in the period.

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Through interpreting the faculty of the will itself as practical reason, Kant understands the moral principle as internally legislated, thus as not only compatible with freedom, but as equivalent to the principle of a free will, as a principle of autonomy. As noted above, rationalists in ethics in the period are challenged to explain how the objective moral order which reason in us allegedly discerns gives rise to valid prescriptions binding on our wills the gap between is and ought.

For Kant, the moral order is not independent of our will, but rather represents the formal constraints of willing as such. This ordinary sense of moral requirements is not easily accommodated within the context of Enlightenment empiricism and naturalism. As noted above, Kant argues that the application of the causal principle is restricted to the realm of nature, thus making room for freedom, compatibly with the causal determination of natural events required by scientific knowledge.

Though the Enlightenment is sometimes represented as the enemy of religion, it is more accurate to see it as critically directed against various arguably contingent features of religion, such as superstition, enthusiasm, fanaticism and supernaturalism. However, controversy regarding the truth-value or reasonableness of religious belief in general, Christian belief in particular, and controversy regarding the proper place of religion in society, occupies a particularly central place in the Enlightenment. Alongside the rise of the new science, the rise of Protestantism in western Christianity also plays an important role in generating the Enlightenment.

The original Protestants assert a sort of individual liberty with respect to questions of faith against the paternalistic authority of the Church. The original Protestant assertion initiates a crisis of authority regarding religious belief, a crisis of authority that, expanded and generalized and even, to some extent, secularized, becomes a central characteristic of the Enlightenment spirit. The original Protestant assertion against the Catholic Church bases itself upon the authority of scripture. However, in the Enlightenment, the authority of scripture is strongly challenged, especially when taken literally.

Developing natural science renders acceptance of a literal version of the Bible increasingly untenable.

But authors such as Spinoza in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus present ways of interpreting scripture according to its spirit, rather than its letter, in order to preserve its authority and truth, thus contributing to the Enlightenment controversy of whether some rationally purified version of the religion handed down in the culture belongs to the true philosophical representation of the world or not; and, if so, what its content is. It is convenient to discuss religion in the Enlightenment by presenting four characteristic forms of Enlightenment religion in turn: deism, religion of the heart, fideism and atheism.

Deism is the form of religion most associated with the Enlightenment. According to deism, we can know by the natural light of reason that the universe is created and governed by a supreme intelligence; however, although this supreme being has a plan for creation from the beginning, the being does not interfere with creation; the deist typically rejects miracles and reliance on special revelation as a source of religious doctrine and belief, in favor of the natural light of reason.

Thus, a deist typically rejects the divinity of Christ, as repugnant to reason; the deist typically demotes the figure of Jesus from agent of miraculous redemption to extraordinary moral teacher. Deism is the form of religion fitted to the new discoveries in natural science, according to which the cosmos displays an intricate machine-like order; the deists suppose that the supposition of God is necessary as the source or author of this order.

Though not a deist himself, Isaac Newton provides fuel for deism with his argument in his Opticks that we must infer from the order and beauty in the world to the existence of an intelligent supreme being as the cause of this order and beauty. Samuel Clarke, perhaps the most important proponent and popularizer of Newtonian philosophy in the early eighteenth century, supplies some of the more developed arguments for the position that the correct exercise of unaided human reason leads inevitably to the well-grounded belief in God.

He argues that the Newtonian physical system implies the existence of a transcendent cause, the creator God. This argument concludes from the rationalist principle that whatever exists must have a sufficient reason or cause of its existence to the existence of a transcendent, necessary being who stands as the cause of the chain of natural causes and effects.

What Is Enlightenment

Clarke also supports the empirical argument from design, the argument that concludes from the evidence of order in nature to the existence of an intelligent author of that order. In his second set of Boyle lectures, A Discourse Concerning the Unchangeable Obligations of Natural Religion , Clarke argues as well that the moral order revealed to us by our natural reason requires the existence of a divine legislator and an afterlife, in which the supreme being rewards virtue and punishes vice. Enlightenment deism first arises in England.

In On the Reasonableness of Christianity , Locke aims to establish the compatibility of reason and the teachings of Christianity.

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Voltaire carries deism across the channel to France and advocates for it there over his long literary career. Deism plays a role in the founding of the American republic as well. Many of the founding fathers Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Paine author statements or tracts that are sympathetic to deism; and their deistic sympathies influence the place given or not given to religion in the new American state that they found.

Religion of the Heart. Opposition to deism derives sometimes from the perception of it as coldly rationalistic. The God of the deists, arrived at through a priori or empirical argument and referred to as the Prime Mover or Original Architect, is often perceived as distant and unconcerned with the daily struggles of human existence, and thus as not answering the human needs from which religion springs in the first place.