What is Enlightenment?

What is Enlightenment?

Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that occurred in eighteenth-century Europe, and had its greatest expression in France, stage of great development of Science and Philosophy. In addition, it had great influence in the cultural, social, political and spiritual context in several countries.

Also known as the “Epoch of the Lights”, this was a period of transformations in the social structure in Europe, where themes revolved around Freedom, Progress and Man.

Meaning of Enlightenment

The Enlightenment was a process developed to correct the inequalities of society and guarantee the natural rights of the individual, such as freedom and free possession of goods. The Enlightenment believed that God was present in nature and also in the individual himself, and it is possible to discover it through reason.

Enlightenment is the name given to the ideology that was being developed and incorporated by the bourgeoisie of Europe, from the revolutionary struggles of the late eighteenth century. Nevertheless, the Enlightenment was not only an ideological movement, but also a political one, promoted by the French Revolution.

Enlightenment is also considered a philosophical and religious doctrine advocated in the eighteenth century, based on the existence of a supernatural inspiration.

Features of Enlightenment

  • Defense of rational knowledge (power of reason);
  • Contrary to Mercantilism and Monarchical Absolutism;
  • Supported by the bourgeoisie;
  • Defense of the natural rights of the individual (freedom and free possession of goods, for example);
  • God is present in nature and in man himself;
  • Defense of economic freedom (without State interference);
  • Defense of greater political freedom;
  • Anthropocentrism (advancement of science and human reason);
  • Basis for the French Revolution.

Origin of the Enlightenment

The roots of the Enlightenment movement began to grow from the seventeenth century through the works of the Frenchman René Descartes, who laid the foundations of rationalism as the sole source of knowledge. He believed in an absolute truth, which consisted in questioning all preexisting theories or ideas. His theory came to be summed up in the phrase: “I think, therefore I am. ”

The Enlightenment was a movement that had its starting point in doubt and dissatisfaction, feelings that were constant in Europe, especially during the last two decades of the eighteenth century.

In France, where the movement had greater expression, feudal boundaries clashed with the development of emerging capitalism. The bourgeoisie, leading peasants and workers, launched against the nobility and the clergy, and assumed the direction of the movement.

Enlightenment in France

It was in eighteenth-century France, the most expressive stage of the contradictions of feudal limits, which clashed with privileged groups and the king.

The social struggles, the development of the bourgeoisie and its business, and the belief in rationality reached their peak in the propagation of the Enlightenment ideals, which were carried by the wave of the French Revolution. They put an end to the feudal practices existing in that country and stimulated the fall of absolutist-mercantilist regimes in other parts of Europe.

Illuminist Thinkers

The Enlightenment thinkers, called indistinctly “philosophers”, provoked a true intellectual revolution in the history of modern thought. As enemies of intolerance, these thinkers defended above all freedom. They were supporters of the idea of progress, and sought a rational explanation for everything.

The main goal of philosophers was the pursuit of human happiness. They rejected injustice, religious intolerance, and privileges. By the promise of ridding mankind of darkness and bringing light through knowledge, these philosophers were called the Enlightenment.

One of the greatest names of the Enlightenment was the French Voltaire, who criticized the Church and the clergy and the remnants of feudal serfdom. However, he believed in the presence of God in nature and in man, who could discover it through reason, hence the idea of tolerance and a religion based on belief in a supreme being. He also believed in free speech, condemning censorship. He criticized the war and believed in the reforms, which carried out under the guidance of philosophers, could result in a progressive government.

Montesquieu, who was an aristocrat, argued that each country should have a type of political institution, according to its socioeconomic progress. His best known contribution was the doctrine of the three powers, in which he advocated the division of government authority in three instances: executive, legislative and judicial, each of which should act to limit the strength of the other two.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was the most radical and popular of philosophers. He criticized private society, idealized a society of small and independent producers. He defended the thesis of the natural goodness of individuals, perverted by civilization. He proposed a simple family life, a society based on justice, equality and sovereignty of the people.

Major Enlightenment Thinkers

  • Voltaire (1694-1778)
  • Montesquieu (1689 – 1755)
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778)
  • John Locke (1632-1704)
  • Denis Diderot (1713-1784)
  • Jean le Rond d’Alembert (1717 – 1783)
  • Adam Smith (1723-1790)

Expansion of the Enlightenment

The ideological climate created by the Enlightenment has become so strong and widespread that several rulers have sought to put their ideas into practice. Without abandoning absolute power, they sought to govern according to the reason and interests of the people.