Age of Enlightenment

The Age of Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Reason or simply the Enlightenment)[1][note 1] was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th century, the "Century of Philosophy".[3]

The Enlightenment emerged out of a European intellectual and scholarly movement known as Renaissance humanism. Some consider the publication of Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica (1687) as the first major enlightenment work. French historians traditionally date the Enlightenment from 1715 to 1789, from the beginning of the reign of Louis XV until the French Revolution. Most end it with the turn of the 19th century. Philosophers and scientists of the period widely circulated their ideas through meetings at scientific academies, Masonic lodges, literary salons, coffeehouses and in printed books, journals, and pamphlets. The ideas of the Enlightenment undermined the authority of the monarchy and the Church and paved the way for the political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. A variety of 19th-century movements, including liberalism and neoclassicism, trace their intellectual heritage to the Enlightenment.[4]

The Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on reason as the primary source of knowledge and advanced ideals such as liberty, progress, toleration, fraternity, constitutional government and separation of church and state.[5][6] In France, the central doctrines of the Enlightenment philosophers were individual liberty and religious tolerance, in opposition to an absolute monarchy and the fixed dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. The Enlightenment was marked by an emphasis on the scientific method and reductionism, along with increased questioning of religious orthodoxy—an attitude captured by the phrase Sapere aude (Dare to know).[7]

Significant people and publications

The most famous work by Nicholas de Condorcet, Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progres de l'esprit humain, 1795.[8] With the publication of this book, the development of the Age of Enlightenment is considered generally ended.[9]

The Age of Enlightenment was preceded by and closely associated with the scientific revolution.[10] Earlier philosophers whose work influenced the Enlightenment included Bacon and Descartes.[11] The major figures of the Enlightenment included Beccaria, Baruch Spinoza, Diderot, Kant, Hume, Rousseau and Adam Smith. Some European rulers, including Catherine II of Russia, Joseph II of Austria and Frederick II of Prussia, tried to apply Enlightenment thought on religious and political tolerance, which became known as enlightened absolutism.[12]

Many of the main political and intellectual figures behind the American Revolution associated themselves closely with the Enlightenment: Benjamin Franklin visited Europe repeatedly and contributed actively to the scientific and political debates there and brought the newest ideas back to Philadelphia; Thomas Jefferson closely followed European ideas and later incorporated some of the ideals of the Enlightenment into the Declaration of Independence; and James Madison incorporated these ideals into the United States Constitution during its framing in 1787.[13]

The most influential publication of the Enlightenment was the Encyclopédie (Encyclopaedia). Published between 1751 and 1772 in thirty-five volumes, it was compiled by Diderot, d'Alembert (until 1759) and a team of 150 scientists and philosophers. It helped spread the ideas of the Enlightenment across Europe and beyond.[14] Other landmark publications were Voltaire's Dictionnaire philosophique (Philosophical Dictionary; 1764) and Letters on the English (1733); Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality (1754) and The Social Contract (1762); Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and The Wealth of Nations (1776); and Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws (1748). The ideas of the Enlightenment played a major role in inspiring the French Revolution, which began in 1789. After the Revolution, the Enlightenment was followed by the intellectual movement known as Romanticism.