The main components of Enlightenment
thought are as follows:
The universe is fundamentally rational, that
is, it can be understood through the use of
Truth can be arrived at through empirical
observation, the use of reason, and
Human experience is the foundation of human
understanding of truth; authority is not to be
preferred over experience;
All human life, both social and individual, can be
understood in the same way the natural world can
Once understood, human life, both social and
individual, can be manipulated or engineered in
the same way the natural world can be
manipulated or engineered
Human history is largely a history of
Human beings can be improved through
education and the development of their
Religious doctrines have no place in the
understanding of the physical and human
Enlightenment Thinkers: Baruch Spinoza
There is one and only one thing in the universe
and that one thing is God.
Everything else is simply a part of God. Any
proposition concerning the physical is, then, a
proposition about the nature of God..
For Spinoza, the new physical sciences were, by
and large, connected with with theology.
This position would be reiterated by Isaac Newton
and the deists, who argued that understanding the
rational workings of the universe would also mean
understanding the rational workings of its creator,
Spinoza believed that human action was
fundamentally mechanistic. Human actions
resulted from two things: the external
environment and internal passions.
The relationship between the environment,
passions, and human action was a
mechanistic relationship; all human actions,
then, could be explained in terms of laws.
The Philosophes: Central Ideas:
Progress: Human history is largely a history of
the improvement of humanity in three respects:
– a) developing a knowledge of the natural world and the
ability to manipulate the world through technology;
– b) overcoming ignorance bred of superstitions and
– c) overcoming human cruelty and violence through
social improvements and government structures.
Deism: Deism is a term coined in the philosophe
movement and applies to two related ideas:
– a) religion should be reasonable and should result in the
highest moral behavior of its adherents;
– b) the knowledge of the natural world and the human
world has nothing to do whatsoever with religion and
should be approached completely free from religious
ideas or convictions.
Tolerance: The greatest human crimes, as far as
the philosophes were concerned, have been
perpetrated in the name of religion and the name
A fair, just, and productive society absolutely
depends on religious tolerance.
This means not merely tolerance of varying
Christian sects, but tolerance of non-Christian
religions as well (for some philosophes ).
The Physiocrats: Believed that the role of
government was to protect private property
and permit owners to use it freely
Rationalism, free trade and a more efficient
use of land (consolidation of smaller
holdings) were all part of their worldview.
Adam Smith and the Wealth of Nations:
While other eighteenth century thinkers
were concerned about improvements in
knowledge and society, Smith believed that
human progress largely consisted in the
steady improvement of human life through
the increasing wealth of a nation as a whole.
Characteristics of the Growth of the
Division of Labor.
– Output had increased as the tasks of workers
became more and more specialized.
The division of labor was to be encouraged
Smith's foundational argument is that all meaning
and value in human life is to be found in
The exponential increase of production, then, not
only resulted in more wealth for the nation, but
greater meaning and value for human life.
He did not, of course, see the later ills of labor
exploitation and the “objectification of labor” that
resulted from unfettered production.
He also proposed that all monopolies (like
mercantile economies) be discouraged…
Competition in its purest form was the
ground work of all economies.
Further, there should be no government
regulation to discourage competition.
Selfishness would lead to a better product and the
invisible hand of the market would ensure that
the best product for the fairest price would prevail.
Lastly, there needed to be resources to feed this
ever growing economic machine in Europe.
Here we see Smith formulate one of the
cornerstone ideas of the latter imperialist era:
Resources and their acquisition.
The material world was an infinite store of
resources that could be exploited for the benefit of
It was necessary for humans to approach material
resources, not as scarce, but as infinitely abundant.
The idea that the world is an infinite storehouse of
resources open to human exploitation is such a
common aspect of our lives, that it's hard to realize
that it's a modern idea that can be dated back to
Edward Gibbon. Writes a definitive history fo the
fall of the Roman Empire. He take a decidedly
rational view of the major caused of the fall:
One: that Rome fell from the invasion of the
barbarians. This is not exactly groundbreaking
ideology. His second point is more in tune with
the growth of the importance of rationalism.
Second, Rome declined when it adopted
Christianity, which he called "servile and
pusillanimous" and a religion which
"debased" the Roman mind and soul.
The Romans replaced scientific rationalism
with a "vile" religion; this, above all, made
Rome vulnerable to internal degradation
and external predation.
Jean Jacques Rousseau
"Man is born free but everywhere is in chains."
The foundation of his thought on government and
authority is the idea of the "social contract," in
which government and authority are a mutual
contract between the authorities and the governed
This contract implies that the governed agree to be
ruled only so that their rights, property and
happiness be protected by their rulers.
The Discourse on Inequality outlines all the key
ideas that were to greatly influence modern
– a) the idea of the noble savage, that is, the happiest state
of humankind is a middle state between completely
wild and completely civilized;
– b) the idea of social contract;
– c) the nature of human distinctions;
– d) the criticism of property; and
– e) the nature of human freedom.
Civilization has corrupted the natural state
Progress; Urbanization; Mechanization;
Scientific progress have all added to the
degradation of mankind.
Man naturally is moral, it has been society
that has made us depraved.
Semi-civilized humanity looked to itself for
its values and happiness, civilized human
beings live outside themselves in the
opinions and authority of others.
The price of civilization is human freedom
and human individuality:
“In reality, the difference is, that the savage
lives within himself while social man lives
outside himself and can only live in the
opinion of others, so that he seems to
receive the feeling of his own existence
only from the judgment of others
In our pursuit for society approval…
“We have nothing to show for ourselves but
a frivolous and deceitful appearance, honor
without virtue, reason without wisdom, and
pleasure without happiness.”
Rousseau’s Social Contract
Government is an invention of mankind
because they realized they would have a
better chance of protecting themselves and
their possession collectively rather than
Yet, as we to have seen, the original
contract has become seriously flawed
The wealthiest and most powerful members
of society "tricked" the general population,
and so installed inequality as a permanent
feature of human society.
Rousseau argued, in The Social Contract ,
that this contract between rulers and the
ruled should be rethought…
If any form of government does not
properly see to the rights, liberty, and
equality of everyone, that government has
broken the social contract that lies at the
heart of political authority.
Yet it is incorrect to perceive that Rousseau
is an advocate of individuality.
Rousseau believed that the social contract,
if it were followed on all sides, bound every
member of society to obedience to political
He was really the first Enlightenment thinker to
articulate the contractual basis of rights.
Rights, or principles of individual autonomy or
liberty, are not magical entitlements that come
from heaven into this world the moment you pop
out of the womb
Nor are they inscribed in our DNA. Rights and
liberties are social contracts.
For Rousseau, natural human beings are
born completely self-sufficient and self-
governing; social human beings are
dependent and restricted.
The rights and liberties that social human
beings get are derived ultimately from a
general social agreement.
The most immediate effects of the social and
political thought of the philosophes was not felt in
any grand overturning of established monarchies,
but rather the adoption of enlightened absolutism
by a small handful of highly educated and
committed monarchs: Joseph II and Maria Theresa
of Austria, and Catherine the Great of Russia.
While Louis XIV justified his absolute authority
by appealing to the divine right of kings, the
enlightened absolutists justified their absolute
authority by proclaiming themselves servants of
the state or the people.
The enlightened served the state by pushing for
reform in the government in order to stamp out
unequal treatment before the law and preserve
rights and property.
The first monarch to actively put these ideas into
practice was Frederick II of Prussia, called the
He abolished the serf system which tied tenant
farmers to certain properties for life and replaced
the powers accruing to the nobility with a greatly
expanded bureaucracy composed of educated civil
Frederick II, however, saw the need to include the
nobility and actively recruited them into the civil
For Frederick was above all a pragmatic
enlightened monarch who saw the need to placate
all aspects of society.
His Father, Frederick William, was against the
nobility and preferred a system based on merit
Frederick eliminated the use of torture in
judicial proceedings and judicial
punishments, abandoned capital punishment
and greatly reduced corruption in the
Yet, he was not against persecution of the
Jews, and levied huge taxes on Jews in
order to drive them out of the country.
With Maria Theresa under attack by
Frederic the Great, (she was the only heir to
her father Charles VI of Austria) she sought
help from the Hungarians and the British.
Maria Theresa knew that she had to model
the centralized power of many of the other
European states, and began reform of the
She divided the Austrian Empire into ten
tightly-knit and closely administered units.
Each administrative unit was run by a "war
commissioner" who was appointed and
controlled by the central government in
She taxed heavily and modernized her
In 1765, Joseph II, the son of Maria
Theresa, became Emperor of Austria and
ruled jointly with his mother until she died
in 1780; Joseph continued as Emperor until
He will go much farther than his mother in
modernizing the kingdom.
He was unsuccessful in undermining the power of
the Hungarian Nobility
He virtually ended the power of the catholic
church in Austria
He abolished serfdom as a legal status entirely. In
addition, he granted a number of new liberties to
the peasant population: the right to learn skills, the
right to marry, the right to educate their own
In line with Enlightenment thought, he
passed a series of religious reforms tha
attacked religious intolerance.
In 1781, he declared the Toleration Patent,
which declared that all Lutherans, Greek
Orthodox, and Calvinist churches could
freely worship without official harassment.
Catherine the Great of Russia
She was not even Russian, (German) and Married
the nephew of the daughter of Peter the Great,
Elizabeth dies in 1762,. And Catherine husband,
Peter III, takes control.
He is assassinated by the nobles, and it was
always rumored that Catherine had something to
do with it.
Her background as a German princess, as
well as her education in philosophe
literature, led her to believe that Russia was
a barbaric and backward country; she
dedicated her monarchy to bringing Russia
into the modern, European age.
She wrote the commission a document
called the Instructions ; the general tone and
most of the ideas of this document were
derived from philosophes literature and
The Purpose of this commission was to
modernize the Legal codes in Russia
Ultimately, out of necessity, Catherine would
abandon the major components of Enlightened
Rule and fall back upon the practicality of
Absolutism without the tinge of Enlightened
Her reliance on the loyalty of the Russian nobility
overcame any real attempt to question their
importance from an Enlightened standpoint.
Since the nobility had the power to topple her
regime, she had no choice but to embrace them.
Her experience is typical of the Enlightened
There were movements to war change, but
ultimately the weight of generations of autocratic
rule, the primacy of the nobility and the church,
precluded any really chance that would truly
reflect the change that was emblematic of the