Age of Enlightenment

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The Age of Enlightenment refers to the European philosophy in 18th century and describes the intellectual movement named “Enlightenment”. In this period the reason, or better said, rationality becomes the only method to establish an authoritative system of ethics, aesthetics and knowledge.


The intellectual leaders of this movement had as main purpose the world progress, came after a long period of irrationality, superstition and chaos-known as the Dark Ages. The movement led, among others, to the rise of capitalism and then the birth of socialism. Another important movement in the 18th century was that focused on belief and piety-using rationalism to demonstrate God existence. However, famous Enlightenment philosophers such as Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau attacked the institution of Church.


The Enlightenment was influenced by the ideas of Blaise Pascal, G Leibniz or Galileo. Everything begun to change in European thinking –this fact is proved by the development of natural philosophy of physicist Isaac Newton. Newton discovered the idea of uniform laws for natural phenomena and combined the axiomatics proof with the physical observation. Central to this philosophic tradition was the belief in objective truth: different points of view lead to the development of skepticist position(it is impossible to know reality in the realm of experience) and idealist position(the mind can comprehend a reality which lies outside of its direct experience).The relationship between being and perception occupied the philosophy of George Berkeley, David Hume, but especially Kant’s philosophy. In his famous essay “What is Enlightenment?”, Kant defined it as follows: “Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity. (…) Have the courage to use your own intelligence!”. The Enlightenment led, in stages, to the idea of Deism. The law-they said-invested the king with his power, idea which lead to another one, the liberty as a fundamental right of man; the only role of the state is to provide stability to the natural laws. A second wave of Enlightenment movement began in France-the era of the Encyclopedists. Important authors are Denis Diderot, Jean le Rond d’Alembert and also the famous Voltaire-the most hailed man of letters since Erasmus. His main belief was: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”, for that one has to use his reason. The last wave of the Enlightenment is represented by J-J Rousseau, Im. Kant, Adam Smith or young Goethe. This movement led finally to the metaphysics of Hegel and the search for the emotional truth of Romanticism.