What Were Some of the Major Ideas of the Age of Enlightenment?

By Staff WriterLast Updated Mar 31, 2020 6:02:57 PM ET
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Some of the major ideas that originated during the Age of Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, were confidence in humanity's intellectual powers, a much lesser degree of trust in the older forms of traditional authority and the belief that rational and scientific thought will lead to an improved human existence. The Enlightenment thinkers viewed the natural world as one governed by mathematical and scientific laws that could be understood by humankind through its own self-empowered and unaided faculties. The philosophy of the Enlightenment was often at odds with the traditional authority wielded by established religion that sought to maintain its role in directing human thought and actions.

The Enlightenment was a cultural movement, spearheaded by intellectuals, that began in Europe at the start of the 17th century. It emphasized individualism and reason over tradition and sought to reform society by challenging those ideas that were based primarily on faith and tradition. Skepticism and scientific thought were promoted, and logic was viewed as a means to arrive at conclusions which were to be tested against evidence and revised, if necessary.

Across the Atlantic, the Enlightenment's political ideals were promoted by the writings and influence of Americans, such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, and were reflected in the American Declaration of Independence and the United States Bill of Rights. The Scientific Revolution was also closely tied to Enlightenment ideas.