How Did the Enlightenment Influence Society?

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The Enlightenment influenced society in the areas of politics, philosophy, religion and the arts. Both the American Revolution and French Revolution were based on Enlightenment ideals.

Age of Enlightenment The Age of Enlightenment, which lasted throughout much of the 17th and 18th centuries, was an intellectual movement, which resulted in overturning many old ideas. Leading European thinkers advocated for personal freedoms and free thought. The Enlightenment is sometimes called the Age of Reason because of its emphasis on rationality. Enlightenment thinkers did not trust the established authorities, such as monarchies of the church. They believed individuals could find the truth for themselves and improve society by looking to science, reasoning and dialogue.

The Effect on Revolutions This mistrust of authority and faith in the rational abilities of the common man resulted in profound political change, not only in Europe but across the world. The leaders of the American Revolution were acting on Enlightenment principles when they overthrew the British government and demanded independence. The French Revolution was also an attempt to overcome absolute authority and usher in a new age.

Enlightenment and the Intellectual The Enlightenment is most credited with bringing forth new thoughts and transformative works. These works include historically notable books, inventions and laws. Everything from Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton to Philosophical Dictionary by Voltaire shaped the way society thought and approached problems. Other notable thinkers of the era include John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Enlightenment Schools of Thought There are six different schools of thought that were born out of the Enlightenment philosophy. These include deism, liberalism and republicanism. Additionally, the ideas of conservatism, toleration and scientific progress were also a product of the Enlightenment.

Deism was part of the French Enlightenment, which shifted the understanding of religion from being polarized between different religions like Protestants versus Catholics to an understanding of God through common sense. It later influenced the development of paganism and atheism.

The ideas of liberalism, republicanism and conservatism are still in place today in modern times but during the Enlightenment, differed from modern interpretations. For example, the Enlightenment liberalism understands the world through science without religious interference, which later gave rise to classical liberalism, which established a person’s natural born rights.

Secret Societies and Alternative Knowledge During the Enlightenment, secret societies grew, such as the Freemasons, Illuminati and Rosicrucians. Alongside scientific discoveries, alternative knowledge also grew. For example, Jean Sylvain Bailly purported that the Atlanteans who live near the North Pole created all science. This thought influenced the Nazis as well as the founder of the Illuminati.

Modern Effects of the Enlightenment The effects of the Enlightenment are still felt today. The founding fathers established the United States according to Enlightenment ideals. For example, the separation of the government into three branches: Legislative, Executive and Judicial, and the system of checks and balances was originally developed by French Enlightenment thinker Montesquieu. The system holds the authorities accountable to the people and is an implementation of the Enlightenment theory that governments should exist only by the will of the governed. It is difficult to imagine a world without scientific methods and thought, which are all in thanks in part to the Enlightenment.