Ideas concerining religion, the value of a man, and reason were synthesized into a worldview that gained wide assent during the Enlightenment. It fueled revolutionary developments in art, politics, and philosophy. Reason was celebrated as a power by which man understood the universe and his own condition. The idea of a rational world boasted freedom, knowledge, and happiness. The Enlightenment, moved by government support, expressed renewed interest in , the power of government, reason, and the potential of equality.
The Enlightenment like many historic movements, didn’t happen in a day. The potential of a movement is that it is ever changing. Catherine the Great was overall viewed as an enlighened monarch as she modernized Russia. Catherine the Great created reforms that increased Russia’s wealth, used scientific method in agriculture, inoculated small pox, and territorial expansion.Yet she did nothing to abolish or even lessen serfdom in Russia. While she was an enlightened monarch she would not have her imperial administration challenged and strongly opposed the Pugachev Revolt of 1774, Catherine stated “…all persons who dare incite serfs and peasants to disobey their landworlds shall be arrested and taken to the nearest government office, there to be punished forthwith as disturbers of the public tranquility” (Document 3)
For all intents and purposes, Catherine the Great believed that futilism was ingrained in society and was prominent until the Russian Revolution . Diderot, a French Philosopher and writer of Encyclopedia, had the support and patronage of Catherine the Great. In Encyclopedia, Diderot proprose that goverment be a reflection of the will of the people, “The good of the people is the great will of the government” yet also be limited by a constituion, or supreme governing document which reflect natural law and law of reason to protect liberty. This belief was reflected in both the American Revolution and the French Revolution. To deny someone liberty is to deny someone life and to deny someone life is to deny them liberty.
Reason became the way of the world. Pushed from it’s pedastal fell fate and religion that had previously been the underlying cause for life, the universe, and everything. Yet a new empirilistic ideaology emerged with an army of followers. One of which, Baron d’Hollbach, an atheists, accredits a lack of advancement to the dependence on religion stating “How could the human mind make any considerable progress, while tormented with frightful phantoms,” How could any improvement be made when everyone was ruled by fear. The fear of damnation was tyrannial and time consuming.Isaacc Newton found a balance between religion and reason and while he was greatly religious he never let that interfere with his scientific reasoning. With the wide assent of reason came understanding, for the first time other ideas were being accepted.
A fond believer of logic believes in natural and divine in explaining phenomemna, Descartes stated “….those who held opinion contray to ours were neither barbarians nor savages, but that any of the, were at least reasonable as ourselves” When presented with new evidence any conclusion is possible. Another theory casting away the idea of predisposition is brought to the public by John Locke, a scottish philospher. John Locke hypothesizes that all men are born with a blank slate, meaning everyone is born with the same potential it is society and education who shape him. “…good or evil, useful or not, by their educationn. Tis’ that which makes the great difference in mankind.” Descartes,Newton,Locke, and Holbach brought forth new ideas that fueled advancements in society.
Last but not least, equality was a subject that was merely tiptoed around prior to the Enlightenment. Religious tolerance was discussed sparingly but subjects such as women’s rights, slavery, and the rights of criminals were admantly avoided. Mary Wollstonecraft, a British philosopher and writer, as well as what might be the very first feminist expresses her discontent in a satiric manner in A Vindiction of the Rights of Woman. Wollstonecraft’s philosophy dictated that women were to be more than just wives and caretakers: they were to educate children, and to act not as slaves to their husbands, but as companions. She saracasticly describes that “women in particular, are rendered weak and wretched.” She is outraged that a women is not a man’s equal and that “like the flowers which are planted in too rich a soil, strenghth and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty.” this is alluding to an idea are worth nothing but their vanity. Even Enlightened philosophers didn’t believe in equality for women, such as Moses Mendelsohn.
While some may have discouraged equality, others such as Voltaire, a French philosopher, discussed equality with so much ease it insititutes a feeling of absurdity to oppose it. He mildly states “It does not require any great art or studies elocution to prove that Christians ought to tolerate one another.” Voltaire preaches tolerance with an air of virtue that appeals to a multitude of audiences. He is very straight forward in decreeing that “…are we not all children of the same father, creatures of the same God?” This statement furthers the debate of what is the value of man? If we are all creatures of the same god then why are some bought and sold like livestock? Marquis Nicholas de Condorcet, approaches these questions in a strong opposition of slavery describing the trade of life and freedom to be “crimes worse than theft.” To strip a man of his freedom is to strip him of his life. First you take his property and any ability he had to aquire it and lastly you “..take form the slave the right to dispose of his own person.”
The transfer from man to property is horrible and despicable and viewed as an evil by Condorcet. Many people of the Enlightenment had little concern for the evils of slavery and even slighter burden of the condition of a criminal. Italian economist and criminologist Caesare Beccaria elaborates on a topic that is still greatly discussed today: the death penalty. Beccaria presents a huggermugger of questions regarding the penalty “Is the death penalty really useful and necessary for the security and good order of society?” Beccaria carries on to say that “These problems deserve to be analyzed with that geometric precision which the mist of sophism, seductive eloquence, and timorous doubt cannot withstand.” Meaning, that these questions should be accreditied with the same level if haste and severity as any other philosophy. He believes in equality among theories.
The Enlightenment had a lasting impact on the world. Enlightenment ideas have been highly influential in government creating the stepping stones for democracies. It paved the road to individual freedom and liberty, aiding in the people’s right to participate in their government, and the governments responsibility to it’s citizens. Logic has become a key to society with the scientific method availing. Equality has come in many forms, several acts have been created in the name of equality for women, religious freedom has been established, and slavery has been abolished. The spark of believed abstarction spread the Europe and the rest of the world like wild fire, engulfing it all in alteration.