Enlightenment Of 18th CenturyTheenlightenment was a great time of change in both Europe and America. Some of thebiggest changes, however, happened in the minds of many and in the writings ofmany philosophers. These included some of the beliefs of David Hume, JeanJacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Francois Voltaire.
Writers during this timefocused on optimism, which is the opinion to do everything for the best (Chaney119), and the best for these philosophers was to stretch the minds of theordinary. David Hume was Scottish and was born on April 26, 1711 and died in1776. He states that he was not born into a rich family and was born into theCalvinist Presbyterian Church. However, after being influenced by the works ofIsaac Newton and John Locke he began to draw back from the Church.
He writes inEnquiry, “The idea of God, as meaning an infinitely intelligent, wise andgood Being, arises from reflecting on the operations of our own mind, andaugmenting, without limit, those qualities of goodness and wisdom. ” (Pomerleau214) The questions he brought up against religion were that concrete experiencesmust lead us and that we must think about the quality of the stories that werehanded down to us. He wanted everyone to only believe the actions that oneexperienced, there has to be proof. He also believed that there were four basicproblems to the stories that we hear. First of all, the facts to the stories arenever the same to everyone. Second, we stretch the truth to make everythinginteresting.
Third, people who do not understand these stories tend to makethings up. Finally, not all of the religions agree. Therefore, the storiesconflicted each other leaving a person to not know what to believe. He believesthat “Our most holy religion is founded on Faith, not on reason; and it isa sure method of exposing it to put it to such a trial as it is, by no means,fitted to endure. ” (215) Hume also believed in the social contract.
This isthat kings are in power because of luck and citizens should have control overtheir own power. During Hume’s lifetime a representative government was notsomething that countries thrived on. He also thought that the duties of men wereto love children and to pity those that are less fortunate. He also thought thatone should respect other’s properties and keep our promises.
Hume argued that weare born into our family with the knowledge passed on to us, from this pointHume says that government is only an interference in the lives of people. Heuses the example of American Tribes where no one needs a government to keeppeace within the group (Pomerleau 222). These are the two main points that Humetried to make. They are the basis of what got people to think about their livesand decide that what they have now might not be the best thing that their lifecan accomplish.
From his points of view, we can move on to another influentialphilosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau. Jean Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva in1712. His first years in his life were very hard because his mother died shortlyafter birth and he was sent to live with his aunt. However, his life turnedaround and he married and began his life as a philosopher. Rousseau was involvedwith the social contract like Hume. His book, however, did not become popularuntil after the French Revolution because these were the conditions that therevolution was based on (Chambers 669).
His ideal government would contain asmall state, prevention of overpowering businesses, and equality in rank andfortune (Castell 419). He distrusted the aristocrats because he believed theywere drawing away from traditions that were once held very high (“TheEnlightenment,” http). To him kings are just concerned with themselves andwhen one dies, another one is needed. None of these people ever take in toconsideration the less fortunate. Everyone has to move to the beliefs of oneman. Rousseau felt that the government should be in the hands of many, not justone.
Ideally, everyone in a society needs to be in agreement with one another. Another belief that Rousseau represented was deism, which is that god createdthe universe and then allowed it to run according to natural law and notinterfering with it anymore. Again, these questions began to be disputed and thepeople began to realize that their lives could mean more than just what thehigher officials might say. They began to think about what life and the world isreally about.
This brings us to the next philosopher, Immanuel Kant. ImmanuelKant was born on April 22, 1724. Kant studied both Hume and Rousseau andrethought his aspects of science and shifted a little towards philosophy. Inaddition to his thinking, he also spent a lot of time lecturing at Konigsberg,Martin Knutzen. His two main scientific questions dealt with how far can thescientific method be applied to everything and how to explain scientificknowledge. He realizes that both of these cause the mind to start with somegiven information and an answer is then given for humans to understand (Stumpf302).
Kant was firm in his belief on a priori knowledge, which is the knowledgethat is prior to experiences, but he also states that not everything can bebased on experiences since we cannot experience everything. From these beliefs,he also believed in two realities, phenomenal and noumena. Phenomena, derivedfrom a Greek word meaning “that which appears,” (Castell 599) is theworld as we experience it and noumena is intelligible or nonsensual reality. Inthe world we only experience phenomena because noumena is present but it isexternal from us and only appears as it is organized by us (Stumpf 312). From asocial standpoint, Kant believed that as long as a man could support himself andowned property he should be qualified as a citizen.
He states that if everyoneis required to pay for public welfare then everyone should have his or herfreedom guaranteed. If this if present then there is no need for a rebellion,which will lead to a stronger government. Kant feels that this is hard to obtainbecause people need a political balance but at the same time they need to beable to keep their freedom. A type of freedom that he feels should be held byall is the freedom that everyone is punished the same and the death penaltyshould only be carried out only when an individual is proven guilty (Stumpf316). Kant believed in God because he felt that if one would deny all existencethat did not support any logic, then nothing at all would exist to anyone.
Healso states that “it is morally necessary to assume the existence ofGod. ” (Stumpf 319) From this he also realizes that one does not necessarilyneed to believe in God, but one needs to respect the beliefs “for duty’ssake. ” When thinking about God, according to Kant, it is an experience thatwe can not experience. Kant takes us to the last of the four major philosopherson the enlightenment period, Francois Voltaire. He based a lot of his thoughtson the three previous philosophers but did not speak to them directly. Hiswritings are fewer but more radical that the others.
Francois Voltaire livedfrom 1694-1778. To most he was known as the most vigorous antireligious debater. He was the philosopher that was favoring deism the most. He wished that everyonewould stop Christianity and follow his beliefs. One reason that he felt this wasbecause from his experiences, bad things came from religion (Chambers 660).
Voltaire, unlike Rousseau, favored the aristocracy and was often invited totheir parties to talk about some of his ideas. From this Voltaire, unlike manyof the philosophers of his day, was often left to think about things on his own(“The Enlightenment,” http) and another reason for this is because fortwenty eight years he was held in succession from Paris for some of his extremewritings. One of the most disturbing things in Voltaire’s life was from theearthquake in Lisbon on Nobember1, 1755. This was one thing that Voltaire couldnot understand and thought about forever. He did not want to turn to God aseveryone else did, nor did he want to be on the side of the atheist. He wasstuck in the middle and only left with the thought of the innocent people thatwere killed (Gay 52).
For most of the philosophers during the time of theEnlightenment, things were bad. Most of them had to publish their books insecrecy and still had to deal with them getting burned as officials found out. This would be a very big disappointment, but they later prove that some of theirbeliefs are right when people begin to rebel because of the dramatic messagesthat they sent to people. Whether philosophy, religion, or politics were thebasis of one’s reading they were generally flipped around.
It is said thateducated people have the power to do anything, and during the Enlightenment thissource of power is obvious and is carried out. Whether the readers believed thephilosophers or not, it got the reader thinking and he talked to his friends andthe revolts began. The Enlightenment was a time of change but it was also a timethat dealt with the “unreality” that some thought could be but neverwere because some were so extreme or contradicted each other from philosopher tophilosopher.