Category Archives: The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment


Philosophes– philosophers during the Enlightenment who advocated the use of reason and common sense to reform certain institutions and social conduct.

Immanuel Kant– Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a German philosopher. Kant believed that all human beings possess an innate sense of moral duty or awareness which he called a categorical imperative. Kant’s ideas are a central figure in today’s modern philosophy.

Sapere aude– is translated to “Dare to know” from latin. Kant used this phrase as the motto for the period known as the Enlightenment.

Voltaire– Francois-Marie Arouet (1694-1778), also known as Voltaire, was a famous philosopher during the period of the Enlightenment. Voltaire is known for his advocacy of the separation of church and state. During the time, Voltaire attacked the Catholic Church in his several books and essays.

print culture– a culture in which books, journals, newspapers, and pamphlets had achieved a status of their own. During the Enlightenment, a lively world of publication of books, essays, and newspapers had arisen. The increase of literacy rates had driven the need for printed materials.

Isaac Newton– Isaac Newton (1642-1726) is a famous mathematician, physicist, and astronomer. In his book, Principia Mathematica, Newton described the three laws of motion. Newton was also a pioneer in the discovery of calculus.

John Locke – tabula rasa– John Locke (1632-1704) was an English philosopher. Locke is known for his social contract theory. His work has greatly effected modern political science. Tabula rasa means blank slate in latin.

Locke believed that all men were born with a blank slate at birth and all knowledge was gained from the five senses.

Denis Diderot – Encyclopédie– Denis Diderot was a famous French philosopher and writer. Diderot is best known for his contributions to the Encyclopédie. The Encyclopédie was a general encyclopedia published in France during the Enlightenment.

Moses Mendelssohn– Moses Mendelssohn was a Jewish German philosopher. Mendelssohn’s ideas were part of the “Jewish Enlightenment” of the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Lady Mary Wortley Montague– (1689-1762) was an English aristocrat. Lady Mary Wortley Montague is known for her letters to her husband, the British ambassador to Turkey. Her letters describe her experiences in Turkey. After her death, her letters were published. Montague wrote in her letters that Turkey had advanced architecture; nothing like what she saw in western Europe. She also praised the Turks for their practices of vaccination against smallpox.

Cesare Beccaria On Crimes and Punishments– Cesare Beccaria was an Italian politician, criminologist, and philosopher. In his book On Crimes and Punishments, Beccaria criticized the brutal, excessive, and unequal common practices of punishment of that era. Beccaria’s book, On Crimes and Punishments, influenced the founding fathers of the United States.

Adam Smith Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations– Adam Smith is a Scottish philosopher and political scientist. In his book, Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Smith describes what builds a nation’s wealth. The book was published on March 9, 1776.

laissez-faire– is the economic theory which states that the government should not interfere with private economic affairs or businesses.

Charles Louis de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu– Charles Louis de Montesquieu (1689-1755) was a French lawyer and political philosopher. Montesquieu is known for his belief of the separation of powers in a state.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau Social Contract– Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was a philosopher and writer during the Enlightenment. Rousseau is known for his social contract theory. The belief of social contract theory is that one should give up certain freedoms, for protection and for civil freedom.

Juilie de Lespinasse, Marie-Therese Geoffrin– Marie-Therese Geoffrin (1699-1777) was a wealthy woman who owned a salon which became a gathering spot for many famous writers and philosophes of the Enlightenment.

Mary Wollstonecraft – A Vindication of the Rights of Women– Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was an English writer and advocate for women’s rights. Wollstonecraft wrote her most famous piece, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, about the rights of women. In the piece, Wollstonecraft responds to the educational and political theories that women should not be educated.

Frederick II of Prussia– Fredrick II (1712-1786) rulled Prussia from 1740 to 1786. Frederick the Great embraced Enlightenment ideas. During his rule Prussia was tolerant of different religions. People of Prussia embraced their tolerant government, which was a contrast to the French government which was not as religiously tolerant.

Joseph II of Austria– Joseph II (1741-1790) was the Holy Roman Emperor and ruler of Austria. Joseph II was the son of Maria Theresa. Joseph II of Austria truly wanted to improve conditions for his country but the result still ended in aristocratic and peasant revolts.

Catherine II of Russia– (1729-1796) was the longest-ruling female leader of Russia. She ascended the throne after the assassination of her husband. During her rule of Russia, Catherine followed Peter the Great’s example by promoting economic development. The time which Russia experienced under the rule of Catherine II was known as the Golden Age of Russia.

Partition of Poland– During the expansion of Russia, under the rule of Catherine II, Russia annexed parts of Poland. Russia’s move into Poland alarmed many European countries.


1. How did the Enlightenment change basic Western attitudes toward reform, faith, and reason? What were the major formative influences on the philosophes? How important were Voltaire and the Encyclopédie in the  success of the Enlightenment?

The Enlightenment changed the perspective and the outlook of people. Philosophers of the Enlightenment wrote about rights for women, economic theories, human understanding, and wrote criticisms of the Catholic Church. People began to look at things differently after writers and philosophers began to question faith and reason. The major formative influences on the philosophes were the thinkers of the Scientific Revolution. The thinkers of the Scientific Revolution greatly impacted the way the philosophes of the Enlightenment thought. Both the ideas spread by Voltaire, and the knowledge spread of the Enclyclopédie were essential to the success of the Enlightenment. Voltaire’s ideas made people think about the ideas of liberty and freedom. The Encyclopédie defined certain terms and definitions. It spread knowledge throughout Europe.

2. Why did the philosophes consider organized religion to be their greatest enemy? Discuss the basic tenets of deism. How did Jewish writers contribute to Enlightenment thinking about religion? What are the similarities and differences between the Enlightenment evaluation of Islam and its evaluations of Christianity and Judaism?

The Philosophes of the Enlightenment believed that religion was their greatest enemy because it stood in the way of progress. Deism is the belief of a rational god who created the universe but does not interfere with every day actions of humans. Many philosophes believed that deism was a rational religion; one without fanaticism and superstition. Many Jewish writers during the Enlightenment wrote about tolerance of religion. Jewish scholars wanted to improve relations between Christians and Jews. As a result people in Europe, especially Prussia, slowly began to accept the Jewish population as equals. The views of the Enlightenment on Judaism and Christianity were that they were both rational. Some philosophers such as Voltaire believed Christianity was a stifling religion which was oppressive. Voltaire also believed that Islam was also oppressive in the same way. Other philosophers believed that Islam was superior to Christianity and Judaism because it was more open and allowed for a freer society.

3. Compare the arguments of the mercantilism with those of Adam Smith in his book The Wealth of Nations. How did both sides view the earth’s resources? Why might Smith be regarded as an advocate of the consumer? How did his theory of history work to the detriment of less economically advanced non-European people?

The main arguments between mercantilism and the theories of Adam Smith in his book The Wealth of Nations, were the two different approaches to economics. According to mercantilism, a country should only trade with one other country. An example was Great Britain only trading with the American colonies. In return Britain gained a vast amount of raw goods. Accordion to Adam Smith,  a country should have several companies which control trade. Adam Smith believed in the separation between the economy and the government. Both sides viewed earth’s resources as unlimited and one can easily benefit from this. Adams Smith’s theory of Capitalism created many companies and corporations who began to explore in search of raw materials and land to sell. This effected non-European residents of the world because Europeans began to expand all around the globe in search of resources for profit.

4. Discuss the political views of Montesquieu and Rousseau. Was Montesquieu’s view of England accurate? Was Rousseau a child of the Enlightenment or its enemy? Which did Rousseau value more, the individual or society?

Montesquieu and Rousseau were both two Enlightenment philosophes who both wrote about politics. The main difference between Montesquieu and Rousseau was their belief of a social contract with the state. Montesquieu believed that a social contract should not exist between the citizens of a state and the state itself. He believed that humans automatically come together for protection from their neighbors. Rousseau believed in the social contract. He believed in a democracy, and if an elected official did not serve the population well the citizens have the power to overthrow him. He believed the social contract was necessary for a state to function. People relinquish some of their rights in order for civil liberty, fairness, and protection. Rousseau was the enemy of the Enlightenment. The era of the Enlightenment was not ready for Rousseau’s radical and completely original thinking. In the 17th and 18th centuries Europe was predominately ruled by monarchies. Europe was not ready for Rousseau’s ideas. Rousseau valued society over the individual. The needs of many outweigh the needs of few.

5. Were the enlightened monarchs true believers in the ideal of the philosophers, or was their enlightenment a mere veneer? Were they really absolute in power? What motivated their reforms? What does the partition of Poland indicate about the spirit of enlightened absolutism?

Enlightenment monarchs were not true believers in the ideal of the philosophers. They agreed with some of the aspects the philosophers wrote about but definitely not all. Some Enlightenment philosophers believed in democracy, and some the separation of church and state. It may seem as though Enlightenment monarchs had absolute power, but they did not. Even the rich and powerful King Louis XIII and XIV did not have absolute power. All of the monarchs had limitations such as money, ability to convince their population that they were the best ruler, and military limitations. The motivation behind the monarchs reforms was to stay in power. They realized that the population was agreeing with the ideas of the Enlightenment philosophers so they decided to react in order to prevent revolts. They changed laws against religious toleration. The partition of Poland showed that the monarchs did not care about the ideals of the philosophes and only about land and power. If the monarchs respected the ideals of the Enlightenment philosophers, then they would have asked the population of Poland wether or not they would like to become part of their country.


Kagan, Donald, Steven Ozment E., Frank Turner M., and A. Frankforter Daniel. The Western Heritage. Combined Volume. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004. Print.

Kagan, Donald, Steven E. Ozment, and Frank M. Turner. The Western Heritage: Since 1300. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. Print.

Ramírez, Susan E., Peter N. Stearns, Samuel S. Wineburg, and Steven A. Goldberg.Holt World History: Human Legacy. Austin, TX: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2008. Print.