The Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, was a period in the late 17th and 18th centuries in which western European culture shifted from an emphasis on religious authority to an increased emphasis on scientific reason and the power of individual reason. It included the development of new philosophies and theoretical frameworks for understanding the world and new ideas about how society should be structured. During this time, many Europeans began to question the authority of religion, of the ruling monarchs, and of traditional social and political structures.
Questions about Divine Right and Absolute Monarchy
One example of how Europeans began to question authority during the Enlightenment was in regards to the concept of divine right and absolute monarchy, which held that rulers were appointed by divine authority and thus had absolute power and authority over their subjects. The Enlightenment challenged this notion, with thinkers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke arguing that all humans had natural rights that should be respected, and that rulers had a duty to uphold these rights. This shift in thinking helped to lead to the French Revolution in 1789, in which the people of France overthrew the ruling monarchy and declared their own representative government.
Empiricism and Scientific Reason
Another example of how Europeans began to question authority during the Enlightenment was with the development of the scientific method and rational inquiry. Already by the late 17th century, scientists like Isaac Newton had developed principles of mathematical and scientific reasoning that could be applied to experiments and observations. This shifted the emphasis from religious faith to empirical evidence and scientific reasoning, and enabled people to think more objectively about the natural world and their place in it. The Enlightenment also saw the rise of Deism, a belief system that rejected the miracles of Christianity but still maintained that God had designed the universe and its laws, which could be discovered and understood through science and reason.
Political and Social Change
The Enlightenment ultimately enabled new forms of social and political organization, as people began to apply the same principles of rationality and empiricism to their understanding of society and government. Ideas like liberty, representative government, and civil rights were embraced by many Enlightenment thinkers, and the 18th century saw an increasing tendency among Europeans to challenge traditional forms of authority and social structures. This eventually led to the American and French Revolutions, as well as the development of newly independent nations in Latin America and elsewhere, all of which were based upon Enlightenment ideals of freedom, reason, and self-determination.
The Enlightenment was a period of significant social and political change, in which Europeans began to question traditional religious authority and absolute monarchy, and to embrace scientific reason and new forms of political and social organization. This led to the development of many of the philosophical and political ideas that still shape the world today, and it allowed for the emergence of revolutionary movements that sought to overthrow oppressive governments and create societies based upon individual freedom and equality.