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The Enlightenment was an 18th century counterculture which opposed religious superstition and advocated rational thinking. It culminated in the American and French revolutions, as well as the Industrial Revolution. [May 2006]

The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own intelligence!" --Immanuel Kant

Media, as we know it, first emerged at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Papers, journals, broadsheets, all became widely available in the new created public space of the coffeehouse. [...] The popular market for art and literature liberated writers and artists from the need for court patronage. No longer having to please their sponsors, they could experiment, and speak out as brashly as they wished. --Ken Goffman via counterculture through the ages, p. 162

The Enlightenment was followed by Romanticism, which was a reaction against the rationalization of nature by the Enlightenment.

Contemporary art movements: baroque - rococo - neoclassicism

People: Denis Diderot - Immanuel Kant - Jean-Jacques Rousseau - Marquis de Sade - Spinoza - Voltaire

Era: 1650s - 1660s - 1670s - 1680s - 1690s - 1700s - 1710s - 1720s - 1730s - 1740s - 1750s - 1760s - 1770s - 1780s - 1790s

Related: anti-clericalism - capitalism (rise of) - clandestine and anonymous publishing - libertine - materialism - radical politics - reason (main trope) - French Revolution - Industrial Revolution (rise of) - print culture (result of)

Compare: counter-enlightenment

Historians and texts: Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944) - Horkheimer and Adorno - Robert Darnton - John Mullan - Peter Gay

The French Encyclopédie was a quintessential summary of thought and belief of the Enlightenment. It tried to destroy superstitions and provide access to human knowledge. In ancien régime France it caused a storm of controversy, however. This was mostly due to its religious tolerance (though this should not be exaggerated; the article on "Atheism" defended the state's right to persecute and to execute atheists). The encyclopedia praised Protestant thinkers and challenged Catholic dogma. The entire work was banned; but because it had many highly placed supporters, work continued and each volume was delivered clandestinely to subscribers. [Apr 2006]

The sleep of reason produces monsters (1797-98) - Francisco Goya
from Los Caprichos


The Enlightenment (The Age of Enlightenment) was an intellectual movement in 18th Century Europe. The goal of the Enlightenment was to establish an authoritative ethics, aesthetics, and knowledge based on an "enlightened" rationality (also logocentric). The movement's leaders viewed themselves as a courageous, elite body of enlightened intellectuals who were leading the world toward progress, out of a long period of irrationality, immaturity, and tyranny which began during a historical period they called the Dark Ages. This movement provided a framework for the American and French Revolutions, as well as the rise of capitalism.

Enlightenment thinkers believed that the solution to the world's ills was rational thinking. It marked an effort to replace religion and aristocracy-based truths and social structures with those defined by rationality and common sense. Thus, social structures became increasingly characterized by a loss of faith in traditional religious sources of authority and a turn toward deism, natural law, natural history, the scientific method and other methodical ways of thinking, and the replacement of theocracies and hereditary aristocracies with democracies and republics led by elite bodies of men who were thought to be "enlightened" because of their rationality and common sense.

In his famous 1784 essay "What Is Enlightenment?", Immanuel Kant defined it as follows:

"Enlightenment is man's leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. Such immaturity is self-caused if its cause is not lack of intelligence, but by lack of determination and courage to use one's intelligence without being guided by another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own intelligence!"

One of the influences on the Enlightenment consisted of reports of Catholic priests in China which served as a model for a secular enlightened despot.

The upheavals of the Enlightenment led directly to the American Revolutionary War as well as the French Revolution and significantly influenced the Industrial Revolution. Enlightenment ideas were also strongly influential in the Constitution of the United States.

The Enlightenment was also marked by the rise of capitalism and the wide availability of printed materials. The French Encyclopédie combined free-thinking articles with technological information.

One important response to the Enlightenment within the European Jewish community was the Haskalah movement.

The concept of a single, Europe-wide movement may of course be challenged in detail: it reflects a cultural dominance of French thought. One may also pursue the German, Scottish and other national movements. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Enlightenment [Jun 2004]

The role of anonymous pamphlets

Anonymity played a similar role in the political culture of eighteenth century France. Robert Darnton points out that some of the most radical printed texts of the Enlightenment had no author. "They were the public discussing. They expressed the on dit, or talk of the town" (Forbidden Bestsellers 80). --http://journals.iranscience.net:800/mcel.pacificu.edu/mcel.pacificu.edu/history/jahcI1/Call/democ.html [May 2006]

French clandestine manuscripts are one of the most interesting phenomena of early Enlightenment. A great number of texts have been discovered and studied since Gustave Lanson's (1912) and Ira O. Wade's (1938) pioneer studies. The most famous and widely spread manuscripts are the Traité des trois imposteurs, the Mémoire by Jean Meslier, Du Marsais' Examen de la religion and Fréret's Lettre de Thrasybule à Leucippe. The philosophical inspiration of these treatises is not always the same. They only share an anti-christian attitude, leading sometimes either to a deist (Examen de la religion) or to an atheist position (Meslier's Mémoire, Fréret's Lettre de Thrasybule à Leucippe). Some critical editions of these texts are already available, and a collection entirely devoted to clandestine philosophical texts is directed by Antony McKenna at the Voltaire Foundation in Oxford. We offer here a limited but representative selection of texts, hoping to increase for the future the extent and quality of our electronic corpus. --http://www.vc.unipmn.it/~mori/e-texts/ [Sept 2005]

Sexual Antipodes: Enlightenment, Globalization, and the Placing of Sex (2003) - Pamela Cheek

Sexual Antipodes: Enlightenment, Globalization, and the Placing of Sex (2003) - Pamela Cheek [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

"Sexual Antipodes" is about how Enlightenment print culture built modern national and racial identity out of images of sexual order and disorder in public life. It examines British and French popular journalism, utopian fiction and travel accounts about South Sea encounters, pamphlet literature and pornography, as well as more literary sources on the 18th century, such as the novel and philosophical essays and tales. The title refers to a premise in utopian and exoticist fiction about the southern portion of the globe: sexual order defines the character of the state. The book begins by examining how the idea of sexual order operated as the principle for explaining national differences in 18th-century contestation between Britain and France. It then traces how, following British and French encounters with Tahiti, the comparison of different national sexual orders formed the basis for two theories of race: race as essential character and race as degeneration. via Amazon.co.uk [Jan 2005]

Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 (2002) - Jonathan I. Israel

Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 (2002) - Jonathan I. Israel [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Book Description
In the wake of the Scientific Revolution, the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the complete demolition of traditional structures of authority, scientific thought, and belief by the new philosophy and the philosophes, including Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau. The Radical Enlightenment played a part in this revolutionary process, which effectively overthrew all justification for monarchy, aristocracy, and ecclesiastical power, as well as man's dominance over woman, theological dominance of education, and slavery. Despite the present day interest in the revolutions of the eighteenth century, the origins and rise of the Radical Enlightenment have received limited scholarly attention. The greatest obstacle to the movement finding its proper place in modern historical writing is its international scope: the Radical Enlightenment was not French, British, German, Italian, Jewish or Dutch, but all of these at the same time. In this wide-ranging volume, Jonathan Israel offers a novel interpretation of the Radical Enlightenment down to La Mettie and Diderot, two of its key exponents. Particular emphasis is placed on the pivotal role of Spinoza and the widespread underground international philosophical movement known before 1750 as Spinozism.

See also: 1700s - Spinoza - radical

Traité des trois imposteurs (1719) - Anonymous

Image sourced here.

Author unknown. The Traité des trois imposteurs is one of the most famous French clandestine manuscripts. First edited in 1719 under the title L'Esprit de Spinosa. This is a late edition (1768).

However important it may be for all men to know the Truth, very few, nevertheless, are acquainted with it, because the majority are incapable of searching it themselves, or perhaps, do not wish the trouble. Thus we must not be astonished if the world is filled with vain and ridiculous opinions, and nothing is more capable of making them current than ignorance, which is the sole source of the false ideas that exist regarding the Divinity, the soul, and the spirit, and all the errors depending thereon.

The custom of being satisfied with born prejudice has prevailed, and by following this custom, mankind agrees in all things with persons interested in supporting stubbornly the opinions thus received, and who would speak otherwise did they not fear to destroy themselves. --http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/unknown/three_impostors.html [Sept 2005]

The Treatise of the Three Impostors is a work of the enlightenment which helped to start advance the critique of religious dominance. Its First printing was accredited to the printer M.M. Rey, but may have existed in manuscript form for some time before it was published. It is unlikely to have been around since the time of Freidrich II (1194-1250) which was part of the mythology of the manuscript. It was nominally a text handed down from generation to generation detailing how the three major figures of world religion: Muhammad, Jesus, and Abraham were in fact misrepresenting what had happened to them. At the time this novel approach was used to allow thinkers to conceptualize a world where explanation ruled over mere "mystery" a term used for the miraculous intervention on earth by God. It was useful to both Deists and Atheists in legitimizing their world view and being a common source of intellectual reference. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Treatise_of_the_Three_Impostors [May 2006]

See also: clandestine - 1700s - Spinoza - materialism

Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944/1947) - Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno

  1. Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944/1947) - Max Horkheimer, Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    See entry for Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944/1947) - Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno

    The Enlightenment: An Interpretation: The Science of Freedom - Peter Gay

  2. The Enlightenment: An Interpretation: The Science of Freedom - Peter Gay [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    The Enlightenment by Peter Gay (2 volumes: The Rise of Modern Paganism and The Science of Freedom) surely ranks among the most brilliant accounts of eighteenth-century philosophy ever written. It is a sweeping account of the intellectual history of the 18th century, form its origins right into the French and American Revolutions. It traces the struggle of the small clique of 'philosophes' -a dispersed group of intellectual giants such as Voltaire, Hume, Lessing and Beccaria- as they fight against corruption, superstition and ignorance, which has kept Europe slumbering since the demise of the Roman Empire. The book vividly illustrates the ideas of the 'philosophes' and how they wanted to bring their reform programs into practice, and thereby spread the ideals of liberty and the pursuit of knowledge. Peter Gay deftly describes the cultural background of the 'philosophes' and explains how they came to challenge the establishment in order to bringing about these much needed changes so as to give their ideals a chance to prevail. The book has an extensive and well-readable bibliography with many good suggestions. This account of the Enlightenment is among the best ever written in the twentieth century, along with Paul Hazard's European Thought in the 18th century and Ernst Cassirer's The Philosophy of the Enlightenment. I do recommend all to read both volumes of this book. --w_oosterveld2 from Zaandam, Netherlands via amazon.com

Age of Reason (1794) - Thomas Paine

IT has been my intention, for several years past, to publish my thoughts upon religion; I am well aware of the difficulties that attend the subject, and from that consideration, had reserved it to a more advanced period of life. I intended it to be the last offering I should make to my fellow-citizens of all nations, and that at a time when the purity of the motive that induced me to it could not admit of a question, even by those who might disapprove the work.

The circumstance that has now taken place in France, of the total abolition of the whole national order of priesthood, and of everything appertaining to compulsive systems of religion, and compulsive articles of faith, has not only precipitated my intention, but rendered a work of this kind exceedingly necessary, lest, in the general wreck of superstition, of false systems of government, and false theology, we lose sight of morality, of humanity, and of the theology that is true.

As several of my colleagues, and others of my fellow-citizens of France, have given me the example of making their voluntary and individual profession of faith, I also will make mine; and I do this with all that sincerity and frankness with which the mind of man communicates with itself.

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

I believe the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

But, lest it should be supposed that I believe many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit. --Thomas Paine, 1794

Age of Reason (1794) - Thomas Paine [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

The Age of Reason is a philosophical treatise written by the 18th Century British intellectual Thomas Paine, best remembered as the author of the political pamphlet Common Sense, credited with exciting colonial opinion in support of the American Revolutionary War.

The Age of Reason, written in parts during the 1790s and dealing in a systematic examination of organized religion, advocates a skeptical and rational examination of religion known as Deism. Paine stresses his belief in the oneness of God, and the "Word of God" as exemplified by nature and the exercise of Reason. Thus, he necessarily rejects most of the tenets of both the Old Testament and New Testament. As he stresses: "I sincerely detest it, the Bible as I detest everything that is cruel." Paine provides not only criticism of religion though, but a foundation for belief in a supreme being free of the confines of dogma.

Paine began the work while in France in 1793. As Paine was in jail for protesting the execution of Louis XVI, this first section was published in a French translation. After his release from prison, at the urging of James Monroe, Paine wrote the second part. The completed work was then published several years later. Paine became extremely unpopular at the time due to this book and largely became a social pariah upon his return to America until his death in 1810. Yet his treatise became quite influential in the history of the skeptical, rationalist, and freethinking movements and remains one of the most persuasive critiques of the Bible and revealed religion ever written. Yet, it is often ignored that central to this text is an argument in favor of the existance of a Creator, one based on reason and logic as opposed to the various fundementalist modes of both religion and atheism. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Age_of_Reason [Jan 2006]

See also: Enlightenment - reason - 1790s

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