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The Philosophes / The Early Enlightenment

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Kenneth Bartlett

HIS109 Nov. 22/2010 The Philosophes Age of Reason – the coming together of what amounts to the Enlightenment Established a new worldview – a way to perceive the relationship between man and nature Began with Descartes’ Discourse on Method What characterized the Enlightenment? Education and learning seen in terms of secular needs and goals Concept of systematic doubt exploited the belief that nothing could be accepted without evidence and proof The way to achieve human enlightenment is through reason After Newton established basic law of nature - the society of mankind could be understood The application of human reason to any situation could produce better results Change could happen because it would be in tune with nature, but change could happen that could bring human society into concert with nature (would be good) Through reason and intelligence humans can alter the circumstances of their own lives (political situations could be changed for example) Laws of the universe cannot be changed – laws of nature absolute and immutable Economic, political, & social systems are mutable because they are elements of human discretion Partly dependent on the scientific method Principles, knowledge must be applied to the human condition to be given validity and to make a difference in human lives If men and women could alter their societies to be in tune with natural law, there had to be a purpose What is useful is determined by what promotes human happiness and welfare Hierarchical structures questioned – why should a single person have authority over all based upon an accident of birth Entire assumption of the world called into question The idea of human welfare and the greatest number were based upon the idea of utility – how can we make the world better, happier, and ensure that basic human rights are sustained? Everything that had been previously accepted up until this point were questioned Philosophes: Wrote about Enlightenment ideal, questioned ideals Sought to apply principles of reason and rationalism to the human condition Wanted to reduce anything that was irrational, based on superstition, or could not be proven by fact Challenged the ideas upon which society was built Wanted to create a better place on Earth, the idea of suffering and obeying was something inimical Wanted to control the institutions of society Constituted an intellectual elite A new basis for human society was being made based on reason, natural laws Reason will allow human to find institutions that are natural War on the Ancien Regime represented by the Bourbon monarchy This was NOT a good form of government; there are other more effective ways to organize society Francois Marie Arouet de VOLTAIRE (1694 -1778) Represents the style and value structure of the age of reason and the problems faced by those challenging the institutions of society Experimented with literary expression during his youth He had much wit that made him popular in the salons The intervention of Madame de Pompadour allowed him to be released from Bastille Lived in England for some time and observed the constitutional monarchy Used Newton as an example to demonstrate the differences between France and England Saw England as a model for an experiment with constitutional monarchy in which the king could not act alone, and the church could not decide who was good and who was bad Saw religious toleration, free press & liberal politics England was not egalitarian, but in comparison to the ancien regime of France it was a “paradise” Took ideas that developed in England and wrote books spreading these concepts Seemingly idolized Louis the 14 ironic that the king who revoked the Edict of Nantes would be idolized In the area of religious toleration, and making the role of the church miniscule Voltaire did not tire– focused most of energies against the abuses of the French church Voltaire used two cases in which to criticize the church: Calas Was a Protestant Was executed because it was thought that he murdered his son because he wanted to convert to Catholicism Church used this to embarrass Protestantism He was not given a trial Raised consciousness of anti-clerical thinking La Barre Caught desecrating a shrine He was sentenced to death, although this was not that serious Voltaire worked tirelessly to get him released One of the first acts of the revolution was disestablishing the church, and taking all of the church’s land This was done because men such as Voltaire turned the church into the enemy, the church stands in your way just as much as the monarchy Escracez l’infame (Crush the infamy) If he were going to destroy the church, what would Voltaire put in its place? Rational, natural alternative to Christian beliefs was Deism – the belief in a supernatural being or God is rational and stem from human rationalism and not any type of divine intervention All we have to do as human beings is use our ability to reason If we relied on our reason than the problems of the world would lessen, possibly disappear Human civilization completely dependent on causation – the world has progressed because people made the decision to do things We can create our own civilization and world Put together a method, but did not put forth an alternative example for human happiness Was not a democrat - had a very low opinion of the common man, despite the fact that he believed strongly in Locke’s Epistemology Dominated the intellectual life of his time, works still define the contours of the French mind HIS109 Nov. 24/2010 The Early Enlightenment Voltaire assaulted the anicen regime using his wit and writing about the absurdity living under the Bourbon monarchy The problem was his wit and satire were destructive, rather than constructive He offered no alternative, wasn’t good with coming up with solutions, however; Montesquieu did C. de Montesquieu Was involved in politics (sat on the Parliament of Bourdeau), many philosophes were not Realized that the world needed fundamental change, he read the theorists such as Locke Wrote the Persian Letters: observations of a Persian visitor traveling through France, used this guise to write frankly and make fun of institutions that his rank would give him access to Realized that Europeans are euro-centric, but at the same time indicated that we looked at the world from a different perspective Pointed out the absurdities that Voltaire did, but wrote from the perspective of someone with a rich cultural tradition Described France as an odd place, began the genre of critiquing one’s nation under a guise Spirit of the Laws: printed in 1748 and was heavily dependent on changing the political, social, & economic aspects of soci
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