SOAN 2111 Chapter 1: SOAN 2111 - Zeitlin Chapter 1 Notes

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SOAN 2111
ZEITLIN CHAPTER 1
THE ENLIGHTMENT
PHILOSOPHICAL FOUNDATIONS
PLUS: PAGES 46 & 47
The term enlightenment refers to the intellectual movement that developed within the
hundred year span that began with the English revolution and ending with the French
revolution. The leading representatives were religious skeptics, political reformers,
cultural critics, historians and social theorists who had great influence in Europe to North
America.
In sharp contrast to most, it was the French Philosophers who mainly criticized both the
church and state campaigning for the basic freedom: arbitrary power, freedom of speech,
trade and to realize one’s talents. It was in the 18th century that the conflict with the
establishment became the most intense. Opposing the old regime, taking it down
intellectually, leading to its actual destruction in 1789.
In the 400 years (1300-1700) social forces had first weakened and first shattered
whatever unity western Christendom had possessed. They can be summarized with
Protestantism Science and Capitalism. We must remember that the medieval science was
teleological: the purpose was to attain knowledge for the sake of god, science was there
to discover gods intention for its creation. Curiosity applied to these spheres was invading
the holy ground. The MM was dominated by the church, literally, emotionally and
intellectually.
In contrast, the men of enlightenment regarded aspects of human life and works as
subjects to critical examination. Self-examination is a model of their own actions and
their own society was an essential function of thought. By gaining an understanding of
the main forces and tendencies of their epoch, human beings could determine their
direction and control of their consequences reaching greater degrees of freedom and
perfections.
The Philosophers waged an unceasing war against superstition, bigotry, and intolerance,
they fought against censorship and demanded freedom of though, attacking the privileges
of the feudal classes and their restraints upon those of commercial and industrial. It is no
longer a matter of abstract thinking. It acquires the practical function of asking critical
questions about existing institutions and demanding those that are not reasonable to
change.
They constructed their ideal of explanation on the model of contemporary natural
sciences. Newton’s empirical method was based on the assumption of universal order and
law in the material world. Order is inevitable in the universe, he believed and that it is not
only discovered by abstract thinking but by observation as well.
*That became the methodological premise of the 18th century thought.
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