Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Salient Features of the Age of Enlightenment

Based on the 17th Century Age of Science and Reason

The most salient feature of the Enlightenment was the its spirit was based on the scientific and intellectual revolution of the 17th century. Indeed ISSAC NEWTON’s LAWS OF MOTION, F. BACON’S idea of SCIENTIFIC METHOD, RENE DESCARTES concept of reason, LOCKE’S principle of NATURAL RIGHT and NATURAL LAW, SPINOZA’S POLITICAL CONCEPTS, plus the SCIENTIFIC THEORIES of W. HARVEY  and HALLY all combined to lay the foundation of the 18th century Enlightenment. History hardly knows of a period so skeptical towards tradition, so faithful to the power of reason and science and so convinced of the harmony of nature and inevitability of progress.
Rejection of Superstition, Magic, Miracle and Witchcraft

Another noteworthy feature of the Enlightenment was the disbelief in and discouragement to superstition, miracles, witchcraft and magic. This was obviously the result of materialist and scientific thinking. The people in the Age of Enlightenment, not only ceased to fear the devil but also the God. God was taken more as the creator of the Universe than as the Father and Divine Providence. God was compared to a watchmaker and the universe as a watch. The Universe is as complex and intricate as a watch. As a watch cannot exist without a watchmaker, so the universe can’t do without god. The Newtonian concept of mathematical law and accuracy was predominant in the minds of Enlightenment scholars.

Spirit of Secularism

A very important feature as well as the accomplishment of the Enlightenment was the spirit of SECULARISM. Religious orthodoxy began to decline as a result of newly emerging rationalism. Churches and churchmen gradually lost out in prestige and leadership. Politics, economy and trade were no longer subjected to religious ends. The religious bondage was thrown off.

Concept of Mechanistic Universe

The Philosophus school of thinkers view that the entire universe is like a machine. A machine contains numerous parts and accessories and all these work in co-ordination based on scientific principles. Similarly, the universe, which contains a large number of galaxies and planets including our own earth, also operate according to definite rules of science. The birth, movement and destruction of planets are according to the laws of science. In other words, the universe is mechanistic in nature. The Enlightenment scholars, being admirers of science and reason, rightly clung to these view. It may appear that they did not believe in God, but the fact is they did not outright God. But they gave a secondary role to God. As already noted. He is just a watch-mechanic rectifying the fault in nature as the mechanic does in the case of a defective watch.

Principle of Empirical Knowledge

The philosophus intellectuals highly respected the principle of empirical knowledge. This is a very profound concept and its relevance is increasing with every passing century. It means that the truth has to be sought after thorough exploration and research. First of all information has to be searched from all possible sources. This is the stage known for exhaustive collection of facts and figures. In the second stage the collected information has to be classified and analysed. In the final stage the truth has to be brought forth in the light of the analysis and assessment of collected materials. The final stage is the most important because the researcher has to arrive at truth without any bias or prejudice. This concept of arriving at truth is more rigid in case of science. The truth has to be reached after thorough experimentation and research. A partial experiment will not lead to universal truth. This concept has been a precious and lasting legacy of the Age of Enlightenment.

Idea of Progress

Another remarkable feature of the Enlightenment was the abiding faith in the idea of progress. It is often said that the idea of progress was the dominating idea of the European civilization from 17th century to early 20th century. It received a rude shock during World War I and was shattered to pieces by the World War II. The idea implies that human society with the accumulations of more and more knowledge about itself and the universe will improve and ennoble itself. Man’s advancement and improvement would follow a linear course. Each generation with the acquisition of great knowledge and experience would be better, nobler, wiser and more prosperous than it’s preceding generation. In the 17th century, in England and France, the dispute between the ANCIENTS and MODERNISTS had already reflected the coming of the idea of progress. The Ancients believed that the classical literature was the source of knowledge and wisdom and that there was nothing more to know than what the ancient Greeks and Romans had said. The Modernists, on the other hand, refer to the vast repository of knowledge, contributed by science and technology, by art and literature. They believed that the modern men not only know the best of the past, but also know much by unraveling the mystery of nature through experiments and observations.


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