The Enlightenment18th Century Europe. The goal of the Enlightenment was to establish an authoritative ethics, aesthetics, and knowledge based on an "enlightened" rationality. 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.
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.
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.
|Table of contents|
2 Important figures of the Enlightenment era
3 See also