At the core of the Enlightenment was philosophy, and using reason and logic to determine truth and expose religious corruption and the manipulation power it possesses. Science and art were the most powerful tools utilized by the Philosophers in their various unique, but similar goals. The means to progress and productivity use their tools to gain enlightenment, truth and to dispose of traditional and flawed beliefs, they changed the world they lived in politically to gain freedom for themselves and others to help reach a state of human existence personally and socially, that would bring a better world. Enlightenment thinkers were optimistic and productive in using their intelligence to better the state of mankind.
Philosophy in the eighteenth-century was a revolutionary field of study that had been forgotten for a few hundred years and logic and reason were reintroduced to bring mankind out of a state of ignorance. Kant, Holbach, and Diderot all discuss logic in a manner that demonstrates their meaning of the word to use reason for the good of humanity. In “The System of Nature”, by Holbach, he justifies his belief that, for us to be happy, we must free our minds from the tyranny of cultural views in the various ways it is manifested, such as government and religion. Diderot in “Prospectus for the Encyclopedia of Arts and Sciences” explains how reason is used to benefit man by its natural tendency to create knowledge that can be added to a system, such as an encyclopedia for others to use later in a productive manner. Perhaps the strongest and most controversial views about religion and human rights at the time were Kant’s. “What is Enlightenment”, by Kant expresses what most religious people at the time would have found to be extremely offensive and blasphemous. He says that humans are scared of truth and suppress their potential, especially because of religion. This era brought fourth revolutionary change in culture to express one’s opinion.
The meaning of philosophy has changed with the people that use it. “The Philosophe” in the encyclopedia gives examples of the meaning at that time. During the terms rebirth it referred to a respect to use logic, reason, and critical thinking skills not often introspected upon. In modern times this definition is not as valid, because in common culture, it has already been assimilated. Especially in schools skill sets are developed to improve childrens ability to problem solve, something not available at the time. Furthermore, discrimination is no longer as great of a factor as it previously was. In previous centuries, women were not given the same level of education to develop their minds as is explained in “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”, by Mary Wallstonecrraft.
What philosophy is used for has also changed. It used to be that philosophy was primarily used to discover new ways to help scientific progress. The scientific method has been refined to incredible lengths, so the task of philosophy has changed. In modern culture, philosophy is affiliated with hypothetical and ethical questions, as opposed to physical questions. This doesn’t mean that in the eighteenth-century philosophy didn’t pursue ethical questions, such as demonstrated in “Philosophical Dictionary: The English Model”, by Voltair. In fact, much of the Enlightenment was concentrated on questions regarding ethics, especially of religious nature. Thomas Paine in “The Age of Reason: Deism” questions the churches motives, and the distribution of wealth away from people to said churches. The meaning of Enlightenment and the philosophies behind it is probably best described by the Frontispiece of the Encyclopedia. At the time, philosophy was a way of finding truth using the hard sciences, as illustrated by the objects in this painting. Recent opinion of philosophy has changed to include more of the soft sciences.
Government was a corner stone in Enlightenment discussions. In order for humanity to be enlightened, they must first be free. Monarchs at the time must first accept this and help their people to enlightenment. Joseph II was considered such a monarch. He endorsed freedom of religion and personal liberties. This is evident by the letters he wrote. In “The Problem of Enlightened Absolutism”, H.M. Scott concludes Joseph II was indeed an enlightened monarch. Some resistance in the commoners at the time was to be expected, seeing as they were not part of the enlightenment and enlightened viewpoints often contradicted their own. To reinsure that they shouldn’t be afraid of his beliefs, Joseph II had an artist make a painting depicting him helping a farmer plow his fields. This was very unorthodox at the time considering that monarchs were considered “superior” and above such tasks. The biggest part that the enlightenment played a role on in European governments was freedom of speech and religion. “The Secularization of European Thought” outlines how thought press and education this happened.
In the end, the greatest change the enlightenment brought was social change. With this all else followed. In the “Social Contract” Jean Jacques Rousseau depicts the balance of what is gained and lost with social rules. Thinking about social standards being a choice was a completely new way of thinking. The mood the public had toward sciences was also affected as depicted in “Experiment With an Air Pump.” A stereo type that scientists will do anything for knowledge even at great ethical cost still exists. This doesn’t mean the enlightenment was cold without human aspects. But for example, the enlightenment thinkers were somewhat hypocritical with their views on women. “Women in the Salons”, explains how women were not given direct power and needed to use their social power to support their beliefs. In concution the men of the enlightenment were human too, “The heavenly city of the eighteenth-century philosophers” out lines their hypocracy and failures, never the less credit to their revolutionary new ways of seeing the world that launched humanity into its modern era with the it’s furts of technological conveniences must be given.