Enlightenment: Advocacy For A Rational Way Of Thinking And Challenge To The Authority Of Churches
The Enlightenment was a period of intellectual and philosophical developments inspired by the scientific revolution. During this time, reason and science were emphasized over superstitions or other beliefs leading to the increased interest of reform in the society. People were convinced that human conditions could be changed by science and philosophy, and they greatly admired the human mind. Although some may argue that the Enlightenment did not create a huge effect on the society, ultimately the Enlightenment-inspired a series of important social changes in the 1700s, such as an increase in literacy through the emergence of print culture, a change in the roles and conditions of women, and the creation of public opinion leading to a more secular way of thinking among the society.
The Enlightenment thrived under the spread of print culture, which increased opportunities for comparison and created interactions between people that fostered the spread and exchange of new ideas. More publications of books, newspapers, and journals gave access to almost everyone to be exposed to different ideas and concepts. The concepts and theories of Issac Newton and John Locke became the major foundation for many Enlightenment ideas as they became known to more people. The ideas of the scientific revolution established an emphasis on experiment and reason to avoid metaphysics and supernaturalism. Their ideas provided a basis for a reformist approach to society. The increased literacy across Europe was the driving force behind the expansion of printed materials. The printing press allowed for a decline in cost and easier access to books through libraries and shops. The printed materials created a way for people to communicate information and ideas to the rest of society. The expanding market for books allowed writers to acquire a living from their work, creating new job opportunities. The spread of ideas changed the perspective of the people on social and political life and encouraged discussion of their own ideas.
Another effect of the Enlightenment on society was the change of the conditions for women. Women played a major role during the Enlightenment by promoting the careers of the philosophes. They provided the philosophes with access to social and political contacts to disseminate their ideas and increase in their social status. They organized salons with connections to well-known and powerful figures to secure royal pensions for the philosophes. Even though the philosophes revise much help and support from the learned women, most did not advocate for changes in their social status. Rousseau claimed that women should be educated to subordinate to men, and portrayed women as weaker and secondary to the position of men. He argued for a more domestic role of women as a wife and mothers. In Mary Wollstonecraft’s, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, she strongly advocated for women to receive equal education and defended the rights of women compared to men. Providing women with good education could further strengthen society and Wollstonecraft believed that women could achieve intellectual equality with men. Wollestoncrafy accused others of their upheld traditional view of women argued for the removal of limitations on their education. Wollstonecraft broadened the ideas of the Enlightenment to provide women with equal rights as well as men. Women greatly contributed to the development of the Enlightenment by providing a different vision through their perspective and became active in sharing their ideas by being involved in social discussions.
Lastly, the Enlightenment urged for a more secular way of thinking when it came to dealing with societal problems. The expansion of printed materials, increase literate public led to the growing influence of secular ideas. This created an influential force of public opinion. People were more willing to express their own opinion on the topic of interest without the influence of religion. As more printed materials are distributed, the people could now directly view new information from newspapers and journals as opposed to relying on the church or other religious institutions to hear new announcements. The urge for reason and experiment spread through printed works led to more focus on natural philosophy without the influence of superstitions and religious faiths. The philosophes claimed that the Christian churches hampered the inquiry of rational life and the scientific study of humanity. Religion provided a wrong perspective of the world in their doctrines and teachings. The philosophes refuted the doctrine of original sin stating that human improvement was impossible on earth. They urged for a more accepting concept of religious faith and more toleration for different ideas. The philosophes advocated for a more rational way of thinking and challenged the authority of the churches arguing for more toleration.