Outcomes Of Enlightenment: Political Force, Science, Thinkers And American Revolution

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The Enlightenment according to Dorinda Outram was not one simple answer that explained everything. Outram argued that the Enlightenment was not one single definition or a homogeneous intellectual movement. The Enlightenment period explained by Outram was very complex and contradictory and the would be better worded if it was “Enlightenments” instead of the singular word “Enlightenment”. She explained in her book that many of the old interpretations of the Enlightenment period failed to fully explain the different complexities and, in some sense, vague or one sided. Outram was highly critical of the thesis by Peter Gay along with many others and did not agree that the Enlightenment was marked by a rise of modern paganism. She explains how the Enlightenment has traditionally been seen back then by historians as an entity or a unitary phenomenon which she does not agree with. The Enlightenment period to Outram was more geographically widespread and she argues that is may even be still ongoing. She discusses many diverse interpretations of the Enlightenment period and addressed the key elements that played a role like religion, politics, gender, science, society, and globalization and explaining how all these subjects made the Enlightenment period a complex movement. Outram emphasized on how the Enlightenment affected many levels of society and politics that were not only in Europe but also in the many areas of the world that encountered European influence. Her perspective was contradictory to that of Peter Gray and she suggested that the Enlightenment period was a road that shifted more focus on science, rationality and gender roles.

Political Force

The Enlightenment period presented a lot of challenges to the traditional religious views and emphasized individualism and skepticism. Christianity was dominant prior to the Enlightenment period and the church was opposed to the freedom of thought. The church did not want people to believe in anything else besides the bible and what they were taught in church because it could ruin a lot of things, especially control over women and slaves. People wanted to be saved and go to heaven, so they thought they had to believe in what the church told them. When the people did not conform, they were tortured for believing in something different which would sound crazy to people nowadays. The church teaching explained the earth as motionless and that the objects in the sky revolved around the earth and did not agree with science. Enlightenment thinkers opposed the belief in the supernatural, witches, and intolerance. During this time, some people were interested in the scientific method and wanted to understand more about the world around them and how things worked. Outram brings up the point that some people believed that the Enlightenment thinkers were atheists because they were not going from the word of God and had a different explanation. The Enlightenment thinkers were not atheists but more of a mix of scientific rationalism and Christianity. This is where the term deism comes in because it is the belief that God does exist, but he chooses to let the universe go on and proceed and is associated with natural law. There was a lot of change during this time period in Europe and the rest of the world like economic expansion, improved communication, and the industrial revolution plus many other components.

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During this time ‘science’ was called natural philosophy and it was a way to separate the only views people believed before from the church. Isaac Newton plays a big role in this time period because of his beliefs in the motion of the planets and the law of universal gravitation and his thoughts of space. He could explain and describe the cosmos on a mathematical scale but not possibly answer as to how the cosmos stayed in action and motion. In this period, people disagreed and some even thought of Newton as an atheist and did not believe in his results while others praised his finding and wanted it to become a universal law. Newtonian science was born, and it shed new light on the world everywhere. This new type of science made the world feel like it made more sense and Newton described it like a giant watch because life and the world moved like a machine instead of an organism. It was not Newton’s or Locke’s intention to make God seem less important but to reveal there is more to life and earth than what is stated in the bible. The Enlightenment period was also called the Age of Reason and it is mixed with methods of knowing things and thinking. Intellectuals began to see the world differently and as a universe that made more sense and had a reliance on reason. The world was no longer a place that only focused on religion and that word of God but also a mathematical revolution and more balance with new kinds of art, music, and poetry.

Enlightenment Thinkers

John Locke and Isaac Newton were two of the most popular Enlightenment thinkers of that time period. Their justifications motivated and modernized the world during the time and they still influence the world today. They both encouraged the study of nature and Locke is known for his belief in life and liberty for individuals. During this time, non-Caucasian people did not have the same natural rights as the Europeans which perplexed philosophes such as John Locke because of his belief in basic human rights to liberty and property. Many of the Caucasian Europeans believed that non-Caucasians were savages and did not deserve the same rights as everyone else. Women during the Enlightenment period also did not get treated completely equal as well and they were believed to be less smart than a man. Gender issues caused some issues because it was basically a man’s world. Women were meant to stay at home and take of the children and do easier stuff that did not take much brain power such as mopping, sweeping, and dishes. The women were denied educational opportunities because they were not able to read as much as the men because they did not get the same treatment and have a real chance to show what they are made of. Rousseau took things a little too far and suggested that women’s brains were smaller than men’s and that women could not help that they could not be as smart as men.

Thomas Jefferson was not for slavery even though he lived in a prosperous slave society. He wanted to outlaw slavery but at the same time, did not want it to affect the world in a bad way with production. He believed that slaves and non-Caucasian people were humans but did not feel like it was right for them to have sexual relationships with whites. Jefferson’s views are somewhat confusing because of the relationship he had with a slave-like many other men that had the same views but did not follow them.

American Revolution

The American Revolution allowed for certain groups and people to think of a change but wanted everything to go smoothly as possible for social order. There were some contradictions between supporting universal rights and a lot of people not being able to enjoy those rights and that is the central characteristic of Enlightenment thought. (pg. 184). The changes from the Enlightenment period brought on some turmoil that was expected because not everyone can agree on one thing and people do not like change, especially when religion was the main source of information for a long time. The United States adopted the Declaration of Independence with the help of Thomas Jefferson and that is when the U.S started to really progress. The Enlightenment foregrounded rationalism and the basis of knowledge which is seen as an advance over unquestioned obedience and it led to the natural rights of individual liberty. Outram could not identify the Enlightenment period as one definition because it is pretty complex, and the Enlightenment period had different outcomes for every country.


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