Adolescence is a period of increased emotional development. The American psychologist G. Stanley Hall asserted that adolescence is a period of emotional stress, resulting from the rapid and extensive physiological changes occurring at pubescence. Studies by the American anthropologist Margaret Mead, however, … Continue reading
A number of European monarchs also adopted certain of the ideas or at least the vocabulary of the Enlightenment. Voltaire and other philosophes, who relished the concept of a philosopher-king enlightening the people from above, eagerly welcomed the emergence of the so-called enlightened despots, of whom Frederick II of Prussia, Catherine II of Russia, and Joseph II of Austria were the most celebrated examples. The philosophes, in turn, were welcomed at their courts. Many ideas of the Enlightenment were useful to rulers, including educational and judicial reform, a trained bureaucracy, tolerance of (often talented and industrious) religious dissidents, and the abolition or improvement of serfdom, enabling peasants to pay more taxes. In retrospect, however, it appears that most of these monarchs used the movement in large part for propaganda purposes and were more despotic than enlightened.
The philosophes were united in support of tolerance, the rule of law, social welfare, and secular education, and in their hostility to privilege. They were not, however, opposed to the state as such: They viewed it as a crucial instrument for the realization of their ideals, as long as the ruler respected reason and natural law. Especially in central Europe and Italy, Enlightenment thinkers were more interested in strengthening the state so that it could do its job properly than in limiting its power. The main targets of their hatred were the church and the nobility.
The philosophes welcomed the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, seeing them as putting enlightened ideas into action. The Marquis de Condorcet, a moderate revolutionary who died in prison in 1794, argued in his Sketch of the Intellectual Progress of Mankind (1795) that the purpose of knowledge of human society can only be to guarantee the basic rights of men and, in his view, women. These rights are personal security, free enjoyment of property, equality before the law, and the participation of every citizen in government. The American states, he believed, were the first to convert these ideas into action.
The Age of Enlightenment is usually said to have ended with the French Revolution, which it helped to bring about. Indeed, some see the social and political ferment of this period as being responsible for the Revolution. While embodying many of the ideals of the philosophes, the Revolution in its more violent stages, from 1792 to 1794, served to discredit these ideals temporarily in the eyes of many European contemporaries. To conservative minds the Enlightenment was too radical, while romantic writers and artists of the following period found the Enlightenment without passion or soul and heedless of the individual.
Yet the Enlightenment left a lasting heritage for the 19th and 20th centuries. It marked a key stage in the decline of the church and the growth of modern secularism. It served as the model for political and economic liberalism and for humanitarian reform throughout the 19th-century Western world. It was the watershed for the pervasive belief in the possibility and the necessity of progress that survived, if only in attenuated form, into the 20th century.
More than a set of fixed ideas, the Enlightenment implied an attitude, a method of thought. German philosopher Immanuel Kant proposed as the motto of the age, “Dare to know.” A desire arose to reexamine and question all received ideas and values, to explore new ideas in many different directions—hence the inconsistencies and contradictions that often appear in the writings of 18th-century thinkers.
Many proponents of the Enlightenment were not philosophers in the commonly accepted sense of the word; they were popularizers engaged in a self-conscious effort to win converts. They liked to refer to themselves as the “party of humanity,” and in an attempt to mold public opinion in their favor, they made full use of pamphlets, anonymous tracts, and the large numbers of new journals and newspapers being created. Because they were journalists and propagandists as much as true philosophers, historians often refer to them by the French word philosophes.
In many respects, the homeland of the philosophes was France. It was there that the political philosopher and jurist Charles de Montesquieu, one of the earliest representatives of the movement, had begun publishing various satirical works against existing institutions, such as his Persian Letters (1721; translated 1961), as well as his monumental study of political institutions, The Spirit of Laws (1748; trans. 1750). It was in Paris that Denis Diderot, the author of numerous philosophical tracts, began the publication of the Encyclopédie (1751-1772). This work, on which numerous philosophes collaborated, was intended both as a compendium of all knowledge and as a polemical weapon, presenting the positions of the Enlightenment and attacking its opponents.
The single most influential and representative of the French writers was undoubtedly Voltaire. Beginning his career as a playwright and poet, he is best known today for his prolific pamphlets, essays, satires, and short novels, in which he popularized the science and philosophy of his age, and for his immense correspondence with writers and monarchs throughout Europe. Far more original were the works of Jean Jacques Rousseau, whose Social Contract (1762; trans. 1797), Émile (1762; trans. 1763), and Confessions (1782; trans. 1783) were to have a profound influence on later political and educational theory and were to serve as an impulse to 19th-century romanticism. Rousseau also made emotion as fashionable as reason, thus serving—along with David Hume and Étienne Condillac, who saw passion as the mainspring of the human mind—to refute the charge that the Enlightenment exalted bloodless reason at the expense of emotion.
The Enlightenment was also a profoundly cosmopolitan and antinationalistic movement with representatives in numerous other countries. Kant as well as Christian von Wolff and Gotthold Lessing in Germany, Hume in Scotland, Cesare Beccaria in Italy, and Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in the American colonies all maintained close contacts with the French philosophes but were important contributors to the movement in their own right. The Enlightenment affected every sphere of culture, not simply philosophy. Composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven imbued their respective operas, The Magic Flute (1791) and Fidelio (1814), with the spirit of the Enlightenment. In Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio, it is the Turkish pasha who expresses Enlightenment views when he refuses to avenge his father’s death and spares the lives of his European captives. French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon preserved in marble the likenesses of leading figures of the Enlightenment.
During the first half of the 18th century, the leaders of the Enlightenment waged an uphill struggle against considerable odds. Several were imprisoned for their writings, and most were hampered by government censorship and attacks by the church. In many respects, however, the later decades of the century marked a triumph of the movement in Europe and America. By the 1770s, second-generation philosophes were receiving government pensions and taking control of established intellectual academies. The enormous increase in the publication of newspapers and books ensured a wide diffusion of their ideas. Scientific experiments and philosophical writing became fashionable among wide groups in society, including members of the nobility and the clergy.
Learned experience is an important determinant of aggression in humans. Elicitors of aggression such as personal insults, status threats, and the presence of weapons are all learned sources of aggressive behavior. Further, aggressive actions are often followed by rewards and are therefore likely to be repeated. Children learn that aggression can enable them to control resources such as toys and parental attention. Children also learn aggression by observing others behave aggressively. The violent behavior of some teenage gangs provides its younger members with aggressive role models. Children whose parents discipline with physical force tend to use more physical aggression when interacting with others, and parents who abuse their children were typically abused children themselves. The influence of the mass media, especially television, on promoting aggressive behavior is not yet well understood, but a growing body of research evidence indicates that watching violent entertainment is linked to subsequent aggression in humans.
The precursors of the Enlightenment can be traced to the 17th century and earlier. They include the philosophical rationalists René Descartes and Baruch Spinoza, the political philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, and various skeptical thinkers in France such as Pierre Bayle. Equally important, however, were the self-confidence engendered by new discoveries in science—by Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo, for example—and the spirit of cultural relativism encouraged by the exploration of the non-European world.
Of the basic assumptions and beliefs common to philosophers and intellectuals of this period, perhaps the most important was an abiding faith in the power of human reason. The age was enormously impressed by the discovery by Isaac Newton of universal gravitation. If humanity could so unlock the laws of the universe, God’s own laws, why could it not also discover the laws underlying all of nature and society? This belief was summed up by Alexander Pope: “Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night, / God said, ‘Let Newton be,’ and all was light.”
Enlightenment thinkers placed a great premium on the discovery of truth through the observation of nature, rather than through the study of authoritative sources, such as Aristotle and the Bible. If the centuries-old medieval view of the physical world had been so decisively overthrown by reason, then the antiquity of an idea, or indeed of a law, a privilege, or a form of government, could no longer be seen as a guarantee of its worth.
During the Enlightenment, people came to assume that through a judicious use of reason, an unending progress would be possible—progress in knowledge, in technical achievement, and even in moral values. Following the philosophy of Locke, the 18th-century writers believed that knowledge is not innate, but comes only from experience and observation guided by reason. Through proper education, humanity itself could be altered, its nature changed for the better.
Although they saw the church—especially the Roman Catholic Church—as the principal force that had enslaved the human mind in the past, most Enlightenment thinkers did not renounce religion altogether. They opted rather for a form of Deism, accepting the existence of God and of a hereafter, but rejecting the intricacies of Christian theology. Human aspirations, they believed, should not be centered on the next life, but rather on the means of improving this life. Worldly happiness was placed before religious salvation. Nothing was attacked with more intensity and ferocity than the church, with all its wealth, political power, and suppression of the free exercise of reason.