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The Enlightenment - Research Paper Example

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Summary
The Age of Enlightenment in Europe began around the year 1650 and lasted for nearly 150 years. This time period saw a flowering of thought and philosophy that placed logic and reason at the center of human activity. It differed greatly from Renaissance and the thinking of the Middle Ages in that is questioned the role of organized religion and the dealings of god with humanity…
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The Enlightenment

Download file to see previous pages... What best defines this age is the collection of philosophers and mathematicians that brought these new ideas into being. Some of the most famous of these philosophers were John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, Montesquieu and Voltaire. The Age of Enlightenment had thinkers from many of the major powers in Europe such as Germany, Spain, Russia, Poland, England and Scotland. These Enlightenment thinkers, though not Americans, had a profound influence on American history. It is through the writings of these philosophers of the Enlightenment that lead the Founding Fathers of the United States to place such emphasis on personal freedom, property rights, a balance of powers in government and republicanism. The very best way to see the influence the Age of Enlightenment has on American history is to examine some of the thoughts of the leading philosophers and then trace how they influenced the foundational documents of the United States. Of all the Enlightenment thinkers, John Locke was perhaps the most influential over the American revolutionaries. Locke was an Englishman, the son of a lawyer and well educated at some of the finest schools. He studies medicine because he grew tired of studying the classical philosophers. As many philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment, he sought to apply reason and empiricism to a broad variety of topics. As a result, Locke wrote influential essays on government, religion, the nature of individuality, monetary policy and property. John Locke believed that individuals were important. This is a foundation belief of liberalism, so many view Locke as the Father of Liberalism. He said that people come into the world as a blank slate. He rejected notions that people were inherently sinful and should therefore be indebted to god and the Church their entire lives. He also rejected the idea that people were born knowing good from evil and right from wrong (Meyers, Cawelti and Kern, 1967). This belief in the impressionability of the individual led Locke to conclude that social institutions provided by governments were very important. Schools, libraries, and prisons all served their purpose in sustaining a civil society. Locke held that the natural state of humanity was one where the strongest could rule over the weak through brute force. A civil society was developed, nurtured and encouraged by just social institutions. This was the purpose of government. Any government that did not allow for the development of the individual self would never truly achieve the civil society, which was Locke’s ideal. He believed that certain conditions needed to be established by the government that would allow for the individual to develop a strong sense of self. Their sense of self would in turn, produce a citizenry that was responsive and active in the government. The relationship between citizens and the government were based upon something Locke referred to as the social contract. In essence, the social contract says that individuals willingly give up some of their freedom in order to organize a government that places some restrictions on activities. The contract between government and citizens includes the understanding that government should only exist to serve the people in a manner that will help humanity move from a ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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