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The Enlightenment The eighteenth centurys most exciting intellectual movement is called the Enlightenment Its powerful dedication to reason and rational thought that until quite recently the era was sometimes characterized as the Age of Reason The turn toward what became known by 1750 as the Enlightenment began in the late seventeenth century Three factors were critically important in this new intellectual ferment One was a revulsion against monarchical and clerical absolutism and new freedom of publishing Also was the rise of a new public and secular culture And not least the impact of Scientific Revolution particularly the excitement generated by Newtons Principia 1687 Newtons work seemed to prove that order and mathematically demonstrable laws were at work in the physical universe Perhaps a similar order and rationality could be imposed on the social and political institutions This ideal fired the imagination of the leaders of the Enlightenment who gradually became known as philosophes simply French for philosophers But regardless of national origin the name took hold for thinkers as diverse as the French writer Voltaire the American scientist and statesman Benjamin Franklin and the German philosopher Immanuel Kant 1724-1804 The French philosophes were the most outspoken and most radical of the century and to this day when thinking of the Enlightenment France is the first to come to mind Late in the eighteenth century Kant gave the most succinct definition of the Enlightenment bringing light into the dark corners of mind dispelling ignorance prejudice and superstition Kant went to the heart of one aspect of the Enlightenment its insistence that each individual should reason independently without recourse to the authority of schools churches or clergymen Kant hoped that the call for self-education and critical thought would mean no disruption of the political order He distrusted the uneducated people seeking a gradual transformation of the human condition There were radical thinkers during the late eighteenth century such as the American revolutionary
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