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The Enlightenment and the Role of the Philosophes The Enlightenment is a name given by historians to an intellectual movement that was predominant in the Western world during the 18th century Strongly influenced by the rise of modern science and by the aftermath of the long religious conflict that followed the Reformation the thinkers of the Enlightenment called philosophes in France were committed to secular views based on reason or human understanding only which they hoped would provide a basis for beneficial changes affecting every area of life and thought The more extreme and radical philosophes--Denis Diderot Claude Adrien Helvetius Baron dHolbach the Marquis de Condorcet and Julien Offroy de La Mettrie 1709-51--advocated a philosophical rationalism deriving its methods from science and natural philosophy that would replace religion as the means of knowing nature and destiny of humanity these men were materialists pantheists or atheists Other enlightened thinkers such as Pierre Bayle Voltaire David Hume Jean Le Rond Dalembert and Immanuel Kant opposed fanaticism but were either agnostic or left room for some kind of religious faith All of the philosophes saw themselves as continuing the work of the great 17th century pioneers--Francis Bacon Galileo Descartes Leibnitz Isaac Newton and John Locke--who had developed fruitful methods of rational and empirical inquiry and had demonstrated the possibility of a world remade by the application of knowledge for human benefit The philosophes believed that science could reveal nature as it truly is and show how it could be controlled and manipulated This belief provided an incentive to extend scientific methods into every field of inquiry thus laying the groundwork for the development of the modern social sciences The enlightened understanding of human nature was one that emphasized the right to self- expression and human fulfillment the right to think freely
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