The Age of Enlightenment


5/8/04


World History


Enlightenment essay


The Age of Enlightenment saw many great changes in Western Europe. It was an age of reason and philosophes. During this age, changes the likes of which had not been seen since ancient times took place. Such change affected evert pore of Western European society. Many might argue that the Enlightenment really did not bring any real change, however, there exists and overwhelming amount of facts which prove, without question, that the spirit of the Enlightenment was one of change—specifically change which went against the previous teachings of the Catholic Church. Such change is apparent in the ideas, questions, and philosophies of the time, in the study of science, and throughout the monarchial system.


Previously, the Catholic Church had professed to the entire medieval world that faith in God was absolute. Indeed, the medieval world was truly an age of faith. As such, ideas that went against the teachings of God were ignored and their preachers subsequently murdered. After the Crusades brought back old Aristotelian learning from the middle east, all this changed. Advances in Geography were made with the introduction of Ptolemaic Geography. More importantly than the rediscovery of ancient geography was the beginning of skepticism in Western Europe. No longer would the Church’s word be taken on faith. The idea that the physical world could be understood through the use of empiricism—analytical thought—was also introduced. René Descartes even began to doubt his own existence until coming to the conclusion: “I think, therefore, I am.” In this age we see the rise of deism. No longer is a priest’s cryptic and dogmatic preachings the sole explanation for weather, personal failure, and scientific phenomena such as electricity. With deism, religion now merely server a spiritual purpose and science is free to begin exploring the world. The Catholic Church, when confronted with the reintroduction of the Ptolemaic Universe proclaimed that it was in accordance with the Bible as it put a “scientific” twist to the Church’s main beliefs: that God had created the Universe for man and man alone and that, as such, the Earth was at the centre of the Universe. During the Pre-Enlightenment and Enlightenment periods, man began to question that model of the Universe. Copernicus’ revolutionary model of the Universe placed the Sun at the centre of the Universe. Though Copernicus’ ideas were only allowed to b e published as he was on his deathbed, the Church grudgingly agreed to Copernicus’ model of the Universe as it still placed man’s solar system in the centre of the Universe. Later, Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler adjusted Copernicus’ model so that it fit both observation and mathematics. The final Enlightened blow to the Catholic Church came when Isaac Newton proposed—and subsequently proved—that not only is out planet and the solar system not at the centre of the Universe, but that the Universe itself is a machine: it can be governed only be natural and physical laws. This presented a great change in society and proved to be a most fatal blow to the Catholic Church. For, if the Universe is governed by natural and physical laws, how could God possible interfere with events in the Universe? This only proves that the spirit of the Enlightenment was one of changed—and, indeed, such change meant breaking away from the idea of religious thought interfering with scientific thought. As can be seen from it effects on the philosophies of the time, the idea of science, and the monarchial system of Absolutism, the spirit of the Enlightenment was one of change and a rebellion against authority. This change was grand, indeed, for they have lasted through until the Modern Age and the 21st Century. Today’s system of government is simply an evolution of the revolution which took place during the Enlightenment. Perhaps, without the spirit of change brought on by the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, we would not have many of the advantages that man, today, enjoys.