Dbq on Whether or Not Enlightenment Thinkers Based Ideas

DBQ When looking upon any thinkers in recorded history, we must analyze the influences, assuming there are some, that provide a foundation or stemmed the creation of the thinkers line of thought or view on a subject.

For instance, the philosophes of the Enlightenment are often assumed to have formulated their ideas single-handedly but if we were to analyze their thoughts we would see all of them stem from other ideas, or directly oppose thinker’s views from the Scientific Revolution, such as the relationship or similarities of Humanity and Nature, the use of the Scientific Method, and the ongoing debate on religion and its place in human affairs.

To begin with, the extensive use of the newly accepted Scientific Method, or the new form of investigation that stemmed from it made the Enlightenment’s revolutionary government ideas possible. These documents support this fact, Document one, Rene Descartes’ The Discourse on Method, Document five Holbach’s The System of Nature, Rouseeau’s Social Contract and Newton’s Principia Mathematica.

For instance In Rene Descartes’ The Discourse on Method he states his four steps of questioning which started with he could never accept what was truth accept what he had already determined to be, secondly divide into as many possible parts as he could, third start with the simple and work your way into the complex, and finally omit nothing and be certain of your work by painstaking records and reviews. These steps, when transferred into the research of finding the epitome of government, the interactions of a society, and human nature itself allowed a complex and encompassing view on the philosophe’s society and government.

Also, by using this method a more realistic or practical form of philosophy was created. Whereas in Greek philosophy most ideas where looking at a current government or in Plato’s case creating an entirely new one with illogical and impractical theorems, the Scientific Method allowed thinkers to piece by piece respond to society’s and humanity’s flaws and they realized government is the greatest reasonable compromise in a man’s life.

It began to be understood that at the forefront of Man’s separation from base beasts is the ability to live in a society influenced by morals, reason, and ambition as opposed to the animalistic instinct of their lesser cousins in the animal kingdom. (Doc 1) In Baron d’Holbach’s The System of Nature Holbach states “ The enlightened man, is his matury, in his perfection, who is capable of pursuing his own happiness, because he has learned to examine…Experience teaches Nature acts by simple, uniform, and invariable laws. ” According to Holbach man may pursue happiness due to his reason, as opposed to Nature’s infinite cycle man may change. Doc 5) Another result of the Scientific Revolution’s Scientific Method is Rousseau’s The Social Contract in which he outlines the requirement of man to participate in a society of his fellow man. Rousseau states “…What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and unlimited right to everything…what he gains is civil liberty and proprietorship of all he possesses. ” The implications of this idea would stem a new frame of mind, one that required self-realization and an individual’s logic, a once radical theory was now shared by many philosophers.

However, in order to keep society from imploding on itself some freedoms must be curtailed, which was the basis of the so called “social contract” the largest compromise in human history and what allowed the pursuit of happiness, and the achievement of one’s full potential. (Doc 8) Adding to this frame of thinking, and perhaps a major reason it existed is detailed in Newton’s Principia Mathematica it states, “Nature does nothing in vain.. for Nature is pleased with simplicity, and affects not the pomp or superfluous causes. Applying the idea that nothing happens without a cause in Nature to Man, drove the philosophes to analyze human nature, and it may be said that all ideas of human nature stem from Newton’s no reaction without cause statement, mirrored by the scientists of the Scientific Revolution (Doc 2). The opposition to thinkers of the Scientific Revolution from the Enlightenment thinkers is often in religious matters. In support of religion is Galileo and Pascal, opposing it are Didrot and Holbach. In support of religion Galileo wrote in his Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, “..

It appears that nothing physical which sense-experience set before our eyes.. ought to be called into question upon the testimony of Biblical passages… For the Bible is not chained in every expression to conditions as strict as those which govern all physical effects. ” In this statement Galieleo attributes the breaks of logic in the Bible and theology as a whole, To the fact that it is simply expressions, or that due to lack of complete omniscient human understanding things may be explained by the presence of a divine spirit.

Which leads straight into Pascal’s Pensees in which he states “…What is a man in the infinite? ” This simple statement sums up Pascal’s reasoning of religion, he is trying to get across the fact that no matter what Humanity will never fully understand every process in Nature or the Universe, and as such it is only logical that something must understand everything, which would mean that something would have had to created it, and thus the presence of God is explained.

This was more or less the view of other Scientific Revolution thinkers, the common consensus was that science, even in its greatest form would never be able to fully explain everything it is just not humanly possible, and as such a divine force, greater than man must have a place in the creation of things. Another Scientific Revolutionary view was that science could explain Nature, which is created by God and allow the church to piece out the moral and theological concepts of religion and society.

This train of thought was contradictory to Enlightenment thinkers, who believed it was their job to piece out every last piece of human society, and improve upon it. So when the topic of religion was introduced, having a certain bias due to the Catholic Church’s previous actions they were more than happy to either discount religion altogether, or introduce the idea of religious tolerance and freedom.

Pascal was a deeply religious man himself, and having spent most of his time trying to justify religion, can theoretically be seen as an “expert” on the topic. (Doc 4) One such example of an atheistic world view is that of Baron d’Holbach in his The System of Nature he states “…In his perfection (the enlightened man) is capable of pursuing his own happiness, because he has learned to examine and think for himself and not to take the truth upon the authority of others. This frame of mind of Holbach that man is the epitome of life and perfection, as well as each individual must not take orders or value the ideas of others unless weighed and examined according to their own logic directly goes against the concept of most religion, and especially the Catholicism of France, the country Holbach resided in after moving from Germany. Simply put Christianity has two main ideals no one is perfect, and due to the imperfection of man faith must be place in God to forgive and allow certain truths to come to light.

Holbach himself was an atheist, and stated that often and it was considered widely known he had no belief in a higher power. (Doc 5) Supporting Holbach’s viewpoint is Diderot in his Encyclopedia Diderot states “ Reason is in the estimation of the philosopher what grace is to the Christian. Grace determines the Christian’s action; reason the philosopher’s. ” It is quite apparent that Diderot is not attracted to what he sees as a sort of blind un-investigated faith of a Christian, ideas like this oppose the religious tolerance of the Scientific Revolution, however, some Enlightenment thinkers believed religion had a place in society.

One such Enlightenment philosophe, Thomas Paine, supported religion, mainly in the way he stated in his Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens that “no man ought to be molested on account of his opinions, not even on account of religious opinions. ” Essentially, religion was a choice and as such man had according to his natural rights, the ability to choose a religion provided it would not harm or threaten the commonwealth, and in theory freedom of religion works well, and benefits the whole.

However, as shown in countless examples ages of strict government mandated religions would oppose this religious freedom, but nevertheless, Paine did support religion and the freedom of choosing one as a Natural Right. Finally, the separation of man from Nature which allowed the age of Enlightenment and the economic success during the philosophe’s time was a direct result of the Scientific Revolution. Rousseau and Locke’s ideas stemmed from men like Newton and Descartes.

The scientists focus on natures and development of ideas about possible uses and the complete understanding of Nature’s processes, such as Francis Bacon’s idea that nature was there for experimentation and practical implications which morally justified the brutal Imperialism of the period. Another enlightenment concept based of a Scientific Revolution idea is shown in this Imperialism simply, Man is greater than Nature, and as such must have certain contracts with one another to fully achieve his potential.

In Jean Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract he states “As soon as the multitude is thus united in one body, you cannot offend on of its members without attacking the whole” This details the mutual protection of numbers in a society, and society is what separates man from Nature, as society is a concept produced from logic and reason, and during the Scientific Revolution, logic and reason where also said to be what separated Man from Nature (Doc 12) Furthering this idea is John Locke in his Second Treatise on Government he writes “ Political power is that power, which every man having in the state of nature, has given up into the hands of society, and therein to the governors…. that it shall be employed for their good and preservation of their property. ” This proves the fact that society is a compromise which goes against our instinct but preserve more people as a whole, and by going against our instinct using logic, humanity is superior in every way to nature. Locke was a prominent physician and philosopher who had, since college, been interested in what at the time was considered modern philosophy. Doc 7) These ideas stemmed from Descartes four steps of reasoning (Doc 1) and Newton’s statement “ To this purpose the philosophers say that Nature does nothing in Vain” (Doc 2) In conclusion, in many cases ideas are formed from pieces of many other ideas, to say the thinkers of the Enlightenment stood on the shoulders of men of the Scientific Revolution is true to a point. Yes, they did use a combination of their ideas in the Enlightenment but in many cases their ideas directly opposed them, or expanded upon them. So, while the Enlightenmnt thinkers may be indebted for the Scientific Method most of their ideas are new or conflicting concepts when compared to the ideas of the Scientific Revolution.

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