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European Enlightenment

In European history, the Enlightenment was one of the more revolutionary periods of intellectual development, second perhaps only to the Renaissance in reviving learning and scientific understanding out of the darkness of superstition. The European Enlightenment is generally dated between 1620 and 1780. European EnlightenmentHowever, dates are subjective, and it is perhaps better to date the beginning of the Enlightenment to Descartes’ assertion of cogito ergo sum and the end with the French Revolution.

It was a large number of thinkers who propelled the Enlightenment, bound together by the idea of scientific understanding and a rejection of intellectual authority. Reason and skepticism were highly prized. Voltaire, David Hume, John Locke, and Immanuel Kant can be listed among the leading philosophers of the European Enlightenment, while science is characterized by the towering genius of Isaac Newton, but also includes Robert Hooke, Antoine Lavoisier, and Carl Linnaeus.

One of the ways in which ideas spread throughout the Enlightenment was the invention of the coffeehouse. The first English coffeehouse opened in Oxford in 1650, and the first Paris coffeehouse, patronized by Voltaire and Rousseau, in 1686. These establishments attracted a wide range of patrons, where the latest ideas and discoveries were debated and discussed, and often serving as informal universities. The importance of the coffeehouse in the development of the European Enlightenment cannot be understated, as they were central as centers of free thought.

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