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Age of Reason

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The Age of Reason is another name given to the Enlightenment, the 18th century intellectual movement of reason and science that swept Europe. Largely originated in England and France, the Age of Reason advanced both physical science and philosophy and was the intellectual foundation for the American and French Revolutions. Paper Masters can compose a custom written research paper on The Age of Reason that follows your guidelines.

Beginnings of the Age of Reason

The beginnings of the Age of Reason can be traced to the late 17th century, through the work of Francis Bacon, John Locke and Isaac Newton in England. Voltaire was the first Enlightenment thinker in France. In supporting science and reason, many of European monarchs actively supported these thinkers, applying scientific reason to their despotism, in what came to be called enlightened absolutism. Frederick the Great of Prussia is a leading example of a European absolute monarch who patronized numerous philosophers.

The Age of Reason is one of the few examples in history that an intellectual movement was identified and named by its participants. The Philosophies, such as Voltaire, Montesquieau, d'Alembert, and Bayle believed that their departure away from the absolutism of faith and monarchy defined them as being Enlightened. The foundation for this system of thought is a belief that the powers of human reason are a superior alternative to superstition, ignorance, and tyranny. Specifically, the Clergy and the Monarchy are seen as the opponents of the Age of Reason. Where the Age of Reason thinkers promoted the power of Reason and the ability of the average person to exercise such powers, the Monarchy and Clergy believed that they had the mandate to be the sole arbiters of the actions of society.

While it is traditionally used to define the 18th century, the seeds of the Age of Reason can be seen prior, in the following movements:

  1. Scientific Revolution popularized by Sir Francis Bacon stressing empirical observation and experimentation to derive truths about nature;
  2. The 14th and 15th century European humanists who attempted to glorify God by glorifying his greatest creation, man;
  3. Rene Descartes' 17th century theory of self.

Similarly, its fruits can still be seen in the present day, as many of the principles which modern people hold, such as liberty and freedom, are in fact descendents of the Enlightenment.

Romanticism, and an era of revolution, caused a departure from the ideals of rationalism and tolerance espoused by the Age of Reason. However, without the Age of Reason weakening the grip of both the Monarchy and the Clergy, Romanticism would not have been possible. Central Romantic tenets such as individual choice and experience leading to faith, the role of the government serving the individual, and a tolerance for rebellion against oppressors are distinct outgrowths of the Age of Reason.

The Age of Reason in France

In France, the leading thinkers came to be called the philosophies, including Diderot, who edited the Encyclopdie; one of the first attempts to categorize knowledge and represents a catalog of Enlightenment thought. Other notable French philosophies include Rousseau and Montesquieu, whose writings inspired Thomas Jefferson and influenced his Declaration of Independence. In many ways, the French Revolution (1789-1799) marked the attempt to put Enlightenment thought into political reality, but the radical phase of the Revolution, known as the Reign of Terror, marks the end of the Age of Reason.

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