Lecture 22 – The Age of European Enlightenment

Lecture 22 – The Age of European Enlightenment
The Scientific Revolution: A new view of the universe arose during the Scientific
Revolution of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries. The Earth was dethroned as
center of the universe, replaced by the Sun, which was itself only one speck in a vast
ocean of stars. Science would become the standard of knowledge. (Let it be noted that
the Scientific Revolution was neither all new, nor linear in nature and made its share of
mistakes.) It was a movement of a relatively small number of international European
scholars, but tapped the knowledge of artisans and craftsmen as well. By the eighteenth
century, science took the lead in prestige among ways of knowing.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) Rejects an Earth-Centered Universe: By
the late Middle Ages, Europeans had accepted an elaborate model of the Solar
System developed by Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy) (83-161 AD) in the second
century AD, which placed Earth at the center of creation, with the planets and the
sun and the stars circling it in a series of orbits. Beyond the farthest stars was
Heaven itself. However, this system had required the use of a variety of
expedients to reconcile it with the reality of observations, adding additional
spheres to induce localized retrogressions to match the fact that planets sometimes
appear to move backwards, as seen from Earth. Copernicus, a Polish astronomer,
challenged this in his posthumous work, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly
Spheres (1543 AD). His new scheme put the Sun at the center and showed how
the expedients used to reconcile the Ptolmaic system could now be abandoned for
simpler explanations. However, his ideas took a while to catch on at first.
Tycho Brahe (1546-1501) and Johannes Kepler (1571-1630): Brahe spent his
career trying to put forward his own system of the alignment of planets in which
the Sun and Moon orbitted the Earth but the other planets orbitted the Sun. It
never caught on, but his very precise records of observations were useful to others
and his opposition to Copernicus ironically spread Copernicus' ideas. Johannes
Kepler was a Copernican, but his observations led him to abandon the idea of
perfectly circular concentric orbits in favor of the idea of elliptical orbits. He
published his work in 1609 as On the Motion of Mars, but never knew WHY the
orbits were elliptical.
Galileo Galilei (1565-1642): Abandoning the Aristotle-derived science of his
day, Italian scientist Galileo studied motion and astronomy as empirically as
possible, trying to derive new laws from his observations. He was the first
astronomer to work with the telescope, inventing his own in 1608 and eventually
building ones capable of times 32 magnification. This enabled him to see things
no one else had seen before—moons around Jupiter, the phases of Venus,
sunspots, and more. He used his observations to support the Copernican view of
the Solar System. His books (such as Dialogues on the Two Chief Systems of the
World, 1632) brought down the condemnation of the Church, as they contradicted
what little astronomical cosmology could be found in the Bible. Most
importantly, Galileo articulated the view of a universe dominated by
mathematically definable laws which would dominate future science.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626): The Empirical Method: Bacon was only an
amateur student of natural philosophy, but he set the tone for the empirical study
of the world. In his books, such as The Advancement of Learning (1605), he
condemned the scholastics for their reliance on ancient authority and their lack of
thirst for new knowledge. Human knowledge needed to improve the human
condition. Deeds need to lead to useful results. Observation must precede
creation of logical constructs to explain nature, not follow it. Bacon looked to a
future of improvements in the human condition. Bacon linked progress and
science in the public mind. (Heritage, p. 643.)
Isaac Newton (1642-1727) Discovers the Laws of Gravity: Isaac Newton set
the basis for two centuries of physics by solving the question of what caused
planetary motion to take an elliptical shape. In 1687, Newton published Principia
Mathematica, which laid out the principles of planetary motion. Newton devised
the theory of gravity, that masses are attracted to each other. This then shaped
planetary orbits into their observable state. He proved it mathematically, but
couldn't explai what actually caused gravity. (Heritage, p. 643.) Newton
combined Baconian empiricism with Galileo's emphasis on mathematics; his
theory would become foundational to the new scientific thought.
Women in the World of the Scientific Revolution: Women were largely
excluded from scientific work; the fields of academia and the universities of the
time were men-only. Women were also excluded from scientific societies. Still,
some noblewomen and artisans contributed to the ongoing search for knowledge.
Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1623-73) was
an essayist, fiction writer, poet, and scientist. Her marriage to the Duke of
Newcastle enabled her to engage with the natural philosophers of the day.
She rejected Aristotelianism and critiqued the Royal Society for being too
interested in novelties and new instruments than scientific progress. She
published six books on natural philosophy, and an early work of sciencefiction, The Blazing World (an account of another planet, critiquing the
gender roles, manners, and use of power on Earth). Like Thomas Hobbes,
she was a materialist.
Artisans: Artisan women had more freedom to pursue science than
anyone else. In Germany, female astronomers worked with their husbands.
Maria Winkelmann discovered a comet in 1702, and applied
(unsuccessfully) to follow her husband in his job after his death.
Prejudices: For centuries a combination of organized prejudice and
scientific theories which treated women as inherently inferior kept women
out of the sciences.
John Locke (1632-1704): In addition to his political philosophy, English
philosopher John Locke tried to understand the functioning of the human mind.
In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), Locke argued that there
are no innate ideas; at birth, every person is a blank slated shaped by events
around them and by those who raise them. Human ideas are either simple ones
from observation, or complex ones from prolonged thinking about experiences.
Locke effectively rejected original sin in favor of behaviorism—that human
behavior can be molded by outside stimuli. Locke's Two Treatises of
Government (written during the Exclusion Crisis of the 1680s) argued that men
form governments by contract, to protect their rights (especially property). If
those rights are violated by government, then the contract is dissolved, and men
may form new governments. Locke's Letter Concerning Toleration (1690)
contended that governments existed to protect property, not religion; religion was
a private affair.
The Enlightenment (1650-1789): The philosophes were the leaders of this movement
of rationalism and secularism in Europe, popularizing the new science and philosophical
ideas. They called for reform of contemporary abuses.
Voltaire (1694-1778): Francois Marie Arouet became better known for his pen
name, Voltaire, under which he attacked religious dogmatism, absolutism, and
censorship. After his arrest by French authorities in the 1720s, he fled first to
England, then to Switzerland. He was a skilled poet, but is most noted for his
satirical works attacking the problems of his day, especially the abuse of political
and religious power. His most famous satire is Candide (1759), the adventures of
an overly naive young man in Europe, which satirizes the politics and theology of
his day. Voltaire contributed to the Encyclopedia, an attempt to compile all the
new knowledge of its era.
The Encyclopedia (1772): Under the leadership of Denis Diderot and Jean le
Rond d'Alembert, over a hundred contributing philosophes assembled a massive
compilation of human knowledge and critiques of the Old Regime in 17 volumes,
which repeatedly came close to being shut down by the French government.
Between 14-16,000 copies were sold by 1789. The goal of the project was to
secularize learning and to finish off scholasticism and other old ideas. It looked
to antiquity and humanity, instead of to religion and the divine.
The Enlightenment and Religion: The Philosophes were anti-organized
religion, seeing the Christian Churches of Europe, especially Catholics, as the
enemy of the advance of knowledge and human happiness. The doctrine of
original sin effectively suggested humanity could never really be improved.
(Heritage, p. 648.) They believed the churches were intolerant and bigoted.
Deism: Many Philosophes responded by becoming deists—they believed
in a 'watchmaker God', a god who built the universe, then let it run of its
own accord without interfering. In other words, they were monotheists,
but not Christians, Moslems, or Jews. Nature was rational, so God must
be rational and so should religion. They believed nature proved the
existence of a God who would punish the wicked and reward the virtuous
(rather than rewarding the 'faithful'. God would prefer a kind-hearted
atheist to a staunch believer who mistreated his neighbors.) Deists hoped
their beliefs would prevail, eliminating the need for the whole bigoted
structure of the church, as you needed no priest to mediate between you
and God; you simply had to live a virtous life.
Toleration: Religious Toleration was important to the Philosophes,
ending wasteful conflict between men. Voltaire was a leading champion
of tolerance.
Islam in Enlightenment Thought: Only in the Balkans were there many
Moslems in Europe. Europeans continued to see Islam as the enemy.
They attacked it for its false prophet, its false holy book, and for its
willingness to paint heaveny as a place of sensual delights. It was often
condemned as a very carnal religion due to its acceptance of polygamy
and tales of harems. But few actually understood Islam very well. Even
those who knew arabic condemned Islam. Many Enlightenment
philosophes saw Islam as another religion to throw on the trashheap of
history. Some philosophes, however, were less critical of Islam. Lady
Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) lived in Istanbul as the wife of
Britain's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire; she published a set of letters
about life there. She praised many aspects of life and urged adoption of
the Turkish custom of innoculation against smallpox. She also praised the
architecture and thought upper-class Ottoman women had more freedom
than English women. (Moslems were not very well informed or curious
about Christian Europe either, it must be noted.)
The Enlightenment and Society: Humanity was the main interest of the philosophes.
They sought to find the rules governing the functioning of human societies. The
Enlightenment created the concept of social science (though not the name).
Montesquieu and "The Spirit of the Laws": Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron
de Montesquieu (1689-1755) was a French nobleman and magistrate. His book,
The Spirit of the Laws (1748) was one of the most influential 18th century books.
He used empirical evidence from many eras to deduce that there was no best
government for all times and places; rather, a variety of variables determined this.
Only careful examination of issues such as population size, climate, social
structure, etc. could determine the best government for a country. For France,
Montesquieu wanted a monarchy limited by the powers and liberties of corporate
bodies—the nobility, the upper classes of the towns, the parlements (judicial
courts in the French context), etc. He was a conservative reformer, wishing to
end absolute monarchy, but not monarchy entirely. His most famous idea was
that of separation of powers—the division of government into rival bodies whose
power would check each other. In Britain, the King held executive power, the
Parliament the legislative, and the courts the Judical power, for example.
(Montesquieu was not aware of how changes were breaking up the seperateness
of this system.)
Adam Smith on Economic Growth and Social Progress: Adam Smith (17231790 AD) was an Enlightenment philosopher from Scotland. In his work, Inquiry
into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), Smith attacked the
system of Mercantilist regulations, saying that the free market was superior in
meeting the needs of the populace for goods. He saw wealth as open-ended, not
static, and argued that trade could benefit both parties, not just one. The selfish
choices of individuals, channeled through the market, would bring the prosperity
of all as men negotiated freely to find the highest mutual benefit. He thus became
one of the fathers of laissez-faire economics, though he had his reservations on
it—he supported government providing infrastructure, education, and military
protection, for example. He also was aware that increasing specialization, though
more economically productive, could have a cost in human terms. Smith was part
of the four-stage school of human development. Humans began as nomadic
hunters and gatherers, with little private property and holding tribal lands in
common. Later, they became pastoralists; having herds increased the concept of
private property, but land was still communal. Farming societies now turned land
into private property and built cities. Commercial civilizations, such as England,
built advanced cities, developed advanced financial methods, had superior
agriculture and manufacturing, and lived by trade. The theory thus rated
civilizations on a uniform scale of progress, with the theory's creators living in the
most advanced stage. It thus could form an excuse for European imperialism—
civilize the less advanced peoples with European culture!
Rousseau, the State of Nature, and the General Will: Jean Jacques Rousseau
(1712-78 AD) bucked the trends of his time by depicting the simpler peoples who
lived closer to the governmentless state of nature as superior to civilized man,
who had cut himself off from the world and his instincts. He also believed that
maldistribution of property was a huge problem. He questioned the morality of
any society which focused on 'progress' and wealth over human morality.
Rousseau's The Social Contract (1762) addressed the problem of politics.
Where most 18th century philosophers were worried about protecting people from
out of control absolutist government, Rousseau focused on each man's obligations
to society and the state. Humans can only achieve greatness as part of a
community which is itself greater than him or her. One must create a community
which encourages moral action. The citizen must obey the general will—the will
of the people as expressed through collective decision making (democracy).
Rousseau thus rejected Enlightenment exaltation of individual freedom from
government and selfish economic choices. Where Adam Smith thought the
selfish choices of individuals would lead to group prosperity, Rousseau rejected
this in favor of a poorer but more moral society. The Greek Polis, especially
Sparta, was an inspiration to him.
Enlightened Critics of European Empire: Most Enlightenment thinkers
favored the extension of European power, but some chose to criticize it. They
attacked the mistreatment of the peoples of other continents. Denis Diderot,
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) all
criticized the abuse of American Indians, Africans, and Indians proper. They
argued the shared humanity of all peoples should forbid such abuses. This also
mitigated against going out and conquering these people as if they had no right to
their own land. Secondly, they argued the culture of other peoples should be
respected and studied, not destroyed. Thirdly, they argued that every culture was
too complex to compare or judge easily. One of humanity's major characteristics
was the ability to develop diverse cultures.
Women in the Thought and Practice of the Enlightenment: In France, many
upper class women ran salons—places where men and women gathered to discuss
philosophy, history, literature, etc. Many of these women had political
connections which enabled them to protect the philosophes—Louis XV's mistress
Madam de Pompadour (1721-1764) protected the Encylopedia from censorship,
for example. The philosophes did not advocate any radical changes in the life of
women, though. Montesquieu, for example, thought that women had the same
capacity for intelligence as men, yet expected them to remain subordinate in the
family and that women should remain chaste. The contributors to the
Encyclopedia generally did not go even so far as Montesquieu, emphasizing
physical and mental weakness. (Though the articles also showed women hard at
work on the work of the day.) Rousseau's Emile (1762) declared women should
be raised to better suit them to serve and raise men. He showed them as inferior
except in affection and fit only for the domestic sphere. Mary Wollstonecraft
(1759-1797) attacked Rousseau in her Vindication of the Rights of Women
(1792). She attacked Rousseau and those like him for limiting the abilities and
freedom of women by trapping them in the domestic sphere. It made women
merely "the sensual slaves of men." (Heritage, p. 658) Wollstonecraft demanded
the same intellectual freedom for women that the philosophes had championed for
men for a century.
Enlightened Absolutism: In the late eighteenth century, some absolute rulers
began to institute some of the reforms called for by the philosophes. Enlightened
Absolutism sought to strengthen royal rule by rational strengthening of the central
government. Frederick II of Prussia, Joseph II of Austria, Catherine the Great of
Russia had social constraints on both their power and their reforms. "The rulers
did wish to see their subjects enjoy better health, more accessible education, a
more rational political administration, and economic prosperity." (Heritage, p.
659.) But they also wanted to strengthen their states to gain more power in
Joseph II of Austria: He was son of Maria Theresa, and co-ruled with her from 1765 to
1780, then on his own until 1790. He lived very simply. Austria was very diverse and its
possessions had a lot of autonomy. Maria Theresa had built a stronger military and
imposed taxes even on the nobles. Joseph, however, wanted to end regional autonomy,
especially that of Hungary. His efforts to impose stronger administration and German
language there failed. He increased religious tolerance, even of Jews. He strengthened
royal power over the Catholic church, making priests servants of the state taught in staterun seminaries and closing down monasteries. He further abolished serfdom and reduced
burdens on peasants. In 1789, he proposed to reform the land tax to affect the wealthy as
well as the poor. But his death prevented implementation.
Catherine the Great of Russia (1762-1796): A german princess, she helped to
overthrow her idiot husband Peter III and ruled in her own right. She tried to call a
reforming commission early on; it provided important information but came to nothing in
the end. She preserved noble power, but reformed local government to make it more
efficient. She pushed south to the Black Sea, seizing the Crimea in 1783.
The Partition of Poland: Once a mighty state, in the 16th century, Poland became an
elective monarchy with a legislature that required unanimous consent to actually do
anything. Over time, this crippled the Polish state, and after 1700, it increasingly fell
under Russian influence, under a series of weak kings propped up by Russia. In 1772,
Austria, Russia, and Prussia together forced the Poles to cede them chunks of Poland; the
last King of Poland, Stanisław II August Poniatowski, supinely allowed this to take place;
he only held the throne by the grace of Russia and its Polish allies. He was likewise
ineffective in the face of 1793 and 1795 partitions which destroyed Poland entirely.