STEP 4 Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High
16 The Rise of Natural Philosophy, Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment
IN THIS CHAPTER
Summary: By the mid-sixteenth century, the spirit of Renaissance humanism fused with other traditions to create a Platonic-Pythagorean point of view that sought to identify the fundamental mathematical laws of nature. This culminated in Newton’s discovery of the laws of physics. Inspired by Newton’s achievements, many of the educated elite in France and England tried to apply reason and logic to discover the “natural laws” for social and political order. These scientific and philosophic developments had serious political and religious ramifications. This chapter examines some of the significant contributions in astronomy, medicine, and mathematics, and then looks at the beliefs of the most influential thinkers of the Enlightenment. It then discusses how the more egalitarian and democratic thought of this period contributed to an atmosphere of political and social revolution that flourished in Europe at the end of the century.
Celestial realm The realm, in the Aristotelian view of the cosmos, above the orbit of the moon.
Elements The basic components of matter in Aristotelian physics; there were five: earth, water, air, fire, and ether.
Qualities A term, in Aristotelian physics, for the tendencies of matter; that is, Earth sinks, air floats, etc.
Geocentric Earth-centered; the Aristotelian model of the cosmos.
Scholasticism A term for the pre-Renaissance system of knowledge characterized by the belief that everything worth knowing was written down in ancient texts.
Hermeticism A tradition of knowledge that taught that the world was infused with a single spirit that could be explored through mathematics, as well as through magic.
Two Treatises on Government Philosophical treatise (1690) by the Englishman John Locke, which became the primary argument for the establishment of natural limits to governmental authority.
Civil society The society formed when free individuals come together and surrender some of their individual power in return for greater protection.
The Spirit of Laws The Baron de Montesquieu’s treatise of 1748, in which he expanded on John Locke’s theory of limited government and outlined a system in which government was divided into branches in order to check and balance its power.
Essay Concerning Human Understanding John Locke’s treatise of 1689—1690, which argued that humans are born tabula rasa (as “blank slates”), contradicting the traditional Christian notion that humans were born corrupt and sinful, and implying that what humans become is purely a result of what they experience.
The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith’s treatise of 1776, which argued that there are laws of human labor, production, and trade that stem from the unerring tendency of all humans to seek their own self-interest.
Invisible hand A phrase, penned by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations (1776), to denote the way in which natural economic laws guide the economy.
Vindication of the Rights of Woman Mary Wollstonecraft’s treatise of 1792, in which she argued that reason was the basis of moral behavior in all human beings, not just in men.
Salons Places where both men and women gathered, in eighteenth-cen tury France, to educate themselves about and discuss the new ideas of the Enlightenment in privacy and safety.
Philosophe Public intellectual of the French Enlightenment who believed that society should be reformed on the basis of natural law and reason.
Masonic lodges Secret meeting places established and run by Freemasons, whose origins dated back to the medieval guilds of the stonemasons. By the eighteenth century, the lodges were fraternities of aristocratic and middle-class men (and occasionally women) who gathered to discuss alternatives to traditional beliefs.
Deism The belief that the complexity, order, and natural laws exhibited by the universe were reasonable proof that it had been created by a God who was no longer active.
Enlightened despotism The hope shared by many philosophes that the powerful monarchs of European civilization, once educated in the ideals of the Enlightenment, would use their power to reform and rationalize society.
Candide Voltaire’s sprawling satire of European culture, penned in 1759, which has become the classic example of Enlightenment-period satire.
Encyclopedia Produced by the tireless efforts of its coeditors, Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert (1751—1772), the entries of the Encyclopedia championed a scientific approach to knowledge and labeled anything not based on reason as superstition.
System of Nature The Baron Paul d’Holbach’s treatise of 1770, which was the first work of Enlightenment philosophy to be openly atheist and materialist.
The Social Contract Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s treatise of 1762, in which he wrote, “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.” Rousseau argued that a virtuous citizen should be willing to subordinate his own self-interest to the general good of the community and that the government must be continually responsive to the general will of the people.
Almanacs Popular eighteenth-century texts that incorporated much of the new scientific and rational knowledge of the Enlightenment.
Philosophical texts The underground book trade’s code name for banned books, which included some versions of philosophical treatises and bawdy, popularized versions of the philosophes’ critique of the Church and the ruling classes.
Neoplatonism In the Renaissance and the Early Modern period, a philosophy based on that of Plato, which contended that reality was located in a changeless world of forms and that, accordingly, spurred the study of mathematics. It also refers to the attempt to reconcile pagan and Christian ideals, and the artistic idea that contemplation of beauty led to contemplation of the divine.
Platonic—Pythagorean tradition A tradition of philosophy that developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which embraced the works of Plato and Pythagoras and which had as its goal the identification of the fundamental mathematical laws of nature.
Heliocentric Sun-centered; the model of the cosmos proposed by Nicolas Copernicus in 1534.
Copernicanism The theory, following Nicolas Copernicus, that the sun is at the center of the cosmos and that the Earth is the third planet from the sun.
Kepler’s laws Three laws of planetary motion developed by Johannes Kepler between 1609 and 1619.
The Starry Messenger Galileo’s treatise of 1610, in which he published his celestial observations made with a telescope.
Dialogue on the Two Chief Systems of the World Galileo’s treatise of 1632, in which he dismantled the arguments in favor of the traditional, Aristotelian view of the cosmos and presented the Copernican system as the only alternative for reasonable people.
Discourse on Method René Descartes’s treatise of 1637, in which he established a method of philosophical inquiry based on radical skepticism.
Maria Sibylla Merian
Natural philosophy is a term that refers to the attempt of intellectuals to understand the natural world. The Scientific Revolution is the term given to the rise of a particular kind of natural philosophy that stressed empirical observation and reason. While it is hard to know where to cite the beginning of such a development, many historians point to a key publication by Nicolas Copernicus in 1543 and to Galileo Galilei’s challenge to the old Aristotelian view of the cosmos and the authority of the Catholic Church in 1610. “The Enlightenment” refers to an eighteenth-century cultural movement whose proponents argued that society and its laws should be based on human reason, rather than on custom, religion, or tradition. Its roots can be traced to the late seventeenth century, when thinkers and writers began praising the method of inquiry and the accomplishments of Sir Isaac Newton. Following Newton, political writers like John Locke began suggesting that there were natural laws that govern human behavior and that these laws could be discovered through reason. In the eighteenth century, intellectuals known as philosophes developed a program for reforming society along the lines of reason, which they initially hoped to implement by educating the powerful rulers, or “enlightened despots,” of Europe. Later in the century, when enlightened despotism seemed to have failed, Enlightenment ideals began to be applied in more revolutionary contexts.
The Traditional View of the Cosmos
The traditional view of the cosmos in European civilization was one that it inherited from the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. The Aristotelian cosmos was based on observation and common sense. Because the Earth appeared, to all of one’s senses, to stand still, Aristotle believed the Earth was the unmoving center point of the cosmos. The moon, the planets, and the stars were understood to move in concentric circular orbits around the Earth because that is what they appeared to do. The stars were conceived of as “fixed” into a single sphere because they do not move relative to each other.
The Aristotelian cosmos was divided into two realms:
• The terrestrial realm, which contained the Earth and all matter inside the orbit of the moon
• The celestial realm, or the realm of the heavens, which existed beyond the orbit of the moon
In the Aristotelian cosmos, there were five basic elements, each of which was defined by its qualities:
1. Earth, which was heavy and tended to sink toward the center of the cosmos
2. Water, which was slightly lighter and accumulated on top of the solid Earth
3. Air, which was lighter still
4. Fire, which was the lightest of all and tended to try to rise above all the others
5. Ether, which was perfect matter that existed only in the celestial realm and which moved in uniform circular motion
The qualities of the five types of matter served as the basis of Aristotelian physics. The motion of terrestrial matter was understood to be the result of its composition. For example, if you threw a rock, its motion described a parabola because the force of the throw gave its motion a horizontal component, while its heaviness gave it a vertical component toward the Earth. If you filled an air-tight bag with air and submerged it in water, it would float to the top because the air was lighter than Earth or water. The planets and stars of the celestial realm moved at a uniform rate in perfect circles around the Earth because they were composed purely of ether.
To the medieval church scholars who rediscovered and translated the writings of Aristotle, this Earth-centered, or “geocentric,” model of the cosmos made logical sense. It confirmed the Christian theological doctrine that the perfect kingdom of God awaited in the heavens for those humans who could transcend the corruption of the world.
Alternative Traditions of Knowledge Before the Scientific Revolution
Although the dominant tradition of knowledge in European civilization before the Scientific Revolution was scholasticism, which derived its knowledge from ancient texts like those of Aristotle, there were other traditions upon which the Scientific Revolution drew.
Natural Magic, Alchemy, and Hermeticism
One was the tradition of natural magic and alchemy that understood the natural world to be alive with latent power, just waiting to be tapped by those who could learn its secrets. One strain of magical thought drew inspiration from a corpus of texts erroneously attributed to a supposed ancient Egyptian priest, Hermes Trismegistus. Hermeticism taught that the world was infused with a single spirit that could be explored through mathematics as well as through magic.
The most powerful and potent of the alternative traditions was developed by Renaissance humanists who rediscovered and revered the work of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. Plato’s writings distinguished between a changeless and eternal realm of being or form and the temporary and perishable world we experience. To the Neoplatonists, mathematics was the language with which one could discover and describe the world of forms. Like the Hermetic tradition, Neoplatonism taught that mathematics described the essential nature and soul of the cosmos, a soul that was God itself. The use of mathematics to discover and describe the world of forms was reflected in both the use of perspective in art and the reconciliation of pagan and Christian symbols.
The Platonic—Pythagorean Tradition
By the advent of the seventeenth century, these alternative traditions had fused into an approach to gaining knowledge of the natural world that has come to be known as the Platonic—Pythagorean tradition (after Plato and the ancient mathematically oriented school of Pythagoras), which had as its goal the identification of the fundamental mathematical laws of nature.
Development of New Institutions
Because the curricula of traditional universities were devoted to the teaching of Aristotle and other authorities in the scholastic tradition, new institutions were required for the alternative traditions to flourish. New institutions that emerged to fill that role included the following:
• Royal courts, where kings, dukes, and other ruling nobles were determined to show off both their wealth and their virtue by patronizing not only great artists and musicians but also natural philosophers
• Royal societies and academies, like the Royal Society of London and the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris, both established in the 1660s, where organized groups of natural philosophers sought and received the patronage of the Crown by emphasizing both the prestige and the practical applications of their discoveries
• Smaller academies under the patronage of individual nobles, like the Accademia dei Lincei, founded in Italy in 1603 by Federico Cesi, the oldest scientific academy in the world
• New universities, particularly in Italy, which were funded by the civic-minded merchants in the Renaissance tradition and which were outside the control of the Church
The Rise of Copernicanism
The central challenge to the traditional view of the cosmos was made in the context of the Church’s own effort to reform the calendar and, therefore, the science of astronomy. The annual changes in the position of the sun, the moon, and the planets with respect to the constellations of stars are the means by which human beings construct calendars that keep track of time and predict seasonal climate patterns. In keeping with the philosophy of scholasticism, European Church scholars constructed calendars based on ancient astronomical tables that dated back to the ancient Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy. Though amazingly accurate, the multiplication over thousands of years of small errors in the Ptolemaic astronomical tables led to a situation in the early sixteenth century in which the calendars were dramatically out of sync with the actual seasons.
In 1515, a church council appointed to consider calendar reform summoned the Polish churchman and astronomer Nicolas Copernicus to remedy the situation. Educated in a Neoplatonic academy and a proponent of the Platonic—Pythagorean tradition, Copernicus proposed to reconcile the calendar and the actual movements of the heavens by introducing a new sun-centered, or “heliocentric,” astronomical model of the cosmos.
Copernicus’s proposal alarmed Church authorities for several reasons:
• It questioned the authority of the Aristotelian tradition on which scholasticism relied.
• It contradicted the physical principles that served as the foundation of physics.
• It destroyed the theological coherence of the cosmos.
• It required the Church to admit it had been in error.
Shortly before Copernicus’s death in 1543, the Church allowed his theory to be published in a work titled De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies), provided that it be accompanied by a preface stating that the theory was only being presented as a useful hypothetical model, not as a true account of the physical nature of the cosmos. Because Copernicus’s great work was written in Latin (which was the language of educated scholars) and because it was a highly technical work, its publication created no great stir. But slowly, over the course of the next seventy years, Copernicanism (as the theory came to be known) spread in circles of men educated both within the Church and in the newer academies and societies.
By the seventeenth century, a loose network of Copernicans championed the new world view as part of a new empirical and mathematical approach to the study of the natural world. One was a German mathematician working in the Hermetic and Neoplatonic traditions, Johannes Kepler, who devoted his life to finding the mathematical harmonies of the cosmos. Between 1609 and 1619, he developed three laws of planetary motion that would come to be known as Kepler’s laws:
1. The first law broke with the tradition of conceiving of the planets as moving in uniform circles, suggesting that the planetary orbits took the form of an ellipse, with the sun as one of their foci.
2. The second law abandoned the notion that planetary motion was uniform and asserted that a planet’s velocity varied according to its distances from the sun, sweeping out equal areas in equal times.
3. The third law gave a mathematical description for the physical relationship between the planets and the sun, asserting that the squares of the orbital periods of the planets are in the same ratio as the cubes of their average distance from the sun.
Galileo and the Value of Empirical Knowledge
Although Kepler worked in obscurity, Galileo Galilei was an ambitious self-promoter. Dubbing himself a “mathematical philosopher,” Galileo championed an approach to knowing the natural world that emphasized the need to apply reason to observational and mathematical data. Also, following the English philosopher Francis Bacon, Galileo combined his approach with an appeal to the practical and pragmatic value of such knowledge.
Having dismantled and analyzed a spyglass he bought from Dutch merchants, Galileo drew up schematics for a larger, more powerful version. The result was the world’s first telescope, and Galileo immediately turned his new invention on the heavens. In 1610, Galileo published his findings in a pamphlet titled Sidereus Nuncius (The Starry Messenger). There, he announced several discoveries, which, although they did not explicitly promote the Copernican theory, did implicitly call into question the veracity of the Aristotelian model. These discoveries included the following:
• The existence of countless stars previously unseen, suggesting that there was much about the cosmos that was not known.
• The rugged, crater-filled surface of the moon, suggesting that it was not created of perfect celestial matter.
• Four moons orbiting the planet Jupiter, suggesting that it would not be so strange for Earth to have a moon as well.
Unfortunately, Galileo mistakenly believed that both a combination of his growing fame and his value to his powerful patron (the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo de’ Medici) would protect him from the wrath of the Catholic Church. Because of this mistaken belief, Galileo began to promote more boldly both the Copernican theory and his method of knowing nature through the application of reason to empirical observations. In 1615, he was summoned to Rome, where he narrowly escaped being branded a heretic only because he had a powerful friend, Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, who interceded on Galileo’s behalf and managed to convince the Church to brand the Copernican theory “erroneous” rather than “heretical.” Galileo was set free with a stern warning. In 1623, Barberini became Pope Urban VIII. The following year, Galileo returned to Rome for a series of discussions with the pope. He left having been given permission to teach Copernicanism as a theory, but not as a true account of the cosmos.
Over the next decade and a half, Galileo continued to promote his particular brand of natural philosophy. In 1632, chafing against the constrictions put upon him, Galileo effectively took his case to the public by abandoning the Latin prose of the scholarly elite for the vernacular Italian of the masses and publishing a thinly veiled attack on what he considered to be the absurdity of the Church’s defense of the Aristotelian model. His Dialogue on the Two Chief Systems of the World dismantled the arguments in favor of the traditional, Aristotelian view of the cosmos and presented the Copernican system as the only alternative for reasonable people. Early the following year, Galileo was summoned before the Inquisition and forced to recant. He was sentenced to spend the rest of his life under house arrest and forbidden ever to publish again. The long-term effect of Galileo’s condemnation was to shift the locus of the Scientific Revolution to the Protestant countries of Europe.
Advances in Anatomy, Physiology, and Medicine
During the sixteenth century, the fields of anatomy, physiology, and medicine were heavily influenced by the work of a Greek physician Galen, whose ideas were derived from observation and dissection of animals. He postulated that there were two vascular (blood) systems: muscular, with bright red blood in arteries; and digestive, with darker blood located in veins. He also believed humans had four “humors,” or liquids in the body whose balance was integral to health. An imbalance of blood, yellow bile, black bile, or phlegm would be diagnosed through observation of the urine.
Galen’s views were rejected by Paracelsus (an adopted name, meaning “greater than Celsus”). Influenced in part by his childhood in a mining town where he observed that metals “grow” in the earth, he developed an interest in alchemy, chemistry, and metallurgy, specifically that illness resulted from chemical imbalance. He also placed great weight in the folk remedies and wisdom of commoners. Due to his irascible and egotistical nature, his ideas were not widely adopted. He did identify metals as the cause of silicosis (through inhalation) and goiter (through drinking water), and used combinations of metals in treatment of diseases like syphilis and others. His advances laid the foundations for using chemistry in drug therapies and homeopathy.
The study of anatomy in the mid-sixteenth century typically consisted of a butcher dissecting a human cadaver while the instructor read aloud from the relevant historical text, without actually participating in the dissection. Andreas Vesalius, unusually, performed his own dissections, developing such skill that he moved quickly from assistant, to doctor, to anatomy professor. His greatest work is De humani corporis fabrica—The Structure of the Human Body, an anatomical text with over 200 illustrations, based on his personal observations through dissection of human cadavers. In it, he corrected many misconceptions, like his assertion that the largest blood vessels originate in the heart, rather than the liver. Though he had fewer illustrations of women, he did note that women have the same number of ribs and teeth as men.
Following in the observational tradition of Vesalius, William Harvey relied on his own dissections of humans and animals to write Anatomical Studies on the Motion of Heart and Blood in Animals (De Moto Cordis). In this book he identified the vascular system as completing a circuit within the body, the locus of which was located in the heart.
Contributions of Women During the Scientific Revolution
Women in the sciences during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries endured tremendous challenges. Many of them were noblewomen—who were informally taught through interactions with or assistance of male relatives—such as Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-on-Tyne, a poet, playwright, and natural philosopher. She and her husband had a small salon, whose attendees included Thomas Hobbes and René Descartes. Though permitted to attend a meeting of the Royal Society, she was denied membership. Through her writings, she popularized many of the scientific theories of the day. She challenged the scientific establishment, claiming that, for example, observations via microscope could be misleading, resulting in false interpretations of the world. She also argued that theology and the cosmos were beyond the scope of scientific inquiry and man’s control.
Another avenue for scientific study for middle-class women was through family trades. Such was the case in Germany of Maria Sibylla Merian, whose father and stepfather were an illustrator and an artist, respectively. Starting as an assistant to her stepfather, she collected plants and insects for his works, eventually studying their life cycles and documenting them, both in words and images. Eventually she began publishing her works, which became known for their detail and accuracy, especially those in an exhaustive study of the insects and plants of Surinam. Similarly, Maria Winkelmann assisted first her father and later her husband, Gottfried Kirch, with their study of astronomy. With her husband, she observed and recorded the movement of stars and the weather and compiled the data to be used in calendars and almanacs. In 1702, Winkelmann discovered a comet, and was the first woman to do so, but it was not acknowledged until eight years later. After her husband’s death, the Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin rejected her application to take her husband’s place. Winkelmann continued working in the field of astronomy, even predicting a comet, but still struggled with being recognized in her own right.
Cartesian Skepticism and Deductive Reasoning
Although many of those who took the lead in the Scientific Revolution in the second half of the seventeenth century were born in Protestant countries, René Descartes had been a citizen of Catholic France. But upon hearing of Galileo’s condemnation, Descartes relocated to the Netherlands, where he published (in 1637) a challenge to both the authority of scholasticism and to the validity of the Galilean approach. In Discourse on Method, Descartes began by sweeping away all previous claims to knowledge by skeptically asserting that “received knowledge”—that is, information that you do not learn for yourself—amounted to nothing more than “opinion.” But rather than proceed from observation, Descartes extended his skepticism to the senses, which, he asserted, could easily be fooled; instead, he sought the “clear and distinct idea”—that is, one that could not reasonably be doubted.
The first idea that Descartes could not doubt was that he was thinking, and that if he was thinking, then he must really exist. From that famous formulation—“I think, therefore I am”—Descartes proceeded to deduce a variety of truths, including the existence of God and a cosmos made up of only two things: matter and motion. Putting the sun in the center (as Copernicus had done), Descartes described a solar system in which the planets were simply large chunks of matter that were caught in swirling vortices of smaller matter. This Cartesian approach of deducing the details of nature from a set of clearly defined general propositions appealed to those who sought an intelligible explanation of the cosmos, rather than the mathematical calculations of the Platonic—Pythagorean tradition.
“The Enlightenment” refers to an eighteenth-century cultural movement whose proponents argued that society and its laws should be based on human reason, rather than on custom, religion, or tradition. Its roots can be traced to the late seventeenth century, when thinkers and writers began praising the method of inquiry and the accomplishments of Sir Isaac Newton. Following Newton, political writers like John Locke began suggesting that there were natural laws that govern human behavior and that these laws could be discovered through reason. In the eighteenth century, intellectuals known as philosophes developed a program for reforming society along the lines of reason, which they initially hoped to implement by educating the powerful rulers, or “enlightened despots,” of Europe. Later in the century, when enlightened despotism seemed to have failed, Enlightenment ideals began to be applied in more revolutionary contexts.
The Triumph of Newtonian Science
Isaac Newton was an Englishman who was educated at Cambridge University at a time when its faculty was committed to the advancement of Neoplatonism and to the rejection of Cartesianism. As a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, Newton lived a solitary life and was driven by the notion that God had left clues to His true nature in the laws that governed the natural world. Newton was intensely focused on solving the mystery of planetary motion. Using a mathematical system of his own creation, which he called “fluxions” (and which we now refer to as calculus), and following Kepler’s suggestion that the paths of planetary orbits were elliptical, Newton was able to calculate the orbits of the planets precisely by assuming that each particle of matter, no matter how large or small, was drawn to every other piece of matter by a force that he called “universal gravitation.”
Newton published his results in 1687 in his great work, the Principia Mathematica (The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), in which he stated, “Every particle of matter in the universe attracts every other particle with a force varying inversely as the square of the distance between them and directly proportional to the product of their masses.” The Principia not only provided the correct calculations for planetary motion, it set out “definitions” and “laws of motion,” which demonstrated how mathematical philosophy was henceforth to be done.
For the rest of the seventeenth century, the methods of Newton and Descartes served as competing models, with Newtonianism reigning in Great Britain and Cartesianism dominating in continental Europe. But by the dawn of the eighteenth century, Newtonianism had won out and served as a model not just for natural philosophy, but for an approach to the understanding of human society—an approach that would come to be known as “the Enlightenment.”
New Ideas About Natural Law, Human Nature, and Society
Isaac Newton had shown that, through the rigorous application of empirical observation and reason, humans could discern the laws that God had created to govern the natural world. His eighteenth-century successors, the philosophes, argued that the same process could lead to knowledge of the natural laws that govern human behavior. Accordingly, the Enlightenment view of society rested upon certain assumptions about the “natural state” of human beings.
One assumption about human nature that was foundational to Enlightenment thought was the belief that human beings could discern and would naturally follow their own self-interest. Thomas Hobbes, the author of Leviathan (1651), asserted that self-interest motivated nearly all human behavior. Specifically, Hobbes argued that human beings were naturally driven to quarrel by competition, diffidence, and glory. Hobbes therefore concluded that “without a common power to keep them in awe,” the natural state of man was one of war.
More typical of Enlightenment thought about human nature were the ideas of John Locke. In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689—1690), Locke argued that humans are born tabula rasa (as “blank slates”). This contradicted the traditional Christian notion that humans were born corrupt and sinful, and it implied that what humans become is purely a result of what they experience. Accordingly, Locke argued that educational and social systems that taught and rewarded rational behavior would produce law-abiding and peaceful citizens.
Locke shared Hobbes’s belief in self-interest, and its importance in Locke’s thought can be seen in his influential theory of private property, which appeared in his Two Treatises on Government (1690). Locke argued that God created the world and its abundance so that humans might make it productive. To ensure that productivity, God established a natural right to property. Private property is created, Locke argued, when an individual mixes a common resource with his individual labor. For example, when an individual does the work of cutting down a tree and crafting the wood into a chair, he has mixed a common resource with his individual labor to create something that did not exist before. That creation is his private property and, therefore, his incentive to be productive.
A typical eighteenth-century example of self-interest as natural law can be seen in the work of Adam Smith, who applied Enlightenment ideals to the realm of economics. In The Wealth of Nations (1776), Smith argued that there were laws of human labor, production, and trade that stemmed from the unerring tendency of all humans to seek their own self-interest. The economic laws that Smith identified, such as the law of supply and demand, are all by-products of human self-interest. Smith asserted that the sum total of these natural economic laws functioned like an “invisible hand” that guided the economy. Though the prevailing economic theory, mercantilism, encouraged government intervention in the economy through tariffs, subsidies for domestic industry, and a favorable balance of trade, Smith challenged this view. Efforts by governments to alter the natural laws of an economy, such as putting a tax or tariff on foreign products, would ultimately fail, Smith argued. Accordingly, Smith and his followers advocated a hands-off, or laissez-faire, economic policy, exemplified by free markets and free trade.
In 1792, the English philosophe Mary Wollstonecraft published Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in which she argued that reason was the basis of moral behavior in all human beings (not just men). From that basis, she went on to assert that the subjugation of women in European society was based on irrational belief and the blind following of tradition, and she challenged all men of reason to acknowledge the equality and human rights of all men and women.
New Political Ideas
Enlightenment ideals about natural law, human nature, and society led Enlightenment thinkers to ponder the question of the origin and proper role of government. Both Locke and Hobbes wrote in the context of the English Civil War that pitted Royalists against Parliamentarians. The Royalists supported the traditional power and privilege of the aristocracy and the king. In contrast, the Parliamentarians were seeking to limit the power and privilege of the aristocracy and the king.
Hobbes was a Royalist. From his point of view, the Parliamentarians had brought chaos to England by naively ignoring the fact that the natural state of humanity was war. Peace, Hobbes argued in Leviathan, required a government capable of simultaneously striking the fear of death in its subjects and guaranteeing that lawful subjects would attain a good quality of life. In order to accomplish these tasks, the government required absolute power, which it acquired by entering into an unbreakable contract, or sacred covenant, with the people.
John Locke and Cesare Beccaria
Locke, a Parliamentarian, agreed that men were often ruled by their passions. But in Two Treatises, he argued that in civil society, men settled disputes dispassionately and effectively by creating a system of impartial judges and communal enforcement. In such a system, the power of government came from the consent of the people, and its use was limited to protecting the people’s natural rights, particularly their right to property. Any government that did not use its power to protect the rights of its people was no longer legitimate and both could and should be deposed. In this way, he repudiated not only the idea of the divine right of kings, but also the concept of absolutism.
In the eighteenth century, it was Locke’s vision of government and law that came to dominate the Enlightenment. The Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria carried Locke’s line of thinking about the proper function of government further, arguing in Crime and Punishment (1764) that the purpose of punishment should be to rehabilitate and reintegrate the individual into society. Accordingly, the severity of the punishment should reflect the severity of the crime.
Baron de Montesquieu
The Baron de Montesquieu was a French aristocrat and judge who expanded on Locke’s theory of limited government by investigating the effects of climate and custom on human behavior. In The Spirit of Laws (1748), he stressed the importance of the rule of law and outlined a system in which government was divided into branches in order to check and balance its power.
Thomas Jefferson established the notion that the only legitimate role of a government was to guarantee its citizens the “inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” which became the philosophical justification for the American Declaration of Independence from the rule of George III and Great Britain in 1776.
The Philosophes and Enlightened Despotism
The term philosophe, originally just the French term for philosopher, came to identify a new breed of philosopher, one dedicated to educating the broader public. Many were popularizers of the ideas of others, looking to spread an ideal of a society governed by reason. To reach the broadest possible audience, they wrote in many different genres: histories, novels, plays, pamphlets, and satires, as well as traditional philosophical treatises.
The phrase “enlightened despotism” referred to the hope shared by many philosophes that the powerful monarchs of European civilization, once educated in the ideals of the Enlightenment, would use their power to reform and rationalize society. To one degree or another, many eighteenth-century European monarchs instituted reforms, but within limits:
• Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia abolished serfdom, instituted a policy of religious toleration, and attracted French Protestants and dissidents, such as Voltaire, to his kingdom. But Prussia remained a militaristic state under an absolutist regime, and Voltaire eventually became disenchanted.
• Joseph II of Austria legislated religious toleration for Lutherans and Calvinists, abolished serfdom, and passed laws that liberalized the rules governing the press. But when pamphlets about the French Revolution appeared, he reimposed censorship.
• Catherine II (the Great) of Russia read the works of the philosophes; befriended Voltaire, Beccaria, and Diderot; and called for a legislative commission to study reform. But she dismissed the commission before most of its findings had even been reported and had no intention of departing from absolutism.
In the final analysis, enlightened despotism was the use of select Enlightenment ideals to help monarchs modernize and reform certain government and social institutions for the purpose of centralizing and strengthening their grasp on power. In the end, the interests of a ruling monarch ran counter to the more democratic and egalitarian ideals of the Enlightenment.
Salons and Lodges
The development and spread of an intellectual movement required places for people to congregate and share ideas. While philosophes could be found in most major European cities, the culture of salons flourished in Paris, making it the center of the Enlightenment. Originally, the term salon had referred to the room in aristocratic homes where the family and its guests gathered for leisure activities. During the Enlightenment, however, aristocratic and, eventually, upper middle-class women transformed such rooms (and the term) by turning them into a place where both men and women gathered to educate themselves about and discuss the new ideas of the age in privacy and safety. In the more prestigious houses, the leading philosophes were often invited to give informal lectures and to lead discussions.
It was through the salons that women made their most direct contribution to the Enlightenment. As hostesses, they controlled the guest list and enforced the rules of polite conversation. They were, therefore, in control of what ideas were discussed in front of which influential men, and were somewhat able to affect the reception that those ideas were given. Additionally, they controlled an extensive international correspondence network, as they decided which letters from philosophes in other cities were to be read, discussed, and replied to.
Another eighteenth-century home of Enlightenment thought was the Masonic lodge. The lodges were established and run by Freemasons, whose origins dated back to the medieval guilds of the stonemasons. By the eighteenth century, the lodges had become fraternities of aristocratic and middle-class men (and occasionally women) who gathered to discuss alternatives to traditional beliefs. Following the customs of the old guilds, the Masonic fraternities were run along democratic principles, the likes of which were new to continental Europe. Linked together by membership in the Grand Lodge, the lodges formed a network of communication for new ideas and ideals that rivaled that of the salons. Some of the most influential men of the eighteenth century were Masons, including the Duke of Montagu in England, Voltaire and Mozart in France, and Benjamin Franklin in America. In Berlin, Frederick the Great cultivated the Masonic lodges as centers of learning.
Skepticism, Religion, and Social Criticism
Skepticism, or the habit of doubting what one has not learned for oneself, was also a key element of the Scientific Revolution that was developed more widely during the Enlightenment. A particular target of Enlightenment skeptics was religion. In his Historical and Critical Dictionary (1697), the French religious skeptic Pierre Bayle included entries for numerous religious beliefs, illustrating why they did not, in his opinion, stand the test of reason. More generally, Bayle argued that all dogmas, including those based on scripture, should be considered false if they contradicted conclusions based on clear and natural reasoning.
The most prevalent form of religious belief among the philosophes was deism. The deists believed that the complexity, order, and natural laws exhibited by the universe were reasonable proof that it had been created by a God. But reason also told them that once God had created the universe and the natural laws that govern it, there would no longer be any further role for Him in the universe. A typical deist tract was John Toland’s Christianity Not Mysterious (1696). There, Toland argued that the aspects of Christianity that were not compatible with reason should be discarded and that Christians should worship an intelligible God.
Some philosophes went further with their skepticism. The Scottish philosopher David Hume rejected Christianity, arguing that Christianity required a belief in miracles and that the notion of miracles was contradicted by human reason. Hume also attacked the deist position, arguing that the order humans perceived in the universe was probably the product of human minds and social conventions, concluding that all religion was based on “hope and fear.” In the final analysis, Hume contended that reason must be the ultimate test and that belief should be in proportion to evidence.
The most famous skeptic of the Enlightenment wrote under the pen name of Voltaire. He raised satire to an art form and used it to criticize those institutions that promoted intolerance and bigotry. For his criticism of the French monarchy, aristocracy, and the Church, he was briefly imprisoned in the Bastille. While in exile in England, he became an admirer of Newton and Locke. In Lettres philosophiques (Philosophic Letters on the English) (1734), he compared the constitutional monarchy, rationalism, and toleration that he found in England with the absolutism, superstition, and bigotry of his native France. Later, he produced a sprawling satire of European culture in Candide (1759). For a time he lived and worked with the most accomplished female philosophe, Madame du Châtelet, who made the only French translation of Newton’s Principia.
Not all philosophers of the Enlightenment were so quick to separate Christianity from science. Many tried to reconcile the two, including French mathematician Blaise Pascal. Pascal’s contributions are many, from an early version of the calculator, to the foundations of probability theory. He is probably best known, though, for Pensées, an unfinished book published posthumously as a collection of his thoughts. In it, he attempted to unite religion and reason. He claimed men without religion are an odd mixture of greatness and lowliness and that philosophy alone could not explain this contradiction. To convince skeptics, he offered his famous wager: it is rational to believe in God. If there is no God, one loses nothing. If there is a God, one gains eternal paradise.
Benedict Spinoza took an alternative approach to those who separated the laws of nature and of God. To his mind, God and Nature were not separate at all, but two aspects of the same thing. A sort of pantheistic approach, he argued that God is everywhere and everything is God. Accordingly, he contended that God was not separate from the world but existed as the system of the world in all its aspects. This led him to conclude that the system was deterministic and that man did not have free will. Rather, his actions, as all actions within the system, were driven by necessity. Since the world system is perfectly ordered and predetermined by God, moral ideas of good and evil are, therefore, arbitrary and artificial constructs of men. As such, Spinoza was a proponent of moral relativism.
The Arts in the Enlightenment
During the seventeenth century and even into the early eighteenth century, the arts were dominated by the Baroque style, characterized by dramatic uses of light and shadow, emotion, and tension, and whose religious and sometimes grandiose themes were often supported by elites, especially in predominantly Catholic nations. Later, the eighteenth century saw the creation of new opportunities for artists, as the rise of a wealthy middle class broke the aristocratic monopoly on artistic patronage. The tastes of middle-class or bourgeois patrons were simpler than those of their aristocratic counterparts; the art produced for them was, consequently, less grand and less stylized. The middle class particularly patronized the visual arts and demanded genre paintings that depicted more realistic scenes and themes from everyday life. The paintings and engravings of William Hogarth, such as the series titled Marriage à la Mode (c. 1744), are examples of this genre.
By the end of the Enlightenment, the artistic world saw a resurgence of interest in the classical Greek and Roman art forms. The neoclassical movement was sparked in part as a reaction against the sometimes frivolous art of the Rococo period (early eighteenth century), but also due to the renewed interest in classical philosophy, particularly the ideas of civic virtue and democracy. Following the classical values of reason and moderation, these paintings were often cerebral rather than emotional. In architecture, this movement saw these ideals reflected in the construction of public buildings with columns based on ancient Greek and Roman buildings.
The Radical Enlightenment
As the monarchs and ruling regimes of Europe showed the limits of enlightened despotism, the elements of Enlightenment thought came together in increasingly radical ways. The multi-volume Encyclopedia (1751—1772), containing 28 volumes, was produced by the tireless efforts of its coeditors, Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert. Their stated goal was to overturn the barriers of superstition and bigotry, and to contribute to the progress of human knowledge. The entries of the Encyclopedia championed a scientific approach to knowledge and labeled anything not based on reason as superstition. Its pages were strewn with Enlightenment thought and the rhetoric of natural rights that was egalitarian and democratic. King Louis XV of France declared that the Encyclopedia was causing “irreparable damage to morality and religion,” and twice banned its publication.
Another more radical position was that of the German-born French philosophe, the Baron Paul d’Holbach, whose philosophy was openly atheist and materialist. In System of Nature (1770), d’Holbach offered the eighteenth-century reader a view of the world as a complex system of purely material substances, acting and developing according to purely mechanical laws of cause and effect, rather than having been imposed by a rational God.
Perhaps the most influential radical voice emerged at mid-century, articulating a view of human nature that differed from Locke’s tabula rasa and that suggested different political implications. In Émile (1762), Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that humans were born essentially good and virtuous but were easily corrupted by society. Accordingly, Rousseau argued that the early years of a child’s education should be spent developing the senses, sensibilities, and sentiments.
Politically, Rousseau agreed with his predecessors that individuals come together to form a civil society and give power to their government by their consent. But where Locke and Montesquieu were content with a constitutional monarchy, Rousseau’s model was the ancient Greek city-state in which citizens participated directly in the political life of the state. He expressed his discontent with the political state of affairs in The Social Contract (1762): “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.” Accordingly, Rousseau believed that the virtuous citizens should be willing to subordinate their own self-interest to the general good of the community, and he argued that a lawful government must be continually responsible to the general will of the people. Toward the end of the century, as the ruling regimes of continental Europe mobilized to protect their power and privilege, it would be Rousseau’s version of the Enlightenment that resonated with an increasingly discontented population.
To be clear, though Rousseau was concerned about issues of equality and the education of man, these concerns did not extend to the equality and education of women. For Rousseau, women were clearly the weaker sex. While men desired women, they did not need women in the same way he believed women were dependent on men. Women’s education, therefore, was to support their primary purpose, as wife and mother. Interestingly, though he perceived women as incapable of reason, in Rousseau’s Émile, women serve as educators.
The Other Enlightenment
The Enlightenment of the philosophes, with their salons and lodges, was primarily a cultural movement experienced by aristocrats and upper middle-class people. But further down the social hierarchy, a version of the Enlightenment reached an increasingly literate population in the following ways:
• Excerpted versions of the Encyclopedia
• Popular almanacs, which incorporated much of the new scientific and rational knowledge
• “Philosophical texts,” the underground book trade’s code name for banned books, which included some versions of philosophical treatises, and bawdy, popularized versions of the philosophes’ critique of the Church and the ruling classes
In these texts the most radical of Enlightenment ideals—particularly those of Rousseau and d’Holbach—together with satirical lampooning of the clergy and the ruling class, reached a broad audience. They helped to undermine respect for and the legitimacy of the ruling regimes.
Questions 1—3 refer to the following passage:
The political liberty of the subject is a tranquility of mind, arising from the opinion each person has of his safety. In order to have this liberty, it is requisite the government be so constituted as one man need not be afraid of another.
When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehensions may arise, lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner.
Again, there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control, for the judge would then be the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with all the violence of an oppressor. . . .
The executive power ought to be in the hands of a monarch; because this branch of government, which has always need of expedition, is better administered by one than by many:
Whereas, whatever depends on the legislative power, is oftentimes better regulated by many than by a single person.
The Baron Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, 1748
1. Montesquieu was an advocate of what political ideology born during the Enlightenment?
A. Classical conservatism
B. Classical liberalism
2. The author of the passage argues that tyranny is best avoided by which means?
A. Direct representation of the people in government
B. Virtual representation of the people in government
C. The consolidation of power within the government
D. A division of power within the government
3. According to the passage, who is best qualified to hold and implement the law?
A. A king or queen
B. An assembly
C. A judiciary
D. The people
Chapter Question (Causation)
4. Briefly explain the concept of enlightened despotism and illustrate, with TWO examples, why it ultimately failed.
Answers and Explanations
1. B is correct because the passage’s emphasis on individual liberty identifies its author as an advocate of classical liberalism. A is incorrect because nothing in the passage advocates the conservative reverence for tradition and traditional institutions. C is incorrect because the emphasis on individual liberty and on the limited nature of political power is in opposition to absolutism. D is incorrect because nothing in the passage allows you to infer anything about the religious beliefs of the author.
2. D is correct because the passage proposes to protect liberty by dividing power between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. A and B are incorrect because the passage makes no reference to representation. C is incorrect because the passage argues that power should be split between branches of the government, not consolidated into one branch as absolutism would recommend.
3. A is correct because the passage states that the executive power (the power to implement a law) “ought to be in the hands of the monarch.” B is incorrect because the passage states that the executive power (the power to implement a law) “ought to be in the hands of the monarch” and because it states that such power “is better administered by one than by many.” C is incorrect because the passage states that the executive power (the power to implement a law) “ought to be in the hands of the monarch.” D is incorrect because the passage states that the executive power (the power to implement a law) “ought to be in the hands of the monarch” and because it makes no mention of “the people.”
4. Suggested answer:
Thesis: The approaches of Galileo and Descartes were similar in that they both began with skepticism. The approaches were different in two ways: (1) Galileo relied on empirical observation, whereas Descartes considered the senses unreliable. (2) Galileo tended to employ an inductive method, gathering facts and then generalizing from them, while Descartes preferred to deduce general principles and then explain the facts based on those principles.
I. Galileo’s rejection of the Aristotelian model of the cosmos and the scholastic approach. Descartes’s skeptical assertion that “received knowledge”—that is, information that you do not learn for yourself—amounted to nothing more than “opinion.”
II. Galileo’s observations of the moon and his inductive argument that those observations refute the claims of Aristotle. Descartes’s rejection of observation on the grounds that our senses can be fooled and his deduction of his own existence by the fact that he cannot doubt that he is thinking about the question of his existence.
By the mid-sixteenth century, the spirit of Renaissance humanism fused with other reviving traditions, such as Hermeticism and Neoplatonism, to create a Platonic—Pythagorean tradition that sought to identify the fundamental mathematical laws of nature. Nicolas Copernicus was the first to challenge the traditional scholastic view of the cosmos by suggesting that the sun—not the Earth—was at the center of the system. But it was in the seventeenth century that Copernicus’s successors promoted new ways of knowing about nature:
• Galileo promoted both the Copernican system and an observationally based inductive method in increasingly bold ways until he was silenced by the Inquisition in 1633.
• René Descartes developed and promoted an alternative method that began with radical skepticism and went on to deduce knowledge about nature by seeking clear and distinct thought.
• Near the end of the seventeenth century, Isaac Newton showed, through empirical observation and reason, that one could discern the laws that God had created to govern the cosmos. In the eighteenth century, writers known as philosophes developed and popularized a vision of society based on Newton’s emphasis on reason. They wrote philosophical treatises, histories, novels, plays, pamphlets, and satires critical of traditional social and political conventions and institutions, like absolute monarchy and the Church. Hoping to reform society by educating the powerful monarchs of European kingdoms, when enlightened despotism waned, philosophes found new venues, like salons, to discuss and promote the more egalitarian and democratic aspects of Enlightenment thought, contributing to an atmosphere of political and social revolution that flourished in modern Europe at the end of the eighteenth century.
Mary Wollstonecraft, Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman—Enlightenment and women’s rights
For satire, look at the works of William Hogarth (1697—1764) and James Gilray (1792—1810), caricaturists who specialized in political and social satire. Later, but perhaps better known, is Honoré Daumier (1808—1879). All gave rise to political and editorial cartooning.