History of the Enlightenment

History of the Enlightenment

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The history of the Enlightenment focuses on an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated thinking in Europe during the 18th century. It developed a new ethos centered on certain key tenets: the pursuit of happiness, the primacy of reason, and the certainty of the senses as the primary source of knowledge. With this, new thinking took shape in civil liberties, tolerance, humanism, the belief that government can change hands peaceably in an orderly succession of power, and the separation of church and state. These ideas challenged the foundations of European statecraft and the bedrock authority of the Church.

The ideas of philosophes and scientists circulated through meetings at scientific academies, esoteric orders like the Masons, and the salons and coffeehouses of London and Paris where books, journals, and pamphlets were read and discussed. The rationalism and humanism of the Enlightenment eroded the divine authority of the monarchy and the Church. It went on to play a key role in the political revolutions in America, France, and elsewhere across the Continent in the 19th century. The 19th-century movements of liberalism, communism, and neoclassicism had their roots in the Enlightenment.

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Enlightenment Index | Women | Culture: ArchitectureArtLearningLiterature: NovelsTravel | Music: Classical PeriodBachHandelMozartHaydn | Philosophy: PhilosophesOld RegimeFaith or Reason?Age of ReasonEnglish and Dutch PhasesRadical EnlightenmentLater Enlightenment Adam SmithPhysiocrats • | Popular Culture | Scholarship | Science and Technology | Medicine | Religion: AuthoritySects | Power: LawReform

The Enlightenment: Index

Society: Women


Culture: Architecture

Culture: Art

Culture: Learning

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Culture: Literature

Literature: Novels

Literature: Travel

Culture: Music

Music: Classical Period

Music: Bach

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Music: Handel

Music: Haydn

Music: Mozart

Culture: Philosophy

Philosophy: The Philosophes

Philosophy: Old Regime

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Philosophy: Faith or Reason?

Philosophy: Age of Reason

Philosophy: English and Dutch Phases

Philosophy: Radical Enlightenment

Philosophy: Later Enlightenment

Philosophy: Adam Smith

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Philosophy: Physiocrats

Culture: Popular Culture

Culture: Scholarship

Culture: Science and Technology

Science and Technology: Medicine


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Religion: Authority

Religion: Sects


Power: Law

Power: Reform

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