The Enlightenment

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated


ENLIGHTENMENT, THE . The eighteenth-century European intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment was affiliated with the rise of the bourgeoisie and the influence of modern science; it promoted the values of intellectual and material progress, toleration, and critical reason as opposed to authority and tradition in matters of politics and religion. The eighteenth century itself is sometimes referred to as "the Enlightenment," but this appellation is highly misleading. For despite the patronage of a few powerful individuals (Frederick the Great of Prussia, Catherine the Great of Russia, Josef II of Austria, and Pope Boniface XIV), the Enlightenment was always a critical and often a subversive movement in relation to the established political and religious order. Its values may have dominated certain intellectual circles in the eighteenth century, especially in France, but they did not dominate the political structures or the religious life of eighteenth-century people generally; and though many political goals of the Enlightenment were largely achieved in the nineteenth century, few of them were achieved in the eighteenth. In the eighteenth century, moreover, there were other powerful movements, particularly religious ones, that diverged from and were sometimes decidedly hostile to the Enlightenment (among them, Pietism, Jansenism, and Methodism). It is also a mistake to suggest that the ideas and values of the Enlightenment were limited to eighteenth-century thinkers, for these values have had a prominent place in European thought down to the present day.

The Enlightenment has always been regarded as predominantly a French movement, but its influence was certainly felt elsewhere, chiefly in Germany, England, and the American colonies. The terms éclaircissement and Aufklärung were generally used by its proponents, but the English term enlightenment does not appear to have been widely used until the nineteenth century, when it had largely derogatory connotations associated with the continent. In Germany too, the movement's opponents frequently played on anti-French sentiments.

The way was paved for the French Enlightenment by the wide influence of Cartesian philosophy and science in the latter half of the seventeenth century. But it also took stimulus from philosophical and scientific advances elsewhere, particularly in England. Within France, the principal forerunner of the Enlightenment was Pierre Bayle (16471706), whose Historical and Critical Dictionary (1697) combined sharp wit, copious historical learning, and dialectical skill with a skeptical temper and a deep commitment to the values of intellectual openness and toleration, especially in religious matters. In the sciences, the Enlightenment owed much to the publicist Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle (16571757), whose long and active career brought the ideas of scientific philosophers, especially Descartes, Leibniz, and Newton, into currency in France. But the chief philosophical inspiration for the French Enlightenment was provided by John Locke (16321704), whose epistemology, political theory, and conception of the relation of reason to religion became models for French Enlightenment thinkers.

We may distinguish two generations of French Enlightenment thinkers, with the transition occurring around 1750. The principal representatives of the first generation were Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet, 16941778) and the Baron de Montesquieu (Charles-Louis de Secondat, 16891755). Montesquieu's chief writings were in social theory, political theory, and history. His Persian Letters (1721) and The Spirit of the Laws (1748) give the lie to the common charge that the Enlightenment perspective on society and history was shallow, naive, reductionistic, and ethnocentric. Voltaire's massive oeuvre includes poetry, plays, and novels, as well as philosophical treatises and innumerable essays on the most varied subjects. His interests were exceptionally broad, but perhaps his chief concern was with religion. Voltaire's famous motto Écrasez l'infâme! ("Crush the infamous thing!") accurately portrays his hostility toward the Roman Catholic Church and toward clericalism in all forms. His writings contain many eloquent pleas for religious toleration and numberless irreverent satires on the narrowness, irrationality, and superstition of traditional Christianity. Voltaire was characteristic of Enlightenment thinkers in that he was uncompromisingly anticlerical, but it would be wholly incorrect to describe him as an atheist and inaccurate to call him an irreligious man. His writings bear witness to a lifelong struggle to achieve a rational piety that might sustain a person of moral disposition in a world full of monstrous human crimes and terrible human sufferings.

The younger generation of French Enlightenment thinkers (or philosophes ) represents a considerable variety of viewpoints, some of them far more radical politically and more antireligious than those of Voltaire and Montesquieu. The leading French philosopher of this generation was Denis Diderot (17131784), a versatile and gifted writer, and the principal editor of the massive Encyclopedia, unquestionably the greatest scholarly and literary achievement of the French Enlightenment. Diderot left no finished philosophical system, but rather a variety of writings that expressed an ever-changing point of view and covered many subjectsmetaphysics, natural science, psychology, aesthetics, criticism, society, politics, morality, and religion. In religion, Diderot began as a Deist, but later abandoned this position as an unworthy compromise with religious superstition. Yet even as an atheist, he retained great sympathy for many aspects of religion, especially for the religious predicament of the conscientious individual moral agent. His atheism has sometimes been accurately (if anachronistically) described as existentialist in character. In his later years, he occasionally flirted with some form of theism, especially with a sort of naturalistic pantheism. Like Voltaire, he was adamantly opposed to the simpler and more direct atheism of materialists such as d'Holbach.

The first volume of Diderot's Encyclopedia was published in 1751, prefaced by the famous "Preliminary Discourse" by the scientist Jean Le Rond d'Alembert (17171783). Seven volumes were published by 1759, when the work was suppressed by royal decree as causing "irreparable damage to morality and religion." In the same year, Pope Clement XIII threatened those who read it or possessed copies of it with excommunication. Six years later, with tacit permission of the government, Diderot managed to publish the remaining ten volumes. The Encyclopedia contained articles by many distinguished French intellectuals: Voltaire and Montesquieu, Rousseau and Condorcet, Quesnay and Turgot. Some of the articles are anonymous, perhaps written by Diderot himself, or taken by him from other sources. (The article "Reason," for instance, is a close paraphrase of Coste's translation of Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding [4.18.1011], an eloquent part of Locke's treatment of the relation of reason to faith.) The Encyclopedia by no means disseminated a single "party line" on moral, political, or religious questions. Many of the articles on theological subjects, for instance, were by Abbé Claude Yvon (17141791), who, in his article "Atheists," attacks Bayle's view that atheism should be tolerated and that the morals of atheists are as high as those of believers. The real ideology behind the encyclopedia is its confidence that moral, political, and religious progress can be achieved in society by the simple means of "raising the level of debate" on these matters. It was precisely this, and not immoralist or antireligious propaganda, that aroused the fear of Louis XV and Pope Clement XIII.

The most important epistemologist and psychologist of the second-generation philosophes was Étienne Bonnot, abbé de Condillac (17151780), whose Treatise on Systems (1749) and Treatise on Sensations (1754) developed a theory of human knowledge grounded wholly on sense experience. It is probably in Condillac, in fact, together with David Hume (17111776), that we find the true beginnings of modern empiricism.

The philosophes also included some infamous philosophical radicals, particularly Julien Offroy de La Mettrie (17091751), Claude-Adrien Helvétius (17151771), and Paul-Henri Thiry, baron d'Holbach (17231789). La Mettrie expounded an openly materialist theory of the soul in Man a Machine (1748) and a blatantly hedonist ethics in Discourse on Happiness (1750). Helvétius's On the Mind (published posthumously, 1772) presents a thoroughgoing determinist and environmentalist psychology, together with a utilitarian ethical theory. D'Holbach's attack on religion was begun in his Christianisme dévoilé (1761; the title is cleverly ambiguous: "revealed Christianity" or "Christianity exposed"); it was continued in his materialistic, deterministic, and atheistic System of Nature (1770).

Elsewhere in Europe, the Enlightenment took more moderate forms. In Germany, the alleged religious unorthodoxy of the Aufklärung 's representatives often made them objects of controversy, sometimes victims of persecution. But in fact there was nothing more radical among them than a rather conservative form of Deism. The founder of the German Enlightenment was Christian Wolff (16791754). He was possessed of an unoriginal but encyclopedic mind suited to the task of exercising a dominant influence on German academic philosophy. And this he did during the whole of the eighteenth century, at least until its last two decades. Although Wolff's theology was orthodox to the point of scholasticism, his rationalistic approach to theology brought upon him the wrath of the German Pietists, who had him dismissed from his professorship at Halle in 1723. (He was reinstated by Frederick the Great, however, on the latter's accession in 1740.) Among the influential exponents of Wolffianism in the Aufklärung were the metaphysician and aesthetician Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (17141762), the first to describe philosophy of art as "aesthetics"; the "neologist" theologian Johann Salomo Semler (17251791); and the controversial early biblical critic Hermann Samuel Reimarus (16941768).

The Aufklärung flourished during the reign of Frederick the Great (r. 17401786). Himself a Deist and an admirer of the philosophes, Frederick refounded the Berlin Academy in 1744 and brought the distinguished French scientist Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis (16981759) to Berlin as its head, along with Voltaire, La Mettrie, and d'Alembert. The academy's nonresident members included Wolff, Baumgarten, Fontenelle, Helvétius, and d'Holbach. Beyond (or beneath) the patronage of Frederick, there were also the so-called popular Enlightenment thinkers, such as Christoph Friedrich Nicolai (17331811) and Christian Garve (17421798). By far their most distinguished representative, however, was the Jewish Deist Moses Mendelssohn (17291786), a gifted German prose stylist, an early advocate of the disestablishment of religion, and the grandfather of composer Felix Mendelssohn.

One of the most independent and influential voices of the German Enlightenment was that of Mendelssohn's close friend Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (17291781), a dramatist, critic, theologian, and admirer of Spinoza and Leibniz. Lessing's theological writings are powerful but enigmatic in content, perhaps because his aim was simultaneously to criticize the arid rationalism of Wolffian theology and to reject the irrationalism and bibliolatry of Pietism. (The term bibliolatry as an epithet of opprobrium was coined by him.)

In the second half of the eighteenth century, there arose several empiricist critics of Wolffianism in Germany, notably Johann Heinrich Lambert (17281777) and Johannes Nikolaus Tetens (17361807). But towering over them, and indeed over all other philosophers of the German Enlightenment, is the foremost critic of Wolffian philosophy, Immanuel Kant (17241804). It is often said that Kant's ethics displays signs of his Pietist upbringing. In fact, however, Kant's specific references to Pietist forms of religiosity (emphasis on devotional reading of the Bible and on prayer as means of raising oneself to an actual experience of grace and justification) harshly criticize them as fanaticism (Schwärmerei ) subversive of moral autonomy. Kant's theology was always a form of Wolffian rationalism, his moral religion a form of Enlightenment Deism. Kant's famous avowal that he "limits knowledge in order to make room for faith" makes reference not to a voluntarist or irrationalist "leap," still less to a biblical faith. Kantian moral faith is a form of rational belief, justified by a subtle (and usually underrated) philosophical argument. Throughout his maturity, and even during his term as rector of the University of Königsberg, Kant refused on principle to participate in religious services (which he condemned as "superstitious pseudo-service" [Afterdienst] of God). His uncompromising anticlericalism and deep suspicion of popular religion ("vulgar superstition") are characteristic French Enlightenment attitudes. Kant's 1784 essay "What Is Enlightenment?" expressed wholehearted support for the movement and for the policies of academic openness, religious toleration, and anticlericalism pursued by Frederick the Great.

The Enlightenment in Britain is represented in theology by the tradition of British Deism (the position of such men as John Toland and Matthew Tindal) and in politics by Whig liberalism. Representative of both trends was the philosopher, scientist, and Presbyterian (and Unitarian) cleric Joseph Priestley (17331804). Other Britons displaying the impact of the Enlightenment included the utilitarian Jeremy Bentham (17481832), the economist and moral theorist Adam Smith (17231790), the historian Edward Gibbon (17371794), and the radical political thinker William Godwin (17561836). Hume is often regarded as an opponent, even a great subverter, of the Enlightenment, partly because of his political conservatism, but chiefly because of his skeptical attack on the pretensions of human reason. Hume was, however, personally on good terms with many of the philosophes and at one with their views on religious matters. To see Hume's attack on reason as anti-Enlightenment is to ignore the fact that it is carried on in the name of the other important Enlightenment ideal, nature. Along with Condillac and the philosophes, Hume views our cognitive powers as part of our natural equipment as living organisms and urges us to view our use of them as bound up with our practical needs. His skeptical attack on reason is an attack not on the faculty praised by the Enlightenment, but rather on that appealed to by vain scholastic metaphysicians and crafty sophists hoping to provide "shelter to popular superstitions" by "raising entangling brambles to cover their weakness." Far from being a critic of the Enlightenment, Hume is one of its most characteristic and articulate voices.

The founding fathers of the United States included prominent Enlightenment figures: Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. The Federalist suspicion of centralized state power and the hostility to clericalism motivating the complete separation of church and state in the new republic both reflect the influence of Enlightenment ideas.

Even today we still tend to view the Enlightenment through the distorting lens of nineteenth-century romanticism and its reactionary preconceptions. Enlightenment thought is still accused of being ahistorical and ethnocentric, when (as Ernst Cassirer has shown) the conceptual tools used by post-Enlightenment historians and anthropologists were all forged by the Enlightenment itself. Enlightenment thought is charged with naive optimism, despite the fact that some of the most characteristic Enlightenment thinkers (Voltaire, Mendelssohn) were historical pessimists. It is said that the Enlightenment had too much confidence in human reason, despite its preoccupation with the limits of human cognitive powers. Moreover, many of the Enlightenment thinkers who were most hopeful of salutary social change because of the progress of reason also expressed profound doubts about this (witness Diderot's posthumously published masterpiece Rameau's Nephew ).

On the subject of religion, the common twentieth-century viewinherited from nineteenth-century romanticismwas that Enlightenment thinkers were shallow and arrogant, showing an irreverence and contempt for tradition and authority. Of course, any movement that (like the Enlightenment) sets out to deflate the pretensions of pseudo-profundity will naturally be accused of shallowness by those it makes its targets. It is equally natural that people who are outraged by crimes and hypocrisy carried on under the protection of an attitude of reverence for tradition and authority should choose irreverent wit and satire as appropriate vehicles for their criticism. In fact, the Enlightenment attack on religious authority and tradition was motivated by a profound concern for what it conceived to be the most essential values of the human spirit, the foundations of any true religion.

Kant defines "enlightenment" as "the human being's release from self-imposed tutelage"; by "tutelage," he means the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another, the state of a child whose spiritual life is still held in benevolent bondage by his parents. Tutelage is self-imposed when it results not from immaturity or inability to think for oneself, but rather from a lack of courage to do so. Thus enlightenment is the process by which human individuals receive the courage to think for themselves about morality, religion, and politics, instead of having their opinions dictated to them by political, ecclesiastical, or scriptural authorities.

The battle cry of the Enlightenment in religious matters was toleration. The cry now sounds faint and irrelevant to us, partly because we flatter ourselves that we long ago achieved what it demands, and partly because toleration itself appears to be a value that is bloodless and without specific content. But on both counts we seriously misconceive the meaning the Enlightenment attached to toleration. Toleration is the beginning of enlightenment as Europe in the eighteenth century conceived it because it is the necessary social condition for people to use their own intellects to decide what they will believe. The Enlightenment's demand for toleration is thus the demand that people be given the opportunity to fulfill their deepest spiritual vocation: that of using their intellects to determine the faith they will live by. People miss this vocation whenever "faith" for them ceases to be a belief founded on their own evaluation of the evidence before them and becomes the submission of their intellect to some unquestioned authority. The Enlightenment's judgment on such a spiritually crippling, unenlightened "faith" was pronounced most eloquently by the father of Enlightenment thought, John Locke.

There is a use of the word Reason, wherein it is opposed to Faith. Only Faith is nothing but a firm Assent of the Mind: which if it be regulated as is our Duty, cannot be afforded to any thing, but upon good Reason. He that believes, without having any reason for believing neither seeks Truth as he ought, nor pays the Obedience due to his Maker, who would have him use those discerning Faculties he has given him. (Essay concerning Human Understanding 4.17.24)

Enlightenment is release from tutelage. It is not surprising that a person who subjects himself to the authority of church or scripture or to his own fancies should be intolerant of others' beliefs and should attempt to impose his own upon them. "For," asks Locke, "how almost can it be otherwise, but that he should be ready to impose on others Belief, who has already imposed on his own?"

Kant, writing in 1784, did not claim to be living in an enlightened age, an age in which people had come to intellectual maturity and governed their own beliefs through reason; but he did claim to be living in an age of enlightenment, an age in which people were gaining the courage to free themselves from the spiritual oppression of tradition and authority. Before we dismiss Enlightenment thought as shallow or as irrelevant to our time, we should ask ourselves whether we can say even as much for our age as Kant was willing to say for his.

See Also

Atheism; Cassirer, Ernst; Deism; Descartes, René; Doubt and Belief; Empiricism; Faith; Hume, David; Kant, Immanuel; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Lessing, G. E.; Locke, John; Mendelssohn, Moses; Methodist Churches; Pietism; Reimarus, Hermann Samuel; Rousseau, Jean-Jacques; Spinoza, Barukh; Theism; Truth; Wolff, Christian.


The best general study of Enlightenment thought is Ernst Cassirer's The Philosophy of Enlightenment (Boston, 1951). Also valuable are Paul Hazard's European Thought in the Eighteenth Century (New Haven, 1954) and Frederick C. Copleston's A History of Philosophy, vol. 6, Wolff to Kant (Westminster, Md., 1963), parts 1 and 2. Carl Becker's The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (New Haven, 1932) is a famous and paradoxical defense of the continuity between Enlightenment thinkers and the Christian tradition they criticized. The best known of many replies to it is Peter Gay's The Enlightenment, 2 vols. (New York, 1966), especially volume 1, The Rise of Modern Paganism.

On the French Enlightenment, see Frank E. Manuel's The Prophets of Paris (Cambridge, Mass., 1962); on England, see John Plamenatz's The English Utilitarians, 2d ed. (Oxford, 1958). An excellent treatment of the German Enlightenment can be found in chapters 1017 of Lewis White Beck's Early German Philosophy: Kant and His Predecessors (Cambridge, Mass., 1969). Studies emphasizing the religious thought of the four most important Enlightenment thinkers are Norman L. Torrey's Voltaire and the English Deists (1930; reprint, Hamden, Conn., 1967); Aram Vartanian's Diderot and Descartes (Princeton, 1953); Hume on Religion (New York, 1963), edited by Richard Wollheim; and my book Kant's Moral Religion (Ithaca, N. Y., 1970).

New Sources

Barnett, S. J. The Enlightenment and Religion: The Myths of Modernity. New York, 2003.

Darnton, Robert. George Washington's False Teeth: An Unconventional Guide to the Eighteenth Century. New York, 2003.

Gordon, Daniel. Citizens without Sovereignty: Equality and Sociability in French Thought. Princeton, 1994.

Mah, Harold. Enlightenment Phantasies: Cultural Identity in France and Germany. Ithaca, N.Y., 2003.

Melton, James Von Horn. The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe. New York, 2001.

Muthu, Sankar. Enlightenment against Empire. Princeton, 2003.

Porter, Roy. Flesh in the Age of Reason. New York, 2003.

Zakai, Avihu. Jonathan Edwards's Philosophy of History: The Reenchantment with the World in the Age of Enlightenment. Princeton, 2003.

Allen W. Wood (1987)

Revised Bibliography

views updated

Enlightenment, The

In 1784 the German philosopher Immanuel Kant gave a simple answer to the difficult question "What is enlightenment?" He defined this intellectual movement as man's emergence from his self-imposed tutelage. This emancipatory view of the Enlightenment was widely shared, as was his interest in education as shown in his lectures on the subject, Ueber Paedagogik (Lectures on pedagogy). Writers as divergent as John Locke, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Jean-JacquesRousseau, David Hume, Denis Diderot, and Benjamin Franklin all saw themselves as educators of mankind. Their common goal was greater freedom: freedom from arbitrary power, freedom of speech, freedom of trade, and freedom to realize one's talents. However, enlightenment also had a different meaning to every author. The Enlightenment was more a loosely organized family of progressive thinkers than a phalanx of modernity. Recent studies have shown that each country had its own variety of Enlightenment, and that Christian forms of Enlightenment were much more widespread and influential than the better known deist and the even more exceptional atheist variants. Another new insight is that the Enlightenment focused not only on rationality, but also on emotionality. Many writers stressed the importance of passions and sentiments and were convinced of the necessity of studying them.

Enlightenment Pedagogy

To a large extent, the Enlightenment and pedagogy were synonymous. In his introduction to the Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné, des sciences et des métiers, a cornerstone of the movement, published between 1751 and 1772, Diderot wrote that the project was undertaken to make future generations more enlightened, more virtuous, and happier. Diderot and his colleagues saw themselves as pedagogues, and their task was the emancipation of mankind. To educate the people, they believed, one had to start by educating its youth. Beginning with Erasmus, scholars and theologians had published advice books for parents and teachers, but in the eighteenth century pedagogy developed as a science in its own right. Modern pedagogy was an invention of the Enlightenment; as an anonymous author wrote in 1788, "Today we live in an age in which book after book is written or translated about education." This stream of publications sprang from two sources, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

John Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education was published in 1693, and is now seen as a starting point of the Enlightenment. Locke introduced a new approach to children. He compared the child with a tabula rasa, a blank slate, in contrast to earlier writers, who regarded children as born with innate ideas and marked by original sin. A child developed by experience, argued the empiricist Locke, and parents should mainly stimulate and steer those experiences. In that way children would channel their passions and learn skills. Locke's treatise originated with a series of letters to a friend during the 1680s, while he was in exile in the Dutch Republic. He was influenced by Dutch child-rearing practices, which were relatively mild and involved little distance between parents and children. He stressed the need for an individual approach to each child. He also gave many pieces of practical advice about food, clothing, exercise, and reading. Not everything he wrote was new (much was obviously taken from an earlier Dutch treatise), but his pedagogical message fitted well into his other philosophical writings. In the article on enfance (childhood) in Diderot's Encyclopedia, the reader is explicitly advised to read Locke's book on education.

While Locke's contribution to pedagogy was influential, that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau was no less than explosive. Although his Émile ou de l'éducation was immediately forbidden after its publication in 1762, within a few years the pedagogical ideas he had formulated were discussed all over Europe. Émile is a pedagogical treatise in the form of a utopian novel mixed with many bits of practical advice. Émile made all earlier ideas about education obsolete, Rousseau claimed. Only his predecessor Locke received some friendly words, but he ridiculed Locke's idea that parents should argue in a rational way with their children. The fundamental mistake of earlier writers was, in Rousseau's view, to base their pedagogy on the goal they aimed at, the adult person a child had to become. "Everything is good coming from the Creator, everything

degenerates in the hands of men." This is the first sentence of Émile, and it states the basic principle of the book. A child is good because she or he is part of nature, and education and culture can only spoil the natural child, he warned. The exemplary education of the little orphan Émile by his tutornamed Jean-Jacquestook place in the countryside, and nature was his teacher. Books were forbiddenwith the exception of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe because a child had to learn from empirical encounters. Freedom was the highest good in life, and therefore a child should, for instance, learn to walk without leading strings or reins, since "the joy of freedom compensates for many injuries."

Émile was seen by contemporaries as both compelling and chaotic, as a paradoxical mix of reason and incongruity, religion and godlessness, meddlesomeness and love for freedom. Despite all criticism, though, Émile became the foundation and touchstone of Enlightenment pedagogy. Although Rousseau afterwards explicitly stated that his book was not meant as a guidehe preferred to call it an utopian textsome parents tried it out in practice. Some of these experiments are well documented, such as that of Richard Edgeworth, born two years after Émile came out. His father wanted to make of his son "a fair trial of Rousseau's system." The first results were encouraging, because as a boy Dick turned out to be "bold, free, fearless, generous" and "ready and keen to use all his senses." At the age of seven, his father took him to Paris to visit Rousseau, who thought that the boy was intelligent, but also stubborn and conceited. These traits soon got the upper hand, and Dick was removed from school and sent to the navy, where he soon deserted and finally went to America, to the great relief of his father.

Émile led to discussions all over Europe, but even its greatest adherents realized that Rousseau's ideas were unworkable and should be transformed into practical guidelines.

The Philanthropinists

Nowhere was the new science of pedagogy more enthusiastically developed than in Germany. This was no coincidence. The Enlightenment there occurred when the country was emerging from a period of retarded political and intellectual development. The German word paedagogik was introduced in 1771, and the period 1770 to 1830 is now called the paedagogisches Zeitalter, the age of pedagogics. A congenial group of writers, clergymen, and teachers developed a dense network. They were called the philanthropen ("friends of men").

J. B. Basedow (17231790), J. H. Campe (17461818) and C. G. Salzmann (17441811) were the most famous among them. They were all enlightened and progressive, but on essential points they differed with Rousseau. For instance, they developed systems of punishments and rewards on which Rousseau would have frowned. They made a German translation of Émile with elaborate comments and criticisms in footnotes, which overshadowed the original text. In this revised version, Émile is tamed into a well-behaved bourgeois boy. The first footnote is a comment on Rousseau's famous opening sentence, cited above, and it reads: "It could be argued as well that many things degenerate when they are left to Nature only, without being helped by human diligence." The philanthropinist version of Émile was translated into other languages, as were many of the books and journals produced in abundance by German pedagogues.

An important difference with Rousseau was their rejection of the possibility of education outside of society. These pedagogues strove to improve education within the family and at school. They wanted to educate not only the children of the elite, as early enlightened writers such as Locke and Rousseau had, but also children of the lower classes. Basedow was invited by the enlightened prince of Dessau to establish a school according to these new principles. This school, the Philanthropinum, became a model for many other schools. The small garden, in which each pupil had to work, and the little lathe which stood in each pupil's room were distant echoes from Rousseau's Émile.

The new generation of pedagogues concentrated on educating the common people. They observed that schools, both in cities and in the countryside, were old fashioned and that most teachers were incompetent. In the middle of the eighteenth century there still was a broad gap between the cultural elite and the majority of people, who were illiterate. Newly established societies aimed at bringing the message of the Enlightenment to the common people. In the Dutch Republic, for instance, the Society for Public Welfare established schools for the poor and published cheap schoolbooks according to modern principles.

The German philanthropinists and kindred spirits elsewhere in Europe produced new teaching methods on a large scale. Basedow tried to present children with all existing human knowledge in his 1774 Elementarwerk, and this became a model for later authors. They also invented a new literary genre, children's books. Rousseau's idea that children should not read at all was partly a choice based on principle but was also based on the lack of suitable books. That changed rapidly after around 1770. The Dutch novelist and pedagogue Betje Wolff wrote, "This is the century in which we have started to write for children" (quoted in Dekker, p.46). Although in many of these books the ideals of the Enlightenment were presented in a rather crude way, they were a great step forward.

Enlightenment and Revolution

In the age of the democratic revolution, from the American War of Independence to the French Revolution, new ideas about children also took on a political dimension. However, while the rights of men were formulated, no separate rights of children were even discussed (nor were the rights of women). Children nevertheless were very visible in revolutionary ceremonies and festivities, such as the planting of liberty trees. Revolutionary catechisms were published to explain to children the ideals of freedom, equality, and brotherhood. Revolutionaries developed plans for school reform. In the French constitution of 1791, education was made a task of the state, and the writer and politician the Marquis de Condorcet, and later on the politician Michel Lepeletier, were asked to create blueprints for a new system of public schools.

Politics no longer was the domain of old men. Many French revolutionaries who came to power in 1789 were remarkably young. One example of the political youth was Marc-Antoine Jullien Jr., who had just finished an education of the sort inspired by Rousseau. Only sixteen years old, he was a regular visitor at the Jacobin Club in Paris, the meeting place of the radicals. One year later he was sent to England to establish contacts with the opposition there. In 1793, he was made a deputy in the provinces by the radical leader Robespierre and became responsible for the Terror in the northwest of France. Louis-Antoine-Léon de Saint-Just, another young revolutionary and one of the forces behind the French Terror, claimed that his moral authority was based on his youth: "Because I am young I am closer to Nature," he said. Not much later, at twenty-eight, Saint-Just died on the guillotine. Jullien escaped that punishment and after the revolution became a writer in the field of pedagogy. In 1817 he published Esquisse et vue préliminaire d'un ouvrage sur l'education comparée, the first study in comparative pedagogy.

The legal status of children changed in many countries. In France, the voting age was lowered in 1792 from twentyfive to eighteen. In the Netherlands after the Batavian Revolution of 1795, the voting age was set at twenty. Other rights of children were extended at the expense of parental power in many countries. Children gained greater freedom to choose a marriage partner despite parental protest. Children could also no longer be completely disinherited by their parents. During the Restoration in 1814, these rights were to some extent restricted again in many countries. The voting age in France, for instance, became thirty. The discussion about rights and the age of majority was often implicitly about boys, not about girls. However, girls were not completely forgotten, and many pedagogues paid attention to their education, often in separate chapters or books, in the way Rousseau added the education of Sophie to the upbringing of Émile.

The Influence of the Enlightenment

In the end, the Enlightenment had its greatest impact in and through pedagogy and education. The last of the Enlightenment pedagogues was Johann Friedrich Herbart, authorof Allgemeine Paedagogik (1806), who held the Kant's chair at the university of Koenigsberg (Kaliningrad) after Kant's death. While most philanthropinists were forgotten in the nineteenth century, the Swiss schoolmaster J. H. Pestalozzi and his collaborator Friedrich Froebel, who, although often regarded as belonging to the Romantic period, were closely connected to their predecessors. Another link between the Enlightenment pedagogues and those of later times is found in the methods invented by the director of the Paris School for Deaf Children, Jean Itard, in his effort to educate the Wild Boy of Aveyron. His work exercised a lasting influence, despite the failure of what may have been the most daring experiment of Enlightenment pedagogy. The world of children today was to a large extent created in the age of Enlightenment, and several elements of today's standard school curriculum, including physical education, manual training, and school gardens, can be traced to the advice given by Rousseau in his Émile.

See also: Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam; Education, Europe; Theories of Childhood.


Dekker, Rudolf. 1999. Childhood, Memory and Autobiography in Holland from the Golden Age to Romanticism. London: Macmillan.

Douthwaite, Julia V. 2002. The Wild Girl, Natural Man, and the Monster: Dangerous Experiments in the Age of Enlightenment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lempa, Heikki. 1993. Bildung der Triebe Der deutsche Philanthropismus (17681788). Turku, Finland: Turun Yliopisto.

Lévy, Marie-Françoise, ed. 1990. L'enfant, la famille et la Révolution française. Paris: Olivier Orban.

Rothschild, Emma. 1998. "Condorcet and Adam Smith on education and instruction." In Philosophers on Education: New Historical Perspectives, ed. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty. London: Routledge.

Todd, Janet, ed. 1996. Female Education in the Age of Enlightenment. London: Pickering.

Arianne Baggerman

Rudolf M. Dekker

views updated

Enlightenment, The

Historical opinion on the role of the Enlightenment in Ibero-America was for a long time paradoxically united in that two different groups, each proceeding from wholly different premises, saw little of the light of the eighteenth century in the Hispanic and Portuguese worlds.

Catholic traditionalists, vociferously captained by the Spanish polymath Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo (1856–1912) and loudly heard in Spain till the demise of Franco, gloried in what they saw as scant Hispanic involvement in a movement that to them was both repugnant and dangerous. Viewing the same complex history from beyond the Pyrenees or from overseas, many of the self-styled "lights" of Paris and their heirs saw little of their own brand of enlightenment and ample justification for the famous jeer of the encyclopedist Nicolas Masson: Has any good thing ever come out of Spain?

It would be misleading to say that either of these two views was entirely wrong. Certainly enlightenment in the Iberian world did not flourish from the beginning. The ideas and attitudes clustered around scholasticism long remained powerful. They continued to be intellectually satisfying to most Hispanic people well into the nineteenth century, and they were closely identified with strong vested interests. Yet, in spite of all these reservations, it is clear that Hispanic and Portuguese intellectual life did change in the course of the eighteenth century. Moreover, this change was instigated by an active, articulate minority that perceived the possibility of a different world but that, with few exceptions, remained emphatically Hispanic and Portuguese in fundamental outlook. The key point seems to be that all but a few reformers retained some aspect or form of Catholicism.

The most clear-cut of the changes was the entry of modern science. Its presence in Ibero-America can first be seen in the work of a few lonely pioneers. One was Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora in Mexico, who as early as 1681 criticized scholasticism, explained comets in Copernican terms, and showed familiarity with the works of René Descartes and Pierre Gassendi. Another pioneer was Pedro de Peralta Barnuevo y Rocha in Peru.

More appreciable change came a generation later, perhaps from about 1720 on. Over the next half century, the freely circulated works of such authors as the Spanish reformer Benito Jerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro, the Portuguese João Baptista da Silva Leitão de Almeida Garrett and Luis Antonio Verney, and the Italian Antonio Genovesi; the "Port Royale" logic of Antoine Arnauld; and the works of "Lugdenensis" (Antoine de Montazet, archbishop of Lyon) all advocated mathematical education and set forth new scientific ideas drawn from Descartes, Gassendi, Locke, Newton, and others.

In the eighteenth century, the Inquisition was no longer an effective block against new scientific ideas. Control of the book trade was ineffective; much seminal scientific work was never on the index of proscribed works; and popularized or adapted versions of new discoveries and ideas were found in numerous legally circulated books. Poverty and poor communications constituted far more significant obstacles.

Frequently, new works and ideas became known through the scientific and technical missions that came to America. Groups led by Charles-Marie de La Condamine; Aimé Jacques Bonplánd; Thaddeus, Baron von Nordenflycht; Helm; Anton Zaccarias; Thaddeus Haenkes; and Alexander, Baron von Humboldt as well as José Celestino Mutis, Hipólito Ruiz, José Pavón, José Longinos, and Alessandro Malaspina, to cite only the best known, traveled extensively and had free interchange with local scholars. The travelers had new books and scientific apparatus; they knew the latest scientific gossip; and they generated immense interest.

New ideas and innovative organizations received strong official backing after Charles III came to the Spanish throne in 1759. The king's ministers, many of the officials he appointed, and the policies they put into action had clear ties to the Enlightenment. The attempts to rationalize administration, centralize authority, update law codes, collect accurate demographic and economic information, and improve the economy—to somehow manage Spain and its empire into a prosperous, well-ordered, and unified state—paralleled similar attempts all over Europe.

All these factors came together in the last third of the eighteenth century. There were numerous changes in university and in some seminary and convent school curricula that provided more training in mathematics and modern physics. The hitherto dominant training in Aristotelian logic and scholastic metaphysics, though hotly defended, was gradually reduced and made available only to those preparing for the clergy. The gradualness of this process and the determination—based partly on prudence but also on conviction—to preserve fundamental Catholic values must be emphasized.

The crown demanded and won significant changes in the teaching of law and some aspects of theology. Spanish law replaced Roman law as the dominant subject of study, and canon law strongly emphasized the regalias, the rights of the crown over the church. The most dramatic manifestation of this matter was the repression of the Jesuits and the proscription of their doctrines. A more constructive approach sought to use the critical study of church councils and ecclesiastical history to strengthen the position of the crown and the bishops against the papacy. This new approach to ecclesiastical history went hand-in-hand with a shift in emphasis toward dogmatic theology at the expense of speculative scholasticism.

In many respects, more up-to-date education exemplified the Enlightenment's preoccupation with useful projects. There were numerous attempts to develop the economy by official action, including encouraging private enterprise. The inmates of asylums and orphanages were put to work, cabildos (town governments) and intendants (provincial governors) saw to it that land was paved and drained. Newly founded economic societies discussed schools and new crops.

Just as the presence of the Enlightenment is in dispute among historians, so too is its outcome. Many have discerned its most clear impact in the Wars of Independence, in which they clearly see the influence of the political writings of the Baron de Montesquieu, John Locke, Gaetano Filangieri, Emmerich von Vattel, Samuel von Pufendorf, Thomas Jefferson, and other theorists of natural law. But traditionalists do not see this. For them, the wars of independence are conservative movements based on the scholastic natural law of Francisco Suárez and Saint Thomas Aquinas. A third group of historians see home-grown revolutionary movements such as Tupac Amaru's having a significant impact in weakening the colonial state. Most likely all three elements had their role, the Enlightenment representing a major ideological force.

Resolution of this problem seems to depend on how one sees the wars of independence. If they were the culmination of a developmental era, then the question of sources is all-important. If, however, independence came more from the collapse of the Spanish throne than from any process of colonial maturation, then the effects of the Enlightenment are to be seen not so much in the wars of independence as in the tumultuous struggles of the nineteenth century.

See alsoBourbon Reforms; Catholic Church: The Colonial Period; Humboldt, Alexander von; Longinos Martínez, José; Malaspina, Alejandro; Sigüenza y Góngora, Carlos de; Spanish Empire; Universities: Colonial Spanish America; Wars of Independence, South America.


Indispensable for seeing the spectrum of views on the Enlightenment in Latin America are Arthur P. Whitaker et al., Latin America and the Enlightenment (1961), and A. Owen Aldridge, ed., The Ibero-American Enlightenment (1971). A useful bibliography on the Enlightenment as well as other aspects of the Bourbon period is Jacques A. Barbier and Mark A. Burkholder, "Colonial Spanish America: The Bourbon Period," in The History Teacher 20, no. 2 (1987): 221-250. On university curricula see John Tate Lanning, The Eighteenth-Century Enlightenment in the University of San Carlos de Guatemala (1956). For a model treatment of a scientific expedition see Arthur R. Steele, Flowers for the King: The Expedition of Ruíz and Pavón and the Flora of Peru (1964). For two representative and differing treatments of the Enlightenment in specific areas see José Carlos Chiaramonte, La Ilustración en el Río de la Plata (1989), and Juan Manuel Pacheco, S.J., La Ilustración en el Nuevo Reino (1975). O. Carlos Stoetzer, The Scholastic Roots of the Spanish American Revolution (1979), presents the case for the continued influence of scholasticism.

Additional Bibliography

Díaz Caballero, Jesús. "Nación y patria: Las lecturas de los Comentarios reales y el patriotismo criollo emancipador." Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana 59 (2004): 81-107. Available from∼rcll/rcll59/59pdf/59diaz2.pdf

Maher, John, ed. Francisco De Miranda: Exile and Enlightenment. London: Institute for the Study of the Americas, 2006.

Rodríguez O., Jaime E. The Independence of Spanish America. Cambridge Latin American Studies 84. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Saladino García, Alberto. Ciencia y prensa durante la ilustración latinoamericana. Toluca: Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México, 1996.

Soto Arango, Diana, Miguel Angel Puig-Samper, and Luis Carlos Arboleda. La ilustración en América colonial: Bibliografía crítica. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1995.

Williams, Jerry M., and Pedro de Peralta Barnuevo. Censorship and Art in Pre-Enlightenment Lima: Pedro De Peralta Barnuevo's "Diálogo de los muertos: La causa académica." Potomac, MD: Scripta Humanistica, 1994.

                                         George M. Addy

views updated

Enlightenment, The The period of European thought which is equated with an emphasis on reason, experience, scepticism of religious and traditional authority, and a gradual emergence of the ideals of secular, liberal, and democratic societies. Often dated from the publication of Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica in 1686 and John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Two Treatises on Government three years later, some argue it began earlier, in the seventeenth century, with the works of Bacon and Hobbes in England, and in France, with Descartes's emphasis on unaided reason. It is the eighteenth century, however, which is generally seen as the heyday of the Enlightenment, especially in France, with the Encyclopédie and anti-clerical encyclopédistes such as Rousseau, Diderot, Montesquieu, and Voltaire. David Hume, a Scottish philosopher, aimed to bring the experimental method into the study of the human mind, and believed natural science, culminating in Newtonian mechanics, could find a few basic principles which would make it possible to discern order in the apparent chaos of natural systems. Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, outlined his optimistic ideas about free markets in the economy and the benefits of a division of labour. The German physicist and philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that knowledge of space and time is subjective, and distinguished between things as they are in themselves and things as they appear to us, thus separating out experience and thought.

There were many strands to the Enlightenment, running through literature and the arts, science, religion, and philosophy, Overall, however, it is equated with a materialist view of humanity, an optimism about the possibility of rational and scientific knowledge, progress through education, and a utilitarian approach to ethics and society. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer have argued in The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1972) that there is a hidden logic of domination and oppression behind Enlightenment rationality. The desire to control nature, which was at the core of the Enlightenment, also entailed the domination of human beings. The legacy of the Enlightenment, if thoroughly analysed and understood, can be seen as the triumph of an instrumental rationality that led to the development of a bureaucratic rationality from which some argue there is no escape. See also EMPIRICISM; EPISTEMOLOGY; PROGRESS; SCOTTISH ENLIGHTENMENT.

views updated

Enlightenment, the a European intellectual movement of the late 17th and 18th centuries emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition. It was heavily influenced by 17th-century philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, and Newton, and its prominent exponents include Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith.