Skip to main content

The 18th Century Enlightenment and How Reason Shaped It

Nyamweya is a Kenyan scholar who has done many years of research on a diversity of topics

What Role Did Reason Play During the Eighteenth Century?

The “age of reason” which came to be referred as the enlightenment greatly shaped the scientific, political and philosophical discourses of the 18th and 19th century. From the late 17th century to the climax of Napoleonic wars in 1815, the “age of reason” was a moment of a significant level of change not only in reason but also in thought. Porter Roy, a renowned historian referred to this period as a decisive one in terms of developing the modernity. In essence, the idea of reason culminated into a huge sense of tradition and custom being brushed aside to pave way for individualism, scientific endeavour, exploration and tolerance, which alongside the development in politics and industrial sphere spearheaded the development of the modern world.

The basis of enlightenment goes back to experiences of the English Civil Wars which saw the autocratic monarchy being re-established, and the appraisal by leading political thinkers on how politics and society should be better structured. There were emergency of movements that yearned for political change which eventually led to the formation of the Glorius Revolution of 1688/89 when Mary and William were installed as kings as part of the novel protestant settlement. The enlightened thinkers, particularly those who revered the ancient civilizations of Rome and Greece, began to figure out how modern society can be organized through the models of these ancient communities. These thinkers alongside other commentators were agitating for a break from what they considered as many years of political tyranny in favour of personal happiness and freedoms focused on an individual. Among the notable thinkers of that time was John Locke who strongly advocated for individual right to ownership of property, religious tolerance, separation of state and church and contractual responsibility of states to recognize innate rights of the subjects and all people.

According to Locke, human consciousness and reason were the channels through which liberty and contentment can be achieved. However, he refuted the assumption of human knowledge being mystical and pre-programmed. Locke’s ideology also seems to align with those of Thomas Hobbes, another thinker at that time who was also vocal in advocating for new social contracts between the civil society and state as the means to achieving personal happiness. On the same note, other independent thinkers such as Denis Diderot associated reason with the maintenance of virtue while also recognizing its capability to check human passions that could be potentially destructive.

Comments

Silas Nyamweya (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on July 01, 2021:

Thank u Davika

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on July 01, 2021:

Interesting hub, an unusual topic and so well-written

Related Articles