How Did the Enlightenment Change Basic Western Attitudes Toward Reform, Faith, and Reason?

515 Words3 Pages
A number of factors gave rise to the character of Enlightened thought. The first two—the ideas of Newton and the example of British toleration—were specifically advocated by the leading philosophe, Voltaire. Newton, along with John Locke, served as the first modern intellectuals. Newton’s studies showcased the human potential, and through empiricism, discouraged individuals from turning to religion or divine causes. Rationality and empirical data became important cornerstones of Enlightenment thought. Meanwhile, John Locke broke with the religious doctrine of Original Sin in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. He argued that humans were a blank slate (tabula rasa) upon entering the world, and were subsequently shaped by temporal experiences. Like the later philosophes, Locke believed that the human condition could be improved. Britain’s domestic stability formed another major influence upon the philosophes, especially given the corruption and inefficiancy of the French government. To citizens of the day, it seemed as if Britain was guided by Enlightened principles. The English practiced religious toleration, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech. Parliament provided a powerful limit of royal authority, and the courts protected Enlgish citizens from arbitrary abuses at the hands of government. Lastly, the English economy was not overly regulated, a pre-capitalist reform that many philosophes longed for. In stark contrast, France was ruled by a corrupt and arbitrary government that suppressed popular sentiments and over-regulated the domestic market. While France became more chaotic, England enjoyed great prosperity. Granted, its insitutions were idealized, and the major corruption of Robert Walpole’s Parliament was overlooked. Nevertheless, England was one of the world’s freest societies, and for the time being, its policies appeared to be working to
Open Document