Enlightenment (Age of Enlightenment)

An intellectual movement which began in England in the seventeenth century, but then spread to have eventual influence over all sections of the world. The term "Enlightenment," rooted in an intellectual skepticism to traditional beliefs and dogmas, denotes an "illumined" contrast to the supposed dark and superstitious character of the Middle Ages. From its inception, the Enlightenment focused on the power and goodness of human rationality. Some of the more characterisitic doctrines of the Enlightenment are: 1) Reason is the most significant and positive capacity of the human; 2) reason enables one to break free from primitive, dogmatic, and superstitious beliefs holding one in the bonds of irrationality and ignorance; 3) in realizing the liberating potential of reason, one not only learns to think correctly, but to act correctly as well; 4) through philosophical and scientific progress, reason can lead humanity as a whole to a state of earthly perfection; 5) reason makes all humans equal and, therefore, deserving of equal liberty and treatment before the law; 6) beliefs of any sort should be accepted only on the basis of reason, and not on traditional or priestly authority; and 7) all human endeavors should seek to impart and develop knowledge, not feelings or character.

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