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The Enlightenment

Chapter 17 Section 1

The Scientific Revolution Sparks the Enlightenment

(Audio)
The Scientific Revolution of the 1500s and 1600s had transformed the way people in Europe looked at the world. In the 1700s, other scientists expanded European knowledge.

Scientific successes convinced educated Europeans of the power of human reason. Natural law, or rules discoverable by reason, govern scientific forces such as gravity and magnetism. Why not, then, use natural law to better understand social, economic, and political problems? Using the methods of the new science, reformers thus set out to study human behavior and solve the problems of society. In this way, the Scientific Revolution led to another revolution in thinking, known as the Enlightenment

Hobbes and Locke Have Conflicting Views

Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, two seventeenth-century English thinkers, set forth ideas that were to become key to the Enlightenment. Both men lived through the upheavals of the English Civil War. Yet they came to very different conclusions about human nature and the role of government.

Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes Believes in Powerful Government

Thomas Hobbes outlined his ideas in a work titled Leviathan. In it, he argued that people were naturally cruel, greedy, and selfish. If not strictly controlled, they would fight, rob, and oppress one another. Life in the “state of nature”—without laws or other control—would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

To escape that “brutish” life, said Hobbes, people entered into a social contract, an agreement by which they gave up their freedom for an organized society. Hobbes believed that only a powerful government could ensure an orderly society. For him, such a government was an absolute monarchy, which could impose order and compel obedience.

Locke Advocates Natural Rights

John Locke had a more optimistic view of human nature. He thought people were basically reasonable and moral. Further, they had certain natural rights, or rights that belonged to all humans from birth. These included the right to life, liberty, and property.

John Locke

In Two Treatises of Government, Locke argued that people formed governments to protect their natural rights. The best kind of government, he said, had limited power and was accepted by all citizens. Thus, unlike Hobbes, Locke rejected absolute monarchy. England during this time experienced a shift in political power known as the Glorious Revolution. James II, an unpopular absolute monarch, left the throne and fled England in 1688. Locke later wrote that he thought James II deserved to be dethroned for violating the rights of the English.
Locke proposed a radical idea about this time. A government, he said, has an obligation to the people it governs. If a government fails its obligations or violates people’s natural rights, the people have the right to overthrow that government. Locke’s idea would one day influence leaders of the American Revolution, such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Locke’s idea of the right of revolution would also echo across Europe and Latin America in the centuries that followed.

Montesquieu Advances the Idea of Separation of Powers

An early and influential thinker was Baron de Montesquieu (mahn tus kyoo). Montesquieu studied the governments of Europe, from Italy to England. He read about ancient and medieval Europe, and learned about Chinese and Native American cultures. His sharp criticism of absolute monarchy would open doors for later debate.

© Pearson Successnet

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10 comments on “The Enlightenment

  1. I like……… turtles……. and babies……. and narwhals……… 🙂

  2. I love babies

  3. The Montesquieu doesn’t go directly into his main ideas.

  4. What revolutions were inspired by this?

    • The American and French revolutions were directly influenced, these are the two I would focus on.

      You can also argue that in a way the unification of Germany and Italy, and the Meiji restoration had some Enlightenment influence as well.

  5. I like how the videos are on here, it helps a lot!

  6. What did John Locke do to influence future governments and societies?

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