Chapter 17 Section 1
The Scientific Revolution Sparks the Enlightenment
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.
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.
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.