Optimistic ideas of the Enlightenment



1. To what extent did the Enlightenment express optimistic ideas in eighteenth century Europe? Illustrate your answer with references to specific individuals and their works. (1998, #5)

During the eighteenth century, Europeans experienced the dawning of an age of knowledge, reasoning, and of great scientific achievements. Their views toward new discoveries and advancements were optimistic. People began to turn to science for a better understanding of their world and their society. Literature and essays were commonly used to express their hopes for further developments in society, politics, economy, and education.

I. Individuals
A. John Locke
1) Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
a) Regarded the human mind of a person as a blank slate.
b) Did not believe in intuition or theories of innate conceptions
2) Two Treatise of Government.
a) Attacked the theory of divine right of Kings.
b) Argued that sovereignty did not reside in the state but with the people.
3) Some thoughts concerning education.
a) Recommended practical learning to prepare people
b) Locke’s curriculum included conversational learning of foreign languages, especially French, mathematics, history, physical education, and games.
B. Rene Descartes
1) Descartes\'s philosophy, sometimes called Cartesianism.
a) Elaborate explanations of a number of physical phenomena.
2) Physiology
a) Part of human blood was a subtle fluid, that he called animal spirits.
3) Study of Optics
a) Fundamental law of reflection: that the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection.
b) Paved the way for the udulatory theory of light.
4) Mathematics
a) Systematization of analytic geometry.
b) First mathematician to attempt to classify curves according to the types of equations that produce them.
c) Made contributions to the theory of equations.
d) First to use the last letters of the alphabet to designate unknown quantities and the first letters to designate known ones.
e) Invented the method of indices (as in x2) to express the powers of numbers.
f) Formulated the rule for finding the number of positive and
negative roots for any algebraic equation.
C. Sir Isaac Newton
5) Mathematics
a) Calculus: Generalized methods being used to draw tangents to curves and to calculate the area swept by curves
6) Optics
a) Opticks: Sunlight is a heterogeneous blend of different rays—each of which represents a different color -and that reflections and refractions cause colors to appear by separating the blend into its components.
b) Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica
7) Also showed interest in alchemy, mysticism, and theology
D. Voltaire (Francois Marie Arouet)
1) La Henriade (The Henriad)
2) Two essays, one on epic poetry and the other on the history of civil wars in France.
3) Lettres Philosophiques (The Philosophical Letters, 1734)
1. A covert attack upon the political and ecclesiastical institutions of France.
4) Élements de la philosophie de Newton (Elements of the Philosophy of Newton)
5) Poème de Fontenoy (1745), describing a battle won by the French over the English during the War of the Austrian Succession.
6) Siècle de Louis XIV, a historical study of the period of Louis XIV.
7) Essai sur l\'histoire générale et sur les moeurs et l\'esprit des nations (Essay on General History and on the Customs and the Character of Nations, 1756)
a. Decries supernaturalism and denounces religion and the power of the clergy, although he makes evident his own belief in the existence of God.
8) Le désastre de Lisbonne (The Lisbon Disaster, 1756); a number of satirical and philosophical novels
9) He rejected everything irrational and incomprehensible and called upon his contemporaries to act against intolerance, tyranny, and superstition.
E. Denis Diderot
1) Pensées philosophiques (1746), which stated his deist philosophy.
2) Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des metiers, which is usually known as the Encyclopédie
a) French translation of the English Cyclopaedia by Ephraim Chambers
b) Used the Encyclopédie as a powerful propaganda weapon against Ecclesiastical authority and the superstition, conservatism, and semifeudal social forms of the time.
3) La religieuse (The Nun, 1796), an attack on convent life.
4) Le neveu de Rameau (1805; translated as Rameau\'s Nephew)
F. Jean Jacques Rousseau
1) French philosopher, social and political theorist, musician, botanist, and one of the most eloquent writers of the Age of Enlightenment.)
2) Discourse on the Origin of Inequality Among Mankind
3) Expounded the view that science, art, and social institutions have corrupted humankind and that the natural, or primitive, state is morally superior to the civilized state
4) The Social Contract
5) Developed a case for civil liberty and helped prepare the ideological background of the French Revolution by defending the popular will against divine right.
6) Émile
a) expounded a new theory of education emphasizing the importance of expression rather than repression to produce a well-balanced, freethinking child.
7) The New Heloise and Confessions introduced a new style of extreme emotional expression, concern with intense personal experience, and exploration of the conflicts between