A Time Of Change


A Time Of Change Essay, Research Paper

Robert Chaplin

History 112

Dr. Farrell

12 April 2000

A Time of Change

The enlightenment was a great time of change in both Europe and

America. Some of the biggest changes, however, happened in the minds of

many and in the writings of many philosophers. These included some of

the beliefs of David Hume, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and

Francois Voltaire. Writers during this time focused on optimism, which

is the opinion to do everything for the best (Chaney 119), and the best

for these philosophers was to stretch the minds of the ordinary.

David Hume was Scottish and was born on April 26, 1711 and died

in 1776. He states that he was not born into a rich family and was born

into the Calvinist Presbyterian Church. However, after being influenced

by the works of Isaac Newton and John Locke he began to draw back from

the Church. He writes in Enquiry, “The idea of God, as meaning an

infinitely intelligent, wise and good Being, arises from reflecting on

the operations of our own mind, and augmenting, without limit, those

qualities of goodness and wisdom.” (Pomerleau 214) The questions he

brought up against religion were that concrete experiences must lead us

and that we must think about the quality of the stories that were handed

down to us. He wanted everyone to only believe the actions that one

experienced, there has to be proof. He also believed that there were

four basic problems to the stories that we hear. First of all, the

facts to the stories are never the same to everyone. Second, we stretch

the truth to make everything interesting. Third, people who do not

understand these stories tend to make things up. Finally, not all of the

religions agree. Therefore, the stories conflicted each other leaving a

person to not know what to believe. He believes that “Our most holy

religion is founded on Faith, not on reason; and it is a sure method of

exposing it to put it to such a trial as it is, by no means, fitted to

endure.” (215)

Hume also believed in the social contract. This is that kings

are in power because of luck and citizens should have control over their

own power. During Hume’s lifetime a representative government was not

something that countries thrived on. He also thought that the duties of

men were to love children and to pity those that are less fortunate. He

also thought that one should respect other’s properties and keep our

promises. Hume argued that we are born into our family with the

knowledge passed on to us, from this point Hume says that government is

only an interference in the lives of people. He uses the example of

American Tribes where no one needs a government to keep peace within the

group (Pomerleau 222).

These are the two main points that Hume tried to make. They are

the basis of what got people to think about their lives and decide that

what they have now might not be the best thing that their life can

accomplish. From his points of view, we can move on to another

influential philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Jean Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva in 1712. His first

years in his life were very hard because his mother died shortly after

birth and he was sent to live with his aunt. However, his life turned

around and he married and began his life as a philosopher. Rousseau was

involved with the social contract like Hume. His book, however, did not

become popular until after the French Revolution because these were the

conditions that the revolution was based on (Chambers 669). His ideal

government would contain a small state, prevention of overpowering

businesses, and equality in rank and fortune (Castell 419). He

distrusted the aristocrats because he believed they were drawing away

from traditions that were once held very high (”The Enlightenment,”

http). To him kings are just concerned with themselves and when one

dies, another one is needed. None of these people ever take in to

consideration the less fortunate. Everyone has to move to the beliefs

of one man. Rousseau felt that the government should be in the hands of

many, not just one. Ideally, everyone in a society needs to be in

agreement with one another. Another belief that Rousseau represented

was deism, which is that god created the universe and then allowed it to

run according to natural law and not interfering with it anymore.

Again, these questions began to be disputed and the people began

to realize that their lives could mean more than just what the higher

officials might say. They began to think about what life and the world

is really about. This brings us to the next philosopher, Immanuel Kant.

Immanuel Kant was born on April 22, 1724. Kant studied both

Hume and Rousseau and rethought his aspects of science and shifted a

little towards philosophy. In addition to his thinking, he also spent a

lot of time lecturing at Konigsberg, Martin Knutzen. His two main

scientific questions dealt with how far can the scientific method be

applied to everything and how to explain scientific knowledge. He

realizes that both of these cause the mind to start with some given

information and an answer is then given for humans to understand (Stumpf

302). Kant was firm in his belief on a priori knowledge, which is the

knowledge that is prior to experiences, but he also states that not

everything can be based on experiences since we cannot experience

everything. From these beliefs, he also believed in two realities,

phenomenal and noumena. Phenomena, derived from a Greek word meaning

“that which appears,” (Castell 599) is the world as we experience it and

noumena is intelligible or nonsensual reality. In the world we only

experience phenomena because noumena is present but it is external from

us and only appears as it is organized by us (Stumpf 312).

From a social standpoint, Kant believed that as long as a man

could support himself and owned property he should be qualified as a

citizen. He states that if everyone is required to pay for public

welfare then everyone should have his or her freedom guaranteed. If

this if present then there is no need for a rebellion, which will lead

to a stronger government. Kant feels that this is hard to obtain

because people need a political balance but at the same time they need

to be able to keep their freedom. A type of freedom that he feels

should be held by all is the freedom that everyone is punished the same

and the death penalty should only be carried out only when an individual

is proven guilty (Stumpf 316).

Kant believed in God because he felt that if one would deny all

existence that did not support any logic, then nothing at all would

exist to anyone. He also states that “it is morally necessary to assume

the existence of God.” (Stumpf 319) From this he also realizes that one

does not necessarily need to believe in God, but one needs to respect

the beliefs “for duty’s sake.” When thinking about God, according to

Kant, it is an experience that we can not experience.

Kant takes us to the last of the four major philosophers on the

enlightenment period, Francois Voltaire. He based a lot of his thoughts

on the three previous philosophers but did not speak to them directly.

His writings are fewer but more radical that the others.

Francois Voltaire lived from 1694-1778. To most he was known as

the most vigorous antireligious debater. He was the philosopher that

was favoring deism the most. He wished that everyone would stop

Christianity and follow his beliefs. One reason that he felt this was

because from his experiences, bad things came from religion (Chambers

660). Voltaire, unlike Rousseau, favored the aristocracy and was often

invited to their parties to talk about some of his ideas. From this

Voltaire, unlike many of the philosophers of his day, was often left to

think about things on his own (”The Enlightenment,” http) and another

reason for this is because for twenty eight years he was held in

succession from Paris for some of his extreme writings. One of the most

disturbing things in Voltaire’s life was from the earthquake in Lisbon

on Nobember1, 1755. This was one thing that Voltaire could not

understand and thought about forever. He did not want to turn to God as

everyone else did, nor did he want to be on the side of the atheist. He

was stuck in the middle and only left with the thought of the innocent

people that were killed (Gay 52).

For most of the philosophers during the time of the

Enlightenment, things were bad. Most of them had to publish their books

in secrecy and still had to deal with them getting burned as officials

found out. This would be a very big disappointment, but they later

prove that some of their beliefs are right when people begin to rebel

because of the dramatic messages that they sent to people. Whether

philosophy, religion, or politics were the basis of one’s reading they

were generally flipped around. It is said that educated people have the

power to do anything, and during the Enlightenment this source of power

is obvious and is carried out. Whether the readers believed the

philosophers or not, it got the reader thinking and he talked to his

friends and the revolts began. The Enlightenment was a time of change

but it was also a time that dealt with the “unreality” that some thought

could be but never were because some were so extreme or contradicted

each other from philosopher to philosopher.

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