Significance of the Enlightenment in the Development of the Scientific Method of Inquiry

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Significance of the Enlightenment in the development of the scientific method of inquiry

The Enlightenment, Siècle des Lumières in French, usually referred to a series of ideology and culture movements during 1750s-1850s. There were many spheres of knowledge contained in these movements, such as: natural science, philosophy, ethics, politics, economics, literature and education. However, the Enlightenment did not originate from France; it was the extension of the Renaissance in Italy in the 14th century. The Europe Enlightenment first took place in Britain in 17th century, and then spread to the whole European continent. (Gribbin, 2002, p. 241)Since the Enlightenment in France had the most impressive momentum and most powerful influence, France was regarded as the center of the Europe Enlightenment naturally.

Since the first day that the Enlightenment occurred, many definitions have been made about it. The Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn defined the enlightenment as an uncompleted educational process in the use of reason, which should be open to everyone. (Outram, 2005, p.1) Immanuel Kant, the Prussian philosopher, wrote to Berlinische Monatsschrift that the Enlightenment is ‘man’s release from his self-incurred immaturity’ through the use of reason and without guidance from others. And the ancient motto, ‘Sapere aude!’ was also proclaimed by Kant to describe the essence of the Enlightenment, Dare to know. (Outram, 2005, p.1)

The original meaning for the French word ‘Lumières’ is luminosity or brightness. The pioneers of the Enlightenment believed that the period before the Enlightenment was the Dark Age, which was totally filled with traditional dogma, irrational, blind beliefs and despotism (Creyerz,2007). Therefore, it was necessary to dispel the Darkness with the light of ration and to illuminate the bright future for the public. During this period, ‘natural philosophy’ began to shake the firm foundation of traditional religion and belief. The reason why we cannot use the word ‘science’ here is just because it was not invented until 1830s in England. (Outram, 2005, p.94)

These challenges which brought by ‘natural philosophy’ first took place in astronomy and physics. (Ashley, 2002, p.73) Take Copernicus for example, he first discovered that the earth did an annual revolution around the sun. And In physics, Galileo, the great scientist, maintained that a terrestrial body moved in a straight line with uniform velocity. These two theories which everybody is aware of nowadays were totally revolutionary at that time, for they were entirely contrary to the teaching of earlier times and certainly cannot be accepted by the force of authority, the church. (Ashley, 2002, p.74). The philosophers or thinkers in this period believed that the reason why the society cannot be forward and why the people still were in ignorance was that they were all restricted by the force of the church mentally and psychologically. In order to change this situation, they had to maintain the authority of ration and science. They proclaimed to civilize the public and to break away from religious superstitions with scientific knowledge. In this essay I will describe the main proponents during the enlightenment period, what contribution they made and the two branches they developed.

The proponents during the Enlightenment interspersed among different spheres of knowledge and European countries. The first one that should be mentioned by everyone is Baron de Montesquieu, the famous French political thinker and jurist, who was born in France on 18th, January of 1689. What his most important contribution is that he explicitly advanced the theory of SEPARATION OF POWERS based upon John Lock’s separating theory. Montesquieu classified the existing governmental powers into two types: the sovereign and the administrative. The administrative powers should be separated into the executive, the legislative and the judicial. These three powers...
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