Men of Ideas Creating Change
The eighteenth century is often referred to as the Enlightenment. The ideas of many individuals combined to create a movement that would not only sweep across Europe, but reach as far as the America's. The idea of a world without caste, class or institutionalized crudity was what many were striving to achieve. Coinciding with the Enlightenment was the Scientific Revolution. Advancements in astronomy, technology, medicine and mathematics were but a few of the areas of remarkable discovery. The conclusions and observations brought forward by the Scientific Revolution in the eighteenth century have survived and thrived through to modern times.
There are many facets in the ideas of the Enlightenment. "What we call the Enlightenment gradually took shape in individual minds, over several generations, before it became conscious of itself as a movement during the late 1740's." "It was primarily a French movement because French culture dominated Europe and because their ideas were expressed in the environment of the Parisian salon." It has been said that the Enlightenment was " a group of writer, working self-consciously for over a hundred years, sought to enlighten men, using critical reason to free minds from prejudices and unexamined authority." "Among these writers and thinkers, there were many who have been given the name of philosophe". The most influential were Frenchman: men like Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, d'Alembert and Condillac. "The philosophes had no common programme, or manifesto. The nearest they had to one was the Encyclodedie, which Diderot and d'Alembert published, in seventeen volumes, between 1751 and 1772, and to which many of the leading philosophes contributed."
The men of the Enlightenment were driven to achieve. "Overwhelmingly the greatest single emotional drive behind the Enlightenment was that toward making men happy in the here and now " In its wider context, the Enlightenment reached into almost every brand of knowledge: into philosophy, the natural, physical and social sciences, and into their application in technology, education, penology, government and international law. All of this was done in an atmosphere of religious, political and economic controversy. "The philosophes were more often than not at odds among themselves on the answers they proposed to various questions or problems. Their solidarity lay in their awareness of a common foe the status quo, and those who supported it, particularly Christianity and the Church." "The central theme of the Enlightenment is the effort to humanize religion."
The major opposition to the ideas of Enlightenment came from the Roman Catholic Church. "If rulers were often sympathetic, the churches generally were not." The religious minorities were often no more sympathetic. "The exceptions were the Protestant churches in the north of Germany." In Spain where Catholicism was widely practiced, "one leading cleric could refer to the ideas of the Enlightenment as a vile prostitute misnamed philosophy' and another could refuse to learn French because of all the dangerous books written in the language." French thinkers of the Enlightenment projected an attitude that was "critical and skeptical attitude toward religion." "By the later 1770's and 1780's, traditional unthinking prejudices against religious minorities were being sharpened, by a more explicit and vocal clerical hostility to the Enlightenment than ever before. "In religion then, as in most other departments of life, the eighteenth century bore within itself the seeds of an immense change. These seeds, however, had not yet set down very deep roots." This did not mean that all writings of the philosophes were anti-religious. Generally speaking, most of the writings that involve religion were examining and questioning, rather than condemning.