The Enlightenment was a period where politics, philosophy, science and communications were radically reoriented during the course of the “long 18th century” (1685-1815) as part of a movement referred to by its participants as the Age of Reason, or simply the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinkers in Britain, in France and throughout Europe questioned traditional authority and embraced the notion that humanity could be improved through rational change. The Enlightenment produced numerous books, essays, inventions, scientific discoveries, laws, wars and revolutions. The American and French Revolutions were directly inspired by Enlightenment ideals and respectively marked the peak of its influence and the beginning of its decline. The Enlightenment ultimately gave way to 19th-century Romanticism. [https://worldhistory.abc-clio.com]
John Locke (1632-1704) laid much of the groundwork for the Enlightenment and made central contributions to the development of liberalism. Trained in medicine, he was a key advocate of the empirical approaches of the Scientific Revolution. In his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” he advanced a theory of the self as a blank page, with knowledge and identity arising only from accumulated experience. His political theory of government by the consent of the governed as a means to protect “life, liberty and estate” deeply influenced the United States’ founding documents. His essays on religious tolerance provided an early model for the separation of church and state. [https://worldhistory.abc-clio.com]
Born in 1643 in Woolsthorpe England, Sir Isaac Newton began developing his influential theories on light, calculus and celestial mechanics while on break from Cambridge University. Years of research culminated with the 1687 publication of “Principia,” a landmark work that established the universal laws of motion and gravity. Newton’s second major book, “Opticks,” detailed his experiments to determine the properties of light. Also a student of Biblical history and alchemy, the famed scientist served as president of the Royal Society of London and master of England’s Royal Mint until his death in 1727. https://worldhistory.abc-clio.com]
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was an English scientist and lawyer. Bacon was an instrumental figure in the Renaissance and Scientific Enlightenment. In particular, Bacon developed and popularised a scientific method which marked a new scientific rigour based on evidence, results and a methodical approach to science. He is widely considered to be the father of empiricism and the Scientific Revolution of the Renaissance period. https://worldhistory.abc-clio.com]
Rene Descartes 1596 – 1650) French philosopher and mathematician. Descartes is considered the founder of modern philosopher for successfully challenging many of the accepted wisdoms of the medieval scholastic traditions of Aristotelian philosophy. Descartes promoted the importance of using human reason to deduct truth. This principle of reason was an important aspect of the Enlightenment and the development of modern thought. His work in mathematics, was important for the later work of Isaac Newton.
(1632-1677) Baruch Spinoza was a Jewish-Dutch philosopher. He was an influential rationalist, who saw the underlying unity in the universe. He was critical of religious scriptures, and promoted a view that the Divine was in all, and the Universe was ordered, despite its apparent contradictions. His philosophy influenced later philosophers, writers and romantic poets, such as Shelley and Coleridge.