Age of Enlightenment

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The Age of Enlightenment (also called just The Enlightenment), was a movement in Western philosophy which advocated rationality as a means to establishing an authoritative system of aesthetics, ethics, and logic. It overturned the notions of mysticism and faith in individual revelation as the primary source of knowledge and wisdom.

The Enlightenment inspired the framework for the American and French Revolutions (among others); the democratic government of the United States is largely an enlightenment innovation.

The ideologies of liberalism (which emphasizes personal liberty -- immunity from the arbitrary exercise of authority) and rationalism (reasoning from available data, rejection of any authority which cannot be justified by reason), arose from Enlightenment ideas.

In Scotland

The Scottish Enlightenment built on these ideas, adding an optimistic belief in the ability of humans to affect changes for the better in society and nature, guided only by reason.


David Brin views The Enlightenment as a key revolution which replaced a lot of old, bad ideas with a lot of new good ones [1]:

  • Rejected: authority, hierarchy, order, tradition and fanatical religiosity.
  • Embraced: "modernism" (in a very particular sense); science, democracy, free markets, individual empowerment, liberty

This seems like a good interpretation to me (though other sources agreeing or disagreeing would be useful).

More from Brin [2]:

  • since the 1400s, each century in the West has been shaken almost to the core by new technologies that transformed three thingsvision, memory and attention – providing human beings with augmented powers that then triggered crises of confidence.
    • printing presses, glass lenses and perspective dramatically expanded what we could know, see and perceive.
    • (later) mass education, libraries, telecommunications, databases
  • With every new ratchet of progress, fearful voices called for a halt. Distrusting the ability of the masses to cope. Calling it hubris and folly for mankind to pick up powers that had been reserved to gods.
  • Fortunately, the masses refused to be cowed. Instead (amid ruction and violence and chaos) we in West gradually-but-relentlessly chose individual empowerment:
    • A trend toward dispersal of authority.
    • Reciprocal accountability.
    • Democratization of vision, memory and attention.
    • etc.



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