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Enlightenment. Philosophers. The Enlightenment. Enlightened thinkers believed that human reason could be used to combat ignorance, superstition, and tyranny and to build a better world.

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The enlightenment
The Enlightenment

  • Enlightened thinkers believed that human reason could be used to combat ignorance, superstition, and tyranny and to build a better world.

  • Principal targets: Religion and the domination of society by hereditary aristocracy. In other words, the church and the state, who often worked hand-in-hand.

Philosophers in europe
Philosophers in Europe

  • France

    • Voltaire

    • Jean Jacques Rousseau

    • Montesquieu

  • England

    • John Locke—the social contract

    • David Hume

    • Thomas Hobbs

Philosophers in america
Philosophers in America

  • Thomas Jefferson

  • Thomas Paine

  • Benjamin Franklin

  • Patrick Henry

  • George Washington



  • Belief in progress spurred many to enact reforms

  • Believed reason could solve any problem, debated ways to make society more just

  • Did not accept poverty, ignorance, inequality as facts of life

  • Ideas about power, authority inspired reforms and revolutions

  • American colonists inspired to break free from British monarchy

  • Colonists strongly influenced by political views of Locke, Rousseau

Enlightenment Ideas Spread

  • Challenged Beliefs

  • Writers, philosophers questioned ideas long held as absolute truth

  • Challenged beliefs in absolute monarchies

  • Questioned relationship between church and sate

  • Debated rules and rights of people in society

  • Promoted ideas reformers and revolutionaries would later use to change society

Baron de Montesquieu

  • Separation of powers

  • Best form of government divided power among branches of government

  • Separation of powers kept individual or group from abusing power

  • The Spirit of the Laws

  • Published 1748, showed admiration of Great Britain’s government

  • Powers divided into branches: legislative, executive, judicial

  • Parliament made laws, king carried out laws, courts interpreted laws

  • Checks and balances

  • Misunderstood structure of British government, rational conclusion anyway

  • Separation of powers allowed each branch to check against power of others

  • Concept later important structure of democratic governments

Thomas Hobbes

John Locke

  • English thinker, wrote views of government in Leviathan

  • Absolute monarchy best

  • Believed people needed government to impose order

    • People selfish, greedy

    • Should exchange some freedoms for peace, safety, order

    • Social contract

  • English philosopher, believed all people born equal

  • Government should protect people’s natural rights

    • Monarchs not chosen by God

    • Government by consent

    • Power limited by laws

    • Ideas foundation for modern democracy

New Views on Government

As the Enlightenment began, European thinkers began looking for ways to apply reason in order to improve the human condition.

John locke
John Locke

  • Government

    • Second treatise of Civil Government

    • Chaos without government

      • God gave mankind natural rights

        • Life, liberty, pursuit of property

      • Innate goodness of mankind led to formation of governments

      • Governments, which were formed by the people, must guarantee the rights of the people

        • People have a right to rebel against tyrannies