We explain what the Enlightenment was, what are its causes and fundamental principles. In addition, its characteristics and main thinkers.

What was the Enlightenment?

It is called Illuminism, Enlightenment or Enlightenment, a cultural and intellectual movement that occurred in Europe in the late seventeenth and mid-eighteenth centuries, especially in France , the United Kingdom and Germany .

It represented the break with the obscurantist, superstitious and tyrannical traditions of the medieval past , embracing instead the light of human reason and knowledge as the only way to dispel the darkness of ignorance.

The Enlightenment established in the West the idea of faith in progress, returning to the human being the control of his destiny , since through science and knowledge a better destiny and a better life could be forged .

These ideas made the French Revolution of 1789 acquire historical and political importance , as a symbol of the break with the medieval monarchical past and the beginning of a republican era that brought equality among human beings .

The Enlightenment forever changed the philosophical, political and cultural destiny of Europe and the entire West , having a profound impact on all countries and lasting in some of them until the 19th century.

It had an impact on the arts, sciences and the organization of societies .

Definition of Enlightenment

Definition of Enlightenment

The terms Enlightenment and Enlightenment, in this context, may be used synonymously, although the use of the former is preferred.

It comes from the French name for the "Age of Enlightenment" ( Siécle des Lumières ), as this time was called.

This in turn derived in equivalents in different languages , such as Enlightenment in English or Aufklärung in German .

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant, in his What is illustration? , defined it as “… the abandonment of the man of a mental childhood of which he himself is guilty. Childhood is the inability to use reason without the guidance of another person ”.

Causes of Enlightenment

Causes of Enlightenment

The Enlightenment was the historical and cultural consequence of the weakening of Christianity and its medieval dogmas that took place thanks to the Renaissance and its rediscovery of the classical knowledge of antiquity.

It was also caused by the Protestant Reformations and humanism , the father of the scientific discoveries of Francis Bacon, Nicolaus Copernicus , Galileo Galilei , René Descartes, and Sir Isaac Newton .

All this cultural path in the West led to the weakening of traditional cultural paradigms.

This was added to the emergence of a new dominant social class: the bourgeoisie . The result was the imposition of a new model of society, the pre-capitalist one.

Fundamental ideas of Enlightenment

Fundamental ideas of Enlightenment

The Enlightenment held certain central ideas or guidelines, which can summarize its new paradigm of thought :

  • Anthropocentrism. What had already appeared in Renaissance humanism gained much greater strength: the human being is the center of its existence and is the one who decides its future. Therefore, reason, knowledge and free will replaced faith and religiosity.
  • Rationalism . Sensible experience and human reason were erected assupreme values , so it is not possible to believe what reason does not admit. This motivated anti-clerical or anti-religious feelings and thoughts, such as nihilism , agnosticism and atheism, but at the same time it meant a rejection of human passions and everything irrational or emotional of the individual.
  • Idealism . Everything in the Enlightenment was committed to the educational and formative ideal, especially in the arts and sciences. The "good taste" became a cultured norm that rejects the ugly, the decadent and the wild, as well as subjects "in bad taste" such as suicide, or those linked to popular taste.
  • Universalism The Enlightenment was a movement inspired by the three maxims of the French Revolution : Liberty , Equality and Fraternity, according to which all humans would be identical and deserve the same rights. This equalizing principle supposes a certain degree of cosmopolitanism and universalism, based on an objectifying and generalizing conception of culture and societies. This, paradoxically, meant imposing the Greco-Roman last on any type of human imagination.

Main thinkers of the Enlightenment

Main thinkers of the Enlightenment

Some key Enlightenment personalities were:

  • John Locke (1632-1704). Father of economic liberalism and one of the main enlightened thinkers, he promoted the creation of civil governments and liberal states with separation of powers.
  • Voltaire (1694-1778). French writer and philosopher, whose literary work reflected his conviction in the liberation of man through reason and knowledge, as well as the evolution of science.
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). One of the founders of anthropology and a Swiss writer, philosopher and thinker, whose work had enormous relevance in the West, especially in the French Revolution and the American Revolutions of Independence.
  • Montesquieu (1713-1784). He was a French writer and essayist, the father of many of the theses on the creation of the state that led to political modernity in Europe.
  • David Hume (1711-1776). Scottish thinker with a fundamental work in history, sociology and economics , he was a follower of Empiricism, which posited experience as the greatest way of learning for man, and not tradition.

The arts during the Enlightenment

The arts during the Enlightenment flourished, but under the rationalist precept of the time. Many of the great works of this period reflected the desire to educate the masses or convey high values, always appealing to their reasoning.

In many artistic variants , realism was later imposed , as a form of commitment of the artists with their political and social moment and a work of criticism that, nevertheless, had to reflect as closely as possible the human dilemmas of the moment.

Politics in the Enlightenment

Politics in the Enlightenment

Initially, the Enlightenment gave way to enlightened despotism, a kind of educated and educational absolutism . However, very soon the need for a State with independent powers was imposed: executive , legislative , judicial .

Furthermore, the Church lost its control over the political exercise , which became secular and secular, committed to the needs of the human being and not to the "divine order."

During this period, the so-called "Old Regime" will end .

Illuminist philosophy

The Enlightenment was nourished by many previous philosophical currents coming from the Renaissance , such as Empiricism, Anthropocentrism, Materialism and Hypercriticism.

Science as a central field of human knowledge is rising and democratizing, understanding itself as the greatest possible application of human thought .

Impact of Enlightenment on religion

Impact of Enlightenment on religion

The emergence of new freedoms allowed the Western citizen to understand religion in another way, much more tolerant and diverse , which sometimes led to anti-clerical attitudes, and other times to atheism or agnosticism.

However, freethinking spread across Europe and along with it a more intellectual, more encyclopedic trend in the world.

The emergence of sects such as Freemasonry or Rosicrucianism is also evidence of the loss of political power of the Catholic Church.

Why is Enlightenment important?

The Enlightenment laid the foundations for later Western philosophical and cultural movements , such as Positivism, which made progress and the accumulation of scientific knowledge the hope of humanity.

Also, from a Marxist point of view , the Enlightenment brought the universalization of bourgeois tastes and philosophies , that is, the confirmation of the triumph of the new ruling social class, which in turn led to the establishment of capitalism .

This means that it was a major turning point in the modern history of the West.

The romanticism

The romanticism

The movement against the Enlightenment was Romanticism , which appeared in the 19th century in Germany, England and Spain mainly . This new movement assumed a subjectivist, individualistic and nationalist attitude, opposed to the enlightened commandments.

Romanticism valued in its artistic, philosophical and political expressions the national tradition, folklore , popular culture , artistic subjectivity, the world of passions and also recovered Christianity .

The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational and educational purposes only and has been developed by referring reliable sources and recommendations from technology experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.


Luke is passionate about fostering student involvement and connection. He studied psychology for his major and likes learning about the past. Luke aims to specialize in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. .

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