The Enlightenment is one of the most influential periods of time across disciplines to this very day. In 18th century Europe, the culture exploded during this time and almost every major area of science, government and philosophy were irrevocably changed. Although this is by no means an exhaustive listing of the effects that this period had on the civilized world, because the focus of the Enlightenment was a search for knowledge based in reason, the effects of this thought process are most evident in the more scientific, political and social realms of thinking. It is almost impossible to imagine what life would be like today had this burst of energy not reached England in the way it did. There were things that occurred as a result of this time that could have never been predicted. For example, while many people who were already famous in their fields did receive eve greater notoriety during this time, the more experts shared their own knowledge with one another, the closer this information came to the public. In the present day many people take for granted the knowledge we have easily at our fingertips. In the absence of technology, the Enlightenment had to find other ways to fuel itself and this was the first time in which people realized that knowledge might very well belong to others than those who could afford it. It may not even be a stretch of the imagination to say that this period marked the first milestone in the public having the ability to find knowledge more widely accessible in a variety of subject areas.
Some link the scientific revolution with the Enlightenment period, exchanging terms almost synonymously. While the Enlightenment represented much broader changes in society, science was an extremely important part of this time period. People who were interested in academic started to share their scientific knowledge with one another on a scale that was never before realized, making progress an inevitable part of the Enlightenment. Books and pamphlets were published in new and old subjects matters. Meetings and other academic courses were more widely accepted and developed. People met in coffee houses and had guests over to discuss the world of science, biology, neurology, geology and even astronomy. One of the first iterations of what is now the modern day Encyclopedia was also published during this time period. Although science and writing made incredibly strides, many other academic subjects were also touched by the Enlightenment. New inventions were made and even math underwent major upgrades in understanding. Although interesting to think about. Mathematical formulas did not simply exist. Instead they had to be created and patterns discovered so meaning could be made from the abstract.
Making meaning from an abstract concept or idea is something that is seen throughout the Enlightenment. In many ways philosophy is a field that is exclusively devoted to this practice of making something tangible out of what was previously obscured. Men such as Francis Bacon, Descartes and Locke had all shared their opinions on philosophical concepts. During the Enlightenment, these ideas were more fleshed out by David Hume, Immanuel Kant and many others who are works still studied today. There were even religious leaders who morphed principles from the philosophical Enlightenment into their religious practices. Arguably, while the fields of philosophy and religious study still exist today, the leaps and bounds that these men achieved have not been rivaled by any modern day philosopher. Books and other works that were published during the time still provide the foundation for many philosophies that exist today. Even the early United States was not left unaffected by the Enlightenment. To the contrary, notable founding father, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are known to have actively engaged in the ideals of the Enlightenment period. Not surprisingly, the Enlightenment even affected how government was structured both in England and in the United States. For the first time ever the idea of checks and balances, and appropriate separation of power were brought into the mix. Legislative practices were also realized that could help make sure that these government ideas were actually being adhered to in an everyday context. Put simply, at no other time in history were so many people so devoted to thinking about thought.
Some may argue that today we are in a period of a modern day Enlightenment. True, there have been so many technological advances in recent years (and even months). However, there was something special about the 18th century that does not explain what happens in the modern day. During this time there was a sort of ‘grass-roots’ way of disseminating information. In some ways this made people cherish the information all the more. It was once not so simple to check a cell phone or computer to better understand a thought or concept. Again, these are things we take for granted in the modern day. During the Enlightenment, learning and teaching was a much more active process that is lost today with our advances in technology. Although we now life in a world that is booming with knowledge and information, there is little fight left to earn it. It was that yearning that led people living during the Enlightenment to prove such important and future altering points. Perhaps this is still possible with the influx of modern technologies however this remains to be seen by people who will live long after we have passed away.
- “The Enlightenment Period.” Period Introduction Overview. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. D. Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. Norton, 2011. Print.