World History 2 94 - 7.1 The Enlightenment

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain the relationship between scientific developments and the Enlightenment
  • Discuss major theories of natural rights
  • Analyze Enlightenment ideas about the social contract and the consent of the governed

The key principles of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Scientific Revolution established the view that the universe was orderly and rational. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, this idea had prompted significant challenges to Christianity’s traditional justification for social hierarchies and its view of the nature of the cosmos. By defying long-standing notions of nature, the universe, and the limits of human intelligence, the early modern revolution in scientific thought expanded the frontiers of knowledge and inspired intellectual innovation. During the eighteenth century, thinkers in academia and beyond continued their critical exploration, scrutinizing traditional structures from religion to the monarchy. This newfound critical spirit and robust exchange of ideas ultimately became known as the Enlightenment.

Historians have typically located the birthplace of the Enlightenment in western Europe. Its inspirations were truly global in nature, however, ranging from the cosmopolitanism of the ethnically, religiously, and culturally diverse Ottoman Empire to the rich philosophical traditions of China. Ultimately, these ideas were more influential in Europe than elsewhere, but the consequences of the Enlightenment were by no means limited to Europe. Enlightenment thinkers in Europe created a new synthesis of knowledge that later spread to the rest of the world, where colonial subjects added their own interpretations and put these ideas to their own uses.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax