Western Civilization since 1650
Week III Lecture Outline
The Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment
Part One: The Scientific Revolution
A) New discoveries and new ideas about nature during 1500s and 1600s result in major changes in thinking about nature and about how we gain knowledge.
mathematically-based and explained physics
B) New discoveries and ideas alter conceptions of God's role in nature and assert that nature works according to laws that man can come to understand
background--Aristotle's conception of universe and the Church
background--humanism, new tools, and the shaking up of the "official" view of nature
Astronomy and the Scientific Revolution: the importance of Copernicus, Galileo, etc.
Epistemology and the Scientific Revolution: the approach of Bacon vs the approach of Descartes
C) New metaphors to explain the world and new communities to share ideas
shift from organic to mechanical models of nature
development of scientific academies and societies to share new discoveries
role of communication between scientists in elaborating a method of proof (scientific method)
D) Newton and the convergence of trends in the Scientific Revolution
Newton's laws of mechanics (inertia, force and change in velocity, action and reaction)
Newton's use of mathematical proofs and of experimental observation
Newton's conception of God's role in nature
E) Link to the Enlightenment
science based upon the idea that all of nature follows universal laws, same everywhere and at all times (natural laws)
science developed new methodology to discover these laws
based upon understanding of natural laws, science could be applied by man to predict phenomenon and to transform nature (technology)
all this leads to the question--is man part of nature? If so, then does man also function according to natural laws, can those laws be discovered using scientific methods, and can those laws be used to transform human society?
Part Two: Enlightenments
A) Common features of the Enlightenment in different countries
principle of systematic doubt
principle that science provides a correct method for reasoning
principle that the natural world is best model for understanding mankind
principle that reason is the best path to truth
rejection of the idea that human nature is depraved; belief in progress
belief that applying scientific method to the study of human problems will yield answers that bring progress
desire to liberate men from ignorance and tyranny
B) Some other things to keep in mind about Enlightenment thinkers
not all were vs Absolutism
not all thought that rationality would bring happiness
few believed in Democracy
few considered women rational beings
few thought non-Europeans were capable of enlightenment
for historical reasons, the French Enlightenment was more anti-clerical than the Enlightenment elsewhere
Anglo-Scotch-American Enlightenment views of Liberty were influenced by British historical experience and after the 1680s did not have battle Absolutism
the German Enlightenment treated freedom as a matter of individual development and not as a matter of political liberation
C) Most basic argument of Enlightenment thinkers regarding human institutions
"Philosophes" ague that nature follows rational (logical) laws (rules)
humans, as part of nature, should also live according to natural laws
since nature is good, and natures laws govern nature "for the good," human society living according to natural law will live happily
the cause of human misery, poverty, injustice, etc., comes from failing to live according to natural laws
"corrupt" human institutions that prevent humans from living according to natural laws
the scientific method can be used to discover the natural laws that apply to human society
institutions that do not behave in accord with natural law must be rejected, replaced, reformed
by improving institutions so that they are in keeping with the principles of natural law, we can free humans to live more happily, etc. (in other words, progress is possible)
Examples: Kant (Enlightenment as reaching intellectual and spiritual maturity--"dare to know!")
Diderot: Only knowledge, truth, and rationality can defeat ignorance, corruption, superstition, and tyranny.
D) Religion, Deism, and Atheism
French philosphes in particular blame religion (church institutions, teaching of Christianity, Judaism, Islam) for promoting ignorance and fear.
Most French and also many British enlightenment thinkers were Deists (God as designer of universe, has stepped back to let it work according to laws). Organized religion was a cause of unhappiness and corruption; God's truths = a simple moral code based on rational principles. But logic required a first cause (God).
Some of the most radical Enlightenment thinkers--e.g., Thomas Paine--were Atheists. David Hume, for instance, argued that there was no necessary reason to posit a first cause (God) for nature to function according to laws.
E) Power and Liberty: Enlightenment thinkers and the critique of Absolutism
Most French and British enlightened thinkers argued that tyranny and despotism--which violated man's liberty--was a major cause of human ignorance and unhappiness. Most defined Absolutism as a form of tyranny.
Enlightenment critics of Absolutism argued that there were "natural laws" regarding human government, and that these laws were based upon "natural rights.
Enlightenment thinkers argued that the study of ideas, and the history of law and government would reveal these natural laws.
Examples: Locke argued that in "the state of nature," man was absolutely free. Men have liberty and certain rights on the basis of natural law. But men, joined together as society, willing gave up a very small share of their freedom (liberty) by creating government. The purpose of government was to protect man's liberty and property. Government exists as a contract between society (individuals joined together) and the government: men recognize government's (limited) authority (which means that men give up a little freedom); in return, government protects and defends men's liberty and property. To ensure that government follows the law and defends liberty, governments must follow constitutions that limit the government's powers.
Montesquieu accepted the idea that government was a contract between the governed and the government with the goal of protecting liberty. He argued that man has liberty in accord with natural law, and that history shows us what forms of governments best preserve and protect liberty. The best way to preserve liberty was to limit the powers of government through a constitution, and to divide the powers of government between different institutions. Dividing government into three separate branches based upon function--legislative, executive, and judicial--and creating "checks and balances" between these branches would prevent any one institution from combining all three powers. Montesquieu argued that whenever one institution (e.g., the executive) combined all three functions, the result was despotism and the loss of liberty. Absolutism, therefore, was a form of despotism.
Rousseau also criticized Absolutism, but came to very different conclusions than Locke or Montesquieu. Rousseau believed that man in nature was free, but that government was tool of those who had been corrupted by property and by reason. To put man back into the state of nature, to return to freedom and to morality, individuals had to surrender their rights to the community as a whole and agree to follow the "general will." For Rousseau, the social contract required that individuals subordinate their own interests to the public good, which was the only "true" path to morality and freedom.
Note: Voltaire, unlike most French enlightenment thinkers, believed that only enlightened absolutist monarchs could guide men towards improvement.)
F) Economic Thought: Enlightenment thinkers argued that economic life also follows natural laws, which can be studied and understood.
Physiocrats in France criticized Mercantilism. Argued that a nation's wealth came from its agriculture, not from trade or gold/silver supply. Therefore, they called for simplified taxes and tariffs and supported the idea of laissez-faire (that the State should not interfere with the natural workings of the economy).
Adam Smith and the British Political Economists argued that private property was a natural right, that people are motivated by the desire to increase their own advantages, that this works in the public good thanks to the "invisible hand," that the market follows natural laws (e.g., suuply and demand), and that the State must not interfere in the natural workings of the market. Smith argued that the market (competition) will produce the best goods at the lowest prices and so provide for the greatest public good.
Both positions were contrary to Mercantilism, monopolies of trade, guilds, etc.
G) Point. Enlightenment thinkers believed that if human institutions were reformed according to natural law, the result would be progress.
Man, as part of nature, is governed by natural laws.
Institutions that fail to work according to natural law are the cause of human unhappiness, ignorance, and social problems (organized religion, Absolutism, Mercantilism)
The spread of Enlightenment will free man from ignorance and lead to progress
The reform of institutions so that they accord with natural law (recognizing natural rights, establishing rule of law, establishing constitutional government with representative institutions, promoting free market capitalism, etc) will bring progress.
But exactly what freedom, rights, etc. meant was open to debate, as was the best form of creating progress--the same basic principles would yield dramatically different political philosophies