The Enlightenment was also known as the Age of Reason

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  • ~The 18th century philosophical movement in Europe and America, which emphasized intellectual freedom and reason over tradition, questioning of authority, and an empirical approach to science.
  • ~Promoted a scientific approach to political and social issues
  • ~Gave rise to a sense of human progress


  • The Enlightenment was also known as the Age of Reason.
  • People of the Enlightenment believed human reason could:
  • ~discover the natural laws of the universe
  • ~determine the natural rights of mankind
  • ~promote unending progress in knowledge, technical achievement, & moral values


  • They believed reason shows life as it is, whereas imagination shows life as people wish it were or fear it may be.
  • Reason can be used to combat ignorance, superstition and tyranny

Hawthorne Alludes to the Enlightenment in The Scarlet Letter:

  • “Men bolder than these had overthrown and rearranged—not actually, but within the sphere of theory, which was their most real abode—the whole system of ancient prejudice, wherewith was linked much of ancient principle. Hester Prynne imbibed this spirit. She assumed a freedom of speculation, then common enough on the other side of the Atlantic, but which our forefathers, had they known it, would have held to be a deadlier crime than that stigmatized by the scarlet letter.”


  • Enlightenment thinking lead to Deism, a new religious philosophy
  • Deists believed in God as a great inventor or architect who had created the universe and then allowed it to function without divine intervention.
  • Deists believed in an after-life, but human achievement and happiness should be the focus of this life
  • Rather than focusing on God, the people focused on man.

Defining Deism…

  • Deism is defined in Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary as: "[From Latin Deus, God.Deity] The doctrine or creed of a Deist“
  • A Deist is “One who believes in the existence of a God or supreme being but denies revealed religion, basing his belief on the light of nature and reason."
  • Sir Isaac Newton
  • Mathematician
  • 1642 – 1727
  • If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
  • John Locke
  • American Philosopher
  • 1632 - 1704
  • Though the familiar use of the Things about us, takes off our Wonder; yet it cures not our Ignorance."

John Locke’s Ideas

  • Tabla Rasa—the mind is born a blank upon which all knowledge is inscribed in the form of human experience
  • Attacked the divine right of kings (ideas of checks and balances)
  • Revolution is not only a right but an obligation (social contract)
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • pseudonym,
  • Richard Saunders
  • Poor Richard’s Almanac
  • 1706 - 1790
  • He that lives upon hope will die fasting.”

Benjamin Franklin (1706—1800)

Ben Franklin’s Writing

  • We will read “Caustic Wit,” an ironic, satirical letter to the London press
  • --Franklin wanted Britain to see the foolishness of their attempts to keep
  • Americans under their control
  • We will read from “The Autobiography,” which he wrote for his son over a period of 19 years


  • Ben Franklin was known for his aphorisms
  • Aphorism—is a short concise statement expressing a wise or clever observation or general truth
  • --may contain rhymes or repeated sounds
  • --Franklin put an aphorism at the top or bottom of most pages in his almanac.
  • “He that lives upon hope will die fasting.”
  • “God helps them that help themselves.”
  • “A small leak will sink a great ship.”


  • “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
  • “The rotten apple spoils his companions.”
  • “If your head is wax, don’t walk in the sun.”

Jean de Crevecoeur (1735—1813)

  • First writer to compare America to a melting pot:
  • “Here [in America] all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.”
          • ~Letters from an American Farmer
  • Wrote of America as a land of great promise
  • Patrick Henry
  • 1736 – 1799
    • Lawyer, Politician
    • “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, Give me liberty or give me death.”
  • Thomas Paine
  • 1737 - 1809
  • “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

Thomas Paine (1737—1809)

  • Considered to be the most effective American political writer of the Revolution
  • Throughout the war, his pamphlets convinced people of the justness of the American cause

Thomas Paine’s Writing

  • Common Sense (1776)—a pamphlet in which he accused the English king of tyranny
  • The American Crisis (1776)—series of 16 essays, written after he enlisted in American army
  • The Rights of Man (1792)—supported the Revolutionary cause; was imprisoned for pleading against the execution of the overthrown French king
  • The Age of Reason (1785)—sharp attack of organized religion; he began writing in prison
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Declaration of Independence
  • 1743 – 1806
  • "I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it. "

The Literature of the Enlightenment

  • Centered around having a purpose:
  • To instruct, enlighten and
  • make people think
  • Was mostly nonfiction—fact based rather than imaginative
  • Political, social & philosophical concerns were expressed in writing
  • Information became more available—Newspapers were popular
  • Often symbolize the passing from one state to another, the coming of age or passing through spiritual stages towards enlightenment, from the profane to the sacred. The threshold marks the meeting place of the natural and the supernatural. Being between places is nowhere, a quality shared by crossroads. It marks the boundary between what is known and what is unknown.
  • Doors...

The Enlightenment made The Pendulum Swing!

  • Swing of the pendulum from God-centered life and concentration on the after-life to reason and the belief that man could know about his world
  • There was no real unity of ideas, but there was a tremendous intellectual energy and enthusiasm generated.

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