(Israel Twitter)Age of Enlightenment (or simply the Enlightenment) is the era in Western philosophy, intellectual, scientific and cultural life, centered upon the 18th century, in which reason was advocated as the primary source for legitimacy and authority. It is also known as the Age of Reason.
Developing simultaneously in Russia, France, Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the American colonies, the movement culminated in the Atlantic Revolutions, especially the success of the American Revolution, which resulted in independence from the British Empire. The authors of the American Declaration of Independence, the United States Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and the Polish–Lithuanian Constitution of May 3, 1791, were motivated by Enlightenment principles.
The "Enlightenment" was not a single movement or school of thought, for these philosophies were often mutually contradictory or divergent. The Enlightenment was less a set of ideas than it was a set of values. At its core was a critical questioning of traditional institutions, customs, and morals, and a strong belief in rationality and science. Thus, there was still a considerable degree of similarity between competing philosophies. Some historians also include the late 17th century as part of the Enlightenment.Modernity, by contrast, is used to refer to the period after The Enlightenment; albeit generally emphasizing social conditions rather than specific philosophies.
Use of the term
The term "Enlightenment" came into use in English during the mid-18th century, with particular reference to French philosophy, as the equivalent of a term then in use by German writers, Zeitalter der Aufklärung, signifying officially the philosophical outlook of the 18th century. However, the German term Aufklärung was not merely applied retrospectively; it was already the common term by 1784, when Immanuel Kant published his influential essay Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment?
According to Kant, The Enlightenment was "Mankind's final coming of age, the emancipation of the human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance and error." This thesis of the liberation of the human mind from the dogmatic state of ignorance that was prevalent at the time is the epitome of what the age of enlightenment was trying to capture.
There is little consensus on when to date the start of the age of Enlightenment and some scholars simply use the beginning of the 18th century or the middle of the 18th century as a default date. If taken back to the mid-17th century, the Enlightenment would trace its origins to Descartes' Discourse on Method, published in 1637. Others define the Enlightenment as beginning in Britain's Glorious Revolution of 1688 or with the publication of Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica which first appeared in 1687. As to its end, some scholars use the French Revolution of 1789 or the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars (1804–15) as a convenient point in time with which to date the end of the Enlightenment.
Historian Peter Gay asserts the Enlightenment broke through "the sacred circle," whose dogma had circumscribed thinking. The Sacred Circle is a term used by Peter Gay to describe the interdependent relationship between the hereditary aristocracy, the leaders of the church and the text of the Bible. This interrelationship manifests itself as kings invoking the doctrine "Divine Right of Kings" to rule. Thus church sanctioned the rule of the king and the king defended the church in return.
The Enlightenment is held to be the source of critical ideas, such as the centrality of freedom, democracy, and reason as primary values of society. This view argues that the establishment of a contractual basis of rights would lead to the market mechanism and capitalism, the scientific method, religious tolerance, and the organization of states into self-governing republics through democratic means. In this view, the tendency of the philosophes in particular to apply rationality to every problem is considered the essential change.
Social and cultural interpretation
In opposition to the intellectual historiographical approach of the Enlightenment, which examines the various currents, or discourses of intellectual thought within the European context during the 17th and 18th centuries, the cultural (or social) approach examines the changes that occurred in European society and culture. Under this approach, the Enlightenment is less a collection of thought than a process of changing sociabilities and cultural practices – both the “content” and the processes by which this content was spread are now important. Roger Chartier describes it as follows:
This movement [from the intellectual to the cultural/social] implies casting doubt on two ideas: first, that practices can be deduced from the discourses that authorize or justify them; second, that it is possible to translate into the terms of an explicit ideology the latent meaning of social mechanisms.
One of the primary elements of the cultural interpretation of the Enlightenment is the rise of the public sphere in Europe. Jürgen Habermas has influenced thinking on the public sphere more than any other, though his model is increasingly called into question. The essential problem that Habermas attempted to answer concerned the conditions necessary for “rational, critical, and genuinely open discussion of public issues”. Or, more simply, the social conditions required for Enlightenment ideas to be spread and discussed. His response was the formation in the late 17th century and 18th century of the “bourgeois public sphere”, a “realm of communication marked by new arenas of debate, more open and accessible forms of urban public space and sociability, and an explosion of print culture".More specifically, Habermas highlights three essential elements of the public sphere:
it was egalitarian;
it discussed the domain of "common concern";
argument was founded on reason
Note: This list is by no means exhaustive. The general requirements for a public institution were the following:
It had to be relatively inclusive (i.e. Public). Most of the institutions listed either were egalitarian or created hierarchies that contrasted with social hierarchies.
It had to participate in the “public” spread of information, often with normative intentions.
It had to allow for potentially critical thought.
For example, using these standards, the London debating societies were part of the public sphere, because they were inclusive and egalitarian, they spread information, and they promoted critical thought.
The history of Academies in France during the Enlightenment begins with the Academy of Science, founded in 1666 in Paris. From the beginning, the Academy was closely tied to the French state, acting as an extension of a government seriously lacking in scientists. Beyond serving the monarchy, the Academy had two primary purposes: it helped promote and organize new disciplines, and it trained new scientists. It also contributed to the enhancement of scientists’ social status, considered them to be the “most useful of all citizens". Academies demonstrate the rising interest in science along with its increasing secularization, as evidenced by the small number of clerics who were members (13 percent).
The book industry
The increased consumption of reading materials of all sorts was one of the key features of the “social” Enlightenment. Developments in the Industrial Revolution allowed consumer goods to be produced in greater quantities at lower prices, encouraging the spread of books, pamphlets, newspapers and journals – “media of the transmission of ideas and attitudes”. Commercial development likewise increased the demand for information, along with rising populations and increased urbanisation. However, demand for reading material extended outside of the realm of the commercial, and outside the realm of the upper and middle classes, as evidenced by the Bibliothèque Bleue. Literacy rates are difficult to gauge, but Robert Darnton writes that, in France at least, the rates doubled over the course of the 18th century.
Reading underwent serious changes in the 18th century. In particular, Rolf Engelsing has argued for the existence of a “reading revolution”. Until 1750, reading was done “intensively: people tended to own a small number of books and read them repeatedly, often to small audience. After 1750, people began to read “extensively”, finding as many books as they could, increasingly reading them alone. On the other hand, as Jonathan Israel writes, Gabriel Naudé was already campaigning for the “universal” library in the mid-17th century. And if this was an ideal only realistic for state institutions and the very wealthy (and indeed, an ideal that was seldom achieved), there are records for extremely large private and state-run libraries throughout Europe in the 17th and 18th-centuries.
Of course, the vast majority of the reading public could not afford to own a private library. And while most of the state-run “universal libraries” set up in the 17th and 18th centuries were open to the public, they were not the only sources of reading material.
On one end of the spectrum was the Bibliothèque Bleue, a collection of cheaply produced books published in Troyes, France. Intended for a largely rural and semi-literate audience these books included almanacs, retellings of medieval romances and condensed versions of popular novels, among other things. While historians, such as Roger Chartier and Robert Darnton, have argued against the Enlightenment’s penetration into the lower classes, the Bibliothèque Bleue, at the very least, represents a desire to participate in Enlightenment sociability, whether or not this was actually achieved.
The many scientific and literary journals (predominantly composed of book reviews) that were published during this time are also evidence of the intellectual side of the Enlightenment. In fact, Jonathan Israel argues that the learned journals, from the 1680s onwards, influenced European intellectual culture to a greater degree than any other “cultural innovation”.
The first journal appeared in 1665– the Parisian Journal des Scavants – but it was not until 1682 that periodicals began to be more widely produced. French and Latin were the dominant languages of publication, but there was also a steady demand for material in German and Dutch. There was generally low demand for English publications on the Continent, which was echoed by England’s similar lack of desire for French works. Languages commanding less of an international market – such as Danish, Spanish and Portuguese – found journal success more difficult, and more often than not, a more international language was used instead. Although German did have an international quality to it, it was French that slowly took over Latin’s status as the lingua franca of learned circles. This in turn gave precedence to the publishing industry in Holland, where the vast majority of these French language periodicals were produced.
The Debating Societies that rapidly came into existence in 1780 London present an almost perfect example of the public sphere during the Enlightenment. Donna T Andrew provides four separate origins:
Clubs of fifty or more men who, at the beginning of the 18th century, met in pubs to discuss religious issues and affairs of state.
Mooting clubs, set up by law students to practice rhetoric.
Spouting clubs, established to help actors train for theatrical roles.
John Henley’s Oratory, which mixed outrageous sermons with even more absurd questions, like “Whether Scotland be anywhere in the world?”
In any event, popular debating societies began, in the late 1770s, to move into more “genteel”, or respectable rooms, a change which helped establish a new standard of sociability: “order, decency, and liberality”, in the words of the Religious Society of Old Portugal Street. Respectability was also encouraged by the higher admissions prices (ranging from 6d. to 3s.), which also contributed to the upkeep of the newer establishments. The backdrop to these developments was what Andrew calls “an explosion of interest in the theory and practice of public elocution”. The debating societies were commercial enterprises that responded to this demand, sometimes very successfully. Indeed, some societies welcomed from 800 to 1200 spectators a night.These societies discussed an extremely wide range of topics. One broad area was women: societies debated over “male and female qualities”, courtship, marriage, and the role of women in the public sphere. Societies also discussed political issues, varying from recent events to “the nature and limits of political authority”, and the nature of suffrage. Debates on religion rounded out the subject matter. It is important to note, however, that the critical subject matter of these debates did not necessarily translate into opposition to the government. In other words, the results of the debate quite frequently upheld the status quo.
Historians have recently been debating the extent to which Freemasonry was part of, or even a main factor in the Enlightenment. On the one hand, historians agree that the famous leaders of the Enlightenment included Freemasons such as Montesquieu, Voltaire, Pope, Horace Walpole, Sir Robert Walpole, Mozart, Goethe, Frederick the Great, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington.On the other side, historians such as Robert Roswell Palmer concluded that even in France, Masons were politically "innocuous if not ridiculous" and did not act as a group.American historians, while noting that Benjamin Franklin and George Washington were indeed active Masons, have downplayed the importance of Freemasonry in the era of the American Revolution because the movement was non-political and included both Patriots and their enemy the Loyalists. Regarding the movement's influence on the European contintent, German historian Reinhart Koselleck claimed that "On the Continent there were two social structures that left a decisive imprint on the Age of Enlightenment: the Republic of Letters and the Masonic lodges.", while professor at University of Glasgow Thomas Munck argues that "although the Masons did promote international and cross-social contacts which were essentially non-religious and broadly in agreement with enlightened values, they can hardly be described as a major radical or reformist network in their own right.
Perception to the thinkers of The Enlightenment
Perception of the Enlightenment varied from country to country. Though we may think them common ideas in our modern age, upon inception, these new ideas were seen as radical, liberal, and even dangerous. The Enlightenment was not well received in several countries, especially Britain. The Enlightenment was poorly received by the Victorians who saw the new liberal thinkers as people who based too much weight on the power of abstract reasoning. These men were seen as dangerous ideologues whose ideas had led to violent rebellions such as the French Revolution. The thinkers that characterized The Enlightenment were thought of as too soulless by the romantics, too radical by the conservatives, and as "salon talkers, rather than revolutionary activists" by radicals. The ideas put forth through The Enlightenment grew more popular with time and greatly influenced the founding of The United States of America.
A historiographical overview
Enlightenment historiography began in the period itself, from what "Enlightenment figures" said about their work. A dominant element was the intellectual angle they took. D'Alembert's Preliminary Discourse of l'Encyclopédie provides a history of the Enlightenment which comprises a chronological list of developments in the realm of knowledge – of which the Encyclopédie forms the pinnacle.A more philosophical example of this was the 1783 essay contest (in itself an activity typical of the Enlightenment) announced by the Berlin newspaper Berlinische Monatsschrift, which asked that very question: “What is Enlightenment?” Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn was among those who responded, referring to Enlightenment as a process by which man was educated in the use of reason (Jerusalem, 1783). Immanuel Kant also wrote a response, referring to Enlightenment as “man's release from his self-incurred tutelage”, tutelage being “man's inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another”. This intellectual model of interpretation has been adopted by many historians since the 18th century, and is perhaps the most commonly used interpretation today.
Dorinda Outram provides a good example of a standard, intellectual definition of the Enlightenment:
Enlightenment was a desire for human affairs to be guided by rationality rather than by faith, superstition, or revelation; a belief in the power of human reason to change society and liberate the individual from the restraints of custom or arbitrary authority; all backed up by a world view increasingly validated by science rather than by religion or tradition.
Only in the 1970s did interpretation of the Enlightenment allow for a more heterogeneous and even extra-European vision. A. Owen Aldridge demonstrated how Enlightenment ideas spread to Spanish colonies and how they interacted with indigenous cultures, while Franco Venturi explored how the Enlightenment took place in normally unstudied areas – Italy, Greece, the Balkans, Poland, Hungary, and Russia.
Robert Darnton's cultural approach launched a new dimension of studies. He said, :
“Perhaps the Enlightenment was a more down-to-earth affair than the rarefied climate of opinion described by textbook writers, and we should question the overly highbrow, overly metaphysical view of intellectual life in the eighteenth century.”
Darnton examines the underbelly of the French book industry in the 18th century, examining the world of book smuggling and the lives of those writers (the “Grub Street Hacks”) who never met the success of their philosophe cousins. In short, rather than concerning himself with Enlightenment canon, Darnton studies “what Frenchmen wanted to read”, and who wrote, published and distributed it. Similarly, in The Business of Enlightenment. A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie 1775-1800, Darnton states that there is no need to further study the encyclopedia itself, as “the book has been analyzed and anthologized dozen of times: to recapitulate all the studies of its intellectual content would be redundant”. He instead, as the title of the book suggests, examines the social conditions that brought about the production of the Encyclopédie. This is representative of the social interpretation as a whole – an examination of the social conditions that brought about Enlightenment ideas rather than a study of the ideas themselves.
Francis Bacon (1561–1626) English philosopher and statesman. While a Renaissance man--in both era and achievement, he started the revolution in empirical thought that characterized much of the enlightenment.
Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) English philosopher, who wrote Leviathan, a key text in political philosophy. While Hobbes justifies absolute monarchy, this work is the first to posit that the temporal power of a monarch comes about, not because God has ordained that he be monarch, but because his subjects have freely yielded their own power and freedom to him - in other words, Hobbes replaces the divine right of kings with an early formulation of the social contract. Hobbes' work was condemned by reformers for its defense of absolutism, and by traditionalists for its claim that the power of government derives from the power of its subjects rather than the will of God.
Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) Dutch philosopher who is considered to have laid the groundwork for the 18th-century Enlightenment.
John Locke (1632–1704) English Philosopher. Important empiricist who expanded and extended the work of Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes. Seminal thinker in the realm of the relationship between the state and the individual, the contractual basis of the state and the rule of law. Argued for personal liberty emphasizing the rights of property; it is this emphasis the American constitution owes much to. Among those of whom his writings influenced were Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American revolutionaries. This influence is reflected in the American Declaration of Independence.
Balthasar Bekker (1634–1698) Dutch, a key figure in the Early Enlightenment. In his book De Philosophia Cartesiana (1668) Bekker argued that theology and philosophy each had their separate terrain and that Nature can no more be explained from Scripture than can theological truth be deduced from Nature.
Robert Hooke (1635–1703) English, probably the leading experimenter of his age, Curator of Experiments for the Royal Society. Performed the work which quantified such concepts as Boyle's Law and the inverse-square nature of gravitation, father of the science of microscopy.
Gottfried Leibniz (1646–1716) Inventor of Calculus as we know it today and wrote Protogea, amongst other scientific and philosophical works.
Pierre Bayle (1647–1706) French. Literary critic known for Nouvelles de la république des lettres and Dictionnaire historique et critique, and one of the earliest influences on the Enlightenment thinkers to advocate tolerance between the difference religious beliefs.
Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657–1757)
Dimitrie Cantemir (1673–1723) Romanian. Philosopher, historian, composer, musicologist, linguist, ethnographer, and geographer. He was a member of the Royal Academy of Berlin. His most important works were History of the Growth and Decay of the Ottoman Empire and Descriptio Moldavie.
Justus Henning Boehmer (1674–1749), German ecclesiastical jurist, one of the first reformer of the church law and the civil law which was basis for further reforms and maintained until the 20th century.
Benito Jerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro (1676–1764) Spanish, was the most prominent promoter of the critical empiricist attitude at the dawn of the Spanish Enlightenment. See also the Spanish Martín Sarmiento (1695–1772)
Christian Wolff (1679–1754) German philosopher.
George Berkeley (1685–1753) Irish. Philosopher and mathematician famous for developing the theory of subjective idealism.
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) Natural philosopher and theologian whose search for the operation of the soul in the body led him to construct a detailed metaphysical model for spiritual-natural causation.
Carl von Linné (Carl Linnaeus) (1707–1778) Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature. He is known as the father of modern taxonomy, and is also considered one of the fathers of modern ecology.
Montesquieu (1689–1755) French political thinker. He is famous for his articulation of the theory of separation of powers, taken for granted in modern discussions of government and implemented in many constitutions all over the world. Political scientist, Donald Lutz, found that Montesquieu was the most frequently quoted authority on government and politics in colonial pre-revolutionary British America, cited more by the American founders than any source except for the Bible.
Francois Quesney (1694–1774) French economist of the Physiocratic school. He also practiced surgery.
François-Marie Arouet (pen name Voltaire) (1694–1778) French Enlightenment writer, essayist, deist and philosopher. He wrote several books, the most famous of which is Dictionnaire Philosophique, in which he argued that organized religion is pernicious. He was the Enlightenment's most vigorous antireligious polemicist, as well as being a highly well known advocate of intellectual freedom.
Sebastião de Melo, Marquis of Pombal (1699–1782) Portuguese statesman notable for his swift and competent leadership in the aftermath of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. He also implemented sweeping economic policies to regulate commercial activity and standardize quality throughout the country. The term Pombaline is used to describe not only his tenure, but also the architectural style which formed after the great earthquake.
French Encyclopédistes (1700s)
Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) American. Statesman, scientist, political philosopher, author. As a philosopher known for his writings on nationality, economic matters, aphorisms published in Poor Richard's Almanac and polemics in favour of American Independence. Involved with writing the United States Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of 1787.
G.L. Buffon (1707–1788) French. Author of L'Histoire Naturelle who considered Natural Selection and the similarities between humans and apes.
Thomas Reid (1710–1796) Scottish. Presbyterian minister and Philosopher. Contributed greatly to the idea of Common-Sense philosophy and was Hume's most famous contemporary critic. Best known for his An Inquiry Into The Human Mind. Heavily influenced William James.
Mikhail Lomonosov (1711–1765) Russian Polymath, scientist and writer, who made important contributions to literature, education, and science.
David Hume (1711–1776) Scottish. Historian, philosopher and economist. Best known for his empiricism and scientific skepticism, advanced doctrines of naturalism and material causes. Influenced Kant and Adam Smith.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) Genevois political philosopher. Argued that the basis of morality was conscience, rather than reason, as most other philosophers argued. He wrote Du Contrat Social, in which Rousseau claims that citizens of a state must take part in creating a 'social contract' laying out the state's ground rules in order to found an ideal society in which they are free from arbitrary power. His rejection of reason in favor of the "Noble Savage" and his idealizing of ages past make him truly fit more into the romantic philosophical school, which was a reaction against the enlightenment. He largely rejected the individualism inherent in classical liberalism, arguing that the general will overrides the will of the individual.
Denis Diderot (1713–1784) French. Founder of the Encyclopédie, speculated on free will and attachment to material objects, contributed to the theory of literature.
James Burnett, Lord Monboddo (1714–1799) Scottish. Philosopher, jurist, pre-evolutionary thinker and contributor to linguistic evolution. See Scottish Enlightenment
Claude Adrien Helvétius (1715–1771)
Jean le Rond d'Alembert (1717–1783) French. Mathematician and physicist, one of the editors of Encyclopédie.
Baron d'Holbach (1723–1789) French. Author, encyclopaedist and Europe's first outspoken atheist. Roused much controversy over his criticism of religion as a whole in his work The System of Nature.
Adam Smith (1723–1790) Scottish economist and philosopher. He wrote The Wealth of Nations, in which he argued that wealth was not money in itself, but wealth was derived from the added value in manufactured items produced by both invested capital and labour. He is sometimes considered to be the founding father of the laissez-faire economic theory, but in fact argues for some degree of government control in order to maintain equity. Just prior to this he wrote Theory of Moral Sentiments, explaining how it is humans function and interact through what he calls sympathy, setting up important context for The Wealth of Nations.
Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) German. Philosopher and physicist. Established critical philosophy on a systematic basis, proposed a material theory for the origin of the solar system, wrote on ethics and morals. Prescribed a politics of Enlightenment in What is Enlightenment? (1784). Influenced by Hume and Isaac Newton. Important figure in German Idealism, and important to the work of Fichte and Hegel.
John Wilkes (1725–1797)
James Cook (1728–1779) – British naval captain. Explored much of the Pacific including New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii.
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781) German. Dramatist, critic, political philosopher. Created theatre in the German language, began reappraisal of Shakespeare to being a central figure, and the importance of classical dramatic norms as being crucial to good dramatic writing, theorized that the centre of political and cultural life is the middle class.
Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786) German. Philosopher of Jewish Enlightenment in Prussia (Haskalah), honoured by his friend Lessing in his drama as Nathan the Wise.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797) Irish. Parliamentarian and political philosopher, best known for pragmatism, considered important to both liberal and conservative thinking.
Francisco Javier Clavijero (1731–1787) Mexican. Historian, best known for his Antique History of Mexico.
Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) Austrian composer who revolutionized the symphonic form.
Stanisław August Poniatowski (1732–98), the last king of independent Poland, a leading light of the Enlightenment in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and co-author of one of the world's first modern constitutions, the Constitution of May 3, 1791.
Mikhailo Shcherbatov (1733–1790)
Josef Vratislav Monse (1733–1793) Czech. Professor of Law at University of Olomouc, leading figure of Enlightenment in the Habsburg Monarchy
Ignacy Krasicki (1735–1801): Polish. Leading poet of the Polish Enlightenment, hailed by contemporaries as "the Prince of Poets." After the 1764 election of Stanisław August Poniatowski as King of Poland, Krasicki became the new King's confidant and chaplain. He participated in the King's famous "Thursday dinners" and co-founded the Monitor, the preeminent periodical of the Polish Enlightenment sponsored by the King. He is remembered especially for his Fables and Parables.
Edward Gibbon (1737–1794) English. Historian best known for his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Thomas Paine (1737–1809) English. Pamphleteer, Deist, and polemicist, most famous for Common Sense attacking England's domination of the colonies in America. The pamphlet was key in fomenting the American Revolution. Also wrote The Age of Reason which remains one of the most persuasive critiques of the Bible ever written, his writings (mainly Age of Reason and Rights of Man) made Americans study their religion, their behaviors, and the ruling hierarchy. His work "The Rights of Man" was written in defense of the French Revolution and is the classic example of the Enlightenment arguments in favor of classical liberalism.
Thomas Abbt (1738–1766) German. Author of Vom Tode für's Vaterland (On dying for one's nation).
Cesare Beccaria (1738–1794) Italian. Criminal law reformer, best known for his treatise On Crimes and Punishments (1764).
James Boswell (1740–1795) Scottish. Biographer of Samuel Johnson, helped established the norms for writing biography in general.
Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse (1741–?1788) – French naval captain. Lapérouse was appointed in 1785 by Louis XVI and his minister of marine, the Marquis de Castries, to lead an expedition around the world. He vanished in Oceania with the remains of his expedition being found later in 1826 at the island of Vanikoro, which is part of the Santa Cruz group of islands. Lapérouse was a significant French figure of the Age of Enlightenment.
Dositej Obradović (1742–1811) Serbian. Writer, philosopher and linguist and one of the most influential proponents of Serbian national and cultural Renaissance.
Antoine Lavoisier (1743–1794)French Chemist, executed by the guillotine.
Marquis de Condorcet (1743–1794) French. Philosopher, mathematician, and early political scientist who devised the concept of a Condorcet method.
William Paley (1743–1805) British philosopher known for his exposition of the teleological argument.
Ekaterina Dashkova (1743–1810) Russian. Director of the Imperial Academy of Arts and Sciences (known now as the Russian Academy of Sciences).
Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) American. Statesman, political philosopher, educator. As a philosopher best known for the United States Declaration of Independence (1776) and his interpretation of the United States Constitution (1787) which he pursued as president. Argued for natural rights as the basis of all states, argued that violation of these rights negates the contract which bind a people to their rulers and that therefore there is an inherent "Right to Revolution."
Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803) German. Theologian and linguist. Proposed that language determines thought, introduced concepts of ethnic study and nationalism, influential on later Romantic thinkers. Early supporter of democracy and republican self rule.
Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos (1744–1811), Main figure of the Spanish Enlightenment. Preeminent statesman.
Nikolay Novikov (1744–1818) Russian. Philanthropist and journalist who sought to raise the culture of Russian readers and publicly argued with the Empress. See Russian Enlightenment for other prominent figures.
Joseph-Alexandre-Victor Hupay de Fuveau (1746–1818), writer and philosopher who had used for the first time in 1785 the word "communism" in a doctrinal sense.
Olympe de Gouges (1748–1793), French playwright and activist who championed feminist politics.
Andrés de Guevara y Basoazábal (1748–1801) Mexican. Philosopher, criticized syllogistic formalism, defended inductive and experimental methods, and argued that philosophy and natural science each had their separate terrain and required different methods.
Adam Weishaupt (1748–1830) German who founded the Order of the Illuminati.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) is closely identified with Enlightenment values, progressing from Sturm und Drang "Also usually translated as "Storm and Stress", and participating with Friedrich Schiller in the movement of Weimar Classicism.
Hugo Kołłątaj (1750–1812) Polish. He was active in the Commission for National Education and the Society for Elementary Textbooks, and reformed the Kraków Academy, of which he was rector in 1783–86. He co-authored the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth's Constitution of May 3, 1791, and founded the Assembly of Friends of the Government Constitution to assist in the document's implementation.
James Madison (1751–1836) American. Statesman and political philosopher. Played a key role in the writing of the United States Constitution and providing a theoretical justification for it in his contributions to the Federalist Papers.
Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804) American. Economist, military officer, political theorist. A major protagonist for the Constitution of the United States to replace the Articles of Confederation that preceded it, and the single greatest contributor to the Federalist Papers, advocating for the constitution's ratification through detailed examinations of its construction, philosophical and moral basis, and intent.
José Celestino Mutis (1755–1808), Spanish botanist and mathematician, lead the first botanic expeditions to South America, and built a major collection of plants.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) Austrian. Classical composer, Freemason, devout Catholic, monarchist.
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) British writer, philosopher, and feminist.
Leandro Fernández de Moratín (1760–1828) Spanish. Dramatist and translator, support of republicanism and free thinking. Transitional figure to Romanticism.
Simón Bolívar (1783–1830) Venezuelan. Political leader who played a key role in Latin America's successful struggle for independence from Spain