What is the Enlightenment?

Rococo and the Eighteenth Century Read more from
Chapter Baroque and Beyond C. 1600–1850

Also known as the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment was an eighteenth-century cultural movement that promoted rationalism and empiricism in philosophy, politics, religion, science, and the arts. Important rationalist thinkers of the age included Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot, Jean d’Alembert, and Immanuel Kant, who were inspired by earlier philosophers such as René Descartes. During the Enlightenment, the laws of nature were considered to be rational and well-ordered and it was believed that humanity was capable of controlling the natural world. In science, the scientific method was developed, and electricity and oxygen were discovered. Thinkers such as John Locke and Thomas Jefferson questioned the divine right of rulers. The Enlightenment coincided with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, in which changes in agriculture and manufacturing had a dramatic impact on wealth distribution and social class structure in Europe. New technologies such as the steam engine and the production of iron dramatically changed the way in which goods were produced. The Enlightenment was a positive and hopeful time, punctuated by revolution and political turmoil, as the world transitioned from the pre-modem to the modern age.

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