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The Enlightenment Period

Introduction

What were the common themes of the Enlightenment?

The common themes were a set of values that included the following:

  1. Imbuing all other values was the importance of reason and its uses to discover ideal forms of human nature and society.

  2. The belief in the natural goodness of man, which was to be rediscovered by the reform of corrupt institutions.

  3. An overall secularity and downplaying of traditional Christian transcendence.

  4. A new aesthetic and ethics based on the goodness of nature.

  5. Perhaps most important, a great faith in progress or the belief that the present is better than the past and that the future will be better than the present.

Nevertheless, none of the paramount Enlightenment thinkers simply played out these themes in direct ways. They almost all used reason or rational thought—together with a fair amount of wit—to propound and develop their ideas. The ideas themselves, though, sometimes had unforeseen consequences. That is, often the Enlightenment geniuses went too far, or were not able to fully think things through. As a result, skepticism, pessimism, and romantic madness took over when the ideas of progress and the ideals of human reason ran out.



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