The Age of Science and the Enlightenment era is 1600s and 1700s also known and pronounced as the Age of Reason that initiated the number of new concepts and ideas to Europe. These ideas still significantly permeate in today’s society.
The Enlightenment was the outcome of intellectual and cultural changes in Europe during the eras of 1500s and 1600s. The significance of these transforms was the Scientific Revolution of the 1500s and 1600s. Through this Scientific Revolution, European philosophers and thinkers altered the dimensions of “scientific” beliefs that was established by the ancient people and continued by the Church. In that era, scientists tried to discover the new laws leading to the phenomena that they observed and gained via nature and natural things. (Palmer, 1964)
There are number of figures and personalities that played the key role in that era such as Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Bacon, or Locke etc. Their contributions in the Age of Enlightment were unique and explored new dimensions of thinking to perceive the nature and universe. Here, I would like to discuss about Galileo Galilee, Bacon, Smith and Voltaire and their contributions in scientific revolution and Enlightenment.
Figures from the scientific revolution
In the 1500s, Galileo Galilee presented the new idea by challenging the old ones about motion of earth and our solar system. He devised the scientific method, where rather than guessing about probable results of a testing or research, he developed the controlled experiments that could show factual outcomes. Besides that, Galileo had also developed the concept of gravity that produces the constant acceleration and the law of inertia. In addition, in the field of astronomy, he revealed four new moons of Jupiter, and gave unique proof to the Copernican theory. His scientific method gave a new dimension to Western civilization, rather than just accepting the influence.
The key element of Galileo's system that significantly influenced all consequent European inquiry into the universe’s nature was his firmness that the mathematical principles are involved and incorporated in the Universe. The mathematical model of Universe was The Ptolemaic model that developed to support predictions but was not developed to be a universe’s physical description. Both the Keplerian and Copernican systems were principally proposed as the mathematical rather than the physical models. Galileo insisted that all universes’ physical description would of requirement be a mathematical explanation. His ground-breaking argument was this: if a model of physical body did not adjust with the mathematical properties of that phenomenon, the model of physical body was not right. This had become the foundation of a philosophical shift in European’s knowledge that is also known as classical mechanics.
Francis Bacon added an important component to the mechanical universe’s genesis in his aggression on traditional knowledge. Particularly, he disagreed that all the old systems of understanding should be discarded rather than he pronounced that as model of knowledge. He believed that knowledge shouldn't be extracted only from book, but from experience as well. He further elaborated that Europeans should go further their classical views and observed the nature and human phenomena from a new and different angle. He projected the induction Aristotelean model and empiricism model as the ideal model of human awareness. In inductive thinking, one starts by observing the variety of ideas and developed the principles to elaborate those observations.. This systematic empirical induction model was the part that solved the puzzle in the European world’s view and made the scientific revolution probable.
Francis Bacon and Galileo Galilee were those scientists that are well known about their breathtaking concepts and ideas. However, both of them were highly criticized by the specific segment of the society but later their work and ideology was highly appreciated and caused to begin the Enlightenment era and revolution in Europe. (Scottman, 2008)
Figures from the Enlightenment
Adam Smith is one of the important theorists of the 18th century. Smith said that human development principally consisted in the stable progress of human life through the growing wealth of a nation cumulatively. His book, The Wealth of Nations is a methodical attempt to elaborate the processes about the wealth of a nation grows.
Smith explained the number of characteristics of developing economies. The first is division of labor. The revolution in labor in the 18th and 19th centuries when productive tasks were bifurcated among a number of workers, each doing a unique task, brought a revolution in production in which production was increased significantly. Smith's argument was/is that all meaning and values in individual life is to be found in creative labor; the significant increase of production, then, not only outcome in more nation’s wealth but the bigger meaning and value for person’s life.
Second, all monopolies and regulations are the barrier in productive labor. People work for their own profit but in contrast; monopolies and regulations do away with the incentive and profit that discourage the productivity.
Smith suggested an economic liberty system, in which every person has the option to choose that how to expend the capital and the productive labor. This concept of economic liberty was known as “laissez faire”; if persons were allowed to follow their own aims, then the wealth of the nation would be increased cumulatively. This aims, although, would not be headed to social injustice; behind this economic liberty there is a corrective power that is “invisible hand" which governed people into appropriate direction and action.
Third, the world has unlimited resources that could be used for the betterment of humanity. It was incumbent on human beings to move toward the resources not as scarce but as considerably abundant. The idea that the world has unlimited resources open to human utilization is such a widespread aspect of the lives that it is hard to believe that it is a modern idea that can be dated back to Smith's concept.
The most significant of the French philosophers was Voltaire. Voltaire focused on two specific philosophical works. First, he tirelessly tried to introduce empiricism, as it was adopted by the English, into French scholarly life. Second, he continued in proselytizing for tolerance in religious affairs. Voltaire quarreled all over the French rationalist’s tradition and focused tirelessly to make an empiricism based French philosophy. Even though, the French firmly remained deeply rooted in rationalism, much of French pragmatic science owes its birth to the Voltaire’s works. Voltaire had favored most of his life on religious tolerance. Voltaire's argument was very simple: “the most inhuman crimes perpetrated by humanity throughout its entire history have been perpetrated in the name of religion. Mass extermination, torture, infanticide, regicide: behind just about every abominable human crime lay some religious zealotry or passionate religious commitment. The most vicious crimes, though, are those perpetrated by Christians against other Christians who belong to a different sects or church. Since religion does not admit of certainty, and since so many sects and religions have so many things in common, the Treatise argues that people should be allowed to practice whatever religion they see fit, particularly if it's a Christian religion. Individual governments should not impose religious systems on an entire state. The ultimate argument of the book is that secular values should take precedence over religious values; until that happens, human history will be marked by viciousness and inhumanity.” (Hooker, 1996)
Voltaire and Adam Smith both emphasized on reason based approach, they preferred to be realistic and pragmatic than to be idealistic and theorist. Their work and ideas were the catalyst to enlighten the dark era of Europe that was covered with the cloud of different concepts and theories of that time.