Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment: Periods of Most Breakthroughs in World’s History

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The Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment (1500-1800) challenged the mindset of educated Europeans in the areas of mathematics, science, anatomy, and philosophy. Those who followed the ideas and discoveries of these breakthroughs were referred to as “moderns” (Hansen 457). They traded the dogmas of the church and classical beliefs in science for a more individualistic, rational approach to the natural environment, including deductive and inductive reasoning.

The concepts of deductive and inductive reasoning came forth during the Scientific Revolution. Rene Descartes developed the idea of deductive reasoning—starting with a premise and then determining whether or not it is true with absolute proof. He believed that logic was applicable to science and mathematics, and also to bigger picture of finding out the truth about God and the existence of mankind. For instance, Descartes summed up his own doubts concerning human actuality with the well-known phrase, “I think, therefore I am.” Through deductive reasoning, Descartes was able to prove his own existence, and eventually, the existence of God because of his ability to think logically. Inductive reasoning is the practice of discovering large phenomenons—typically natural—based on smaller, controlled observations. This form of thinking was strongly supported by Sir Francis Bacon, who once theorized that if man is willing to have doubts, they will eventually lead him to solutions, rather than the other way around. Both of these methods contributed to the development of the scientific method because they “emphasized belief in the ability of human reason to strive towards God’s truth on the basis of science.” They are still utilized today in the branches of modern mathematics, science, theology, and philosophy (458).

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Another contributor who worked with Bacon’s and Descartes’s theories was Sir Isaac Newton, a Christian Englishman. Under their studies, he was able to invent a differential calculus to chart the movement of planets, thereby relating their motions to gravitational acceleration and deceleration. This was one of the greatest findings to increase knowledge of the natural world through scientific law. By the eighteenth century, former unease about abandoning tradition started to fade, and it was becoming more common to accept these beliefs. Europe was quickly advancing in using scientific strategies to logically organize society and economics. This officially led to the philosophical age of Enlightenment in 1700, and the emergence of leading figures such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Adam Smith.

Thomas Hobbes was a friend of Descartes, and applied deductive reasoning in his quest to figure out how to logically maintain social and political order within society. He rejected the idea of divine right and established “[order] becomes possible only when individuals relinquish their autonomy to a ruler.” John Locke, conversely, used Bacon’s method of inductive reasoning to observe the same order, and came to the conclusion that there is a “contract” which holds the political bond between a ruler and their people, which grants everyone the rights of “life, liberty, and property” (464). Economist and philosopher Adam Smith was similar to Locke in that he supported the protection of basic human rights. This inspired him to write Wealth of Nations in the late eighteenth century, a series of classical economics that discussed free markets, division of labor, and the opposition of slavery and labor contracts. Smith believed that global businesses would benefit from the free market because it would promote specialized goods from each nation, and ultimately provide economic gain for everyone through international trade, which was a very optimistic view compared to the perspective of other philosophers of the time.

The Enlightenment did not only impact social and political aspects, economics, and science, nor were men the only people to influence its events. Philosophy and logic were absorbed into literary pieces during this period, many of which written by women. Notably, Mary Wollenstonecraft composed Vindication for the Rights of Women (1792). This piece argued that women could not be expected to raise their sons in an educated, rational manner if their mothers did not receive the means to do so through their own education and finances, instead staying in an environment where they would be trapped until their beauty faded, leaving them empty and useless in the eyes of society. Yet perhaps the most groundbreaking literary collection published during the Enlightenment was the Encyclopedia. Created in Paris, it gave access to universal, in-depth topics of scientific and philosophical information “based on reason and critical use of the human intellect” (465). The Encyclopedia has been translated into multiple languages and continues to offer a systematic method of looking up information that the modern world still utilizes today.

Overall, the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment were similar to most breakthroughs in our world’s history. Although there were early premonitions about the spread of science and reason across Europe, they led to major developments that have influenced nations, broadened many fields of study, and continue to shape how we think and learn in every day life decades after they initially began.

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