Scientific Revolution During the Enlightenment Period


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The enlightenment was a period that was preceded by arguably one of the most important revolutions of all time, the scientific revolution. Yet with many of those in Europe, and some other surrounding countries, held on to their outdated beliefs with clenched fists and refused to let go; thus leading historians to question exactly how the scientific revolution made its huge impact and acceptance into the world. The scientific revolution may have never come to light as the wonderfully inquisitive era it was, if not for the major methods used by enlightenment thinkers to get the word out. These thinkers were predominantly geared towards three different ways to quickly impact the world around them, in order for the rest of the world to be enlightened as well. These methods were to use literature as a means of distributing ideas, as well as education that leaned more towards science and arts than theology, and through the mouths of the public themselves.

Literature has always been a catalyst for new eras and cultural practices, and typically when one examines the major works of a time period a pretty decent understanding can come of that time period as well. As Kant would later argue, everyone needed to be literate (to a certain degree) so that society could become enlightened; since communication was a necessity to the public sphere. This theory would show truest during the enlightenment period, as reading slowly became not just for the wealthy or educated but as well for those whose vernacular might not be as strong or pockets not so full. The industrial revolution had allowed certain goods (such as books) to be produced in larger quantities but also at cheaper rates; which allowed for those who could not at first afford literature to crave different books, pamphlets, and journals. As the literacy rates increased, literacy rates almost doubled in france during the eighteenth century, then the demand for good literature soon followed. After the church had been at fault for its many abuses brought to light the previous centuries, this causes a increases in books being published about sciences and arts while the number of books on religion dropped to a mere 10% of it’s original total. Now with the steppingstones, thanks to previous revolutions and eras, the major enlightenment figures now had their biggest catapult for their thoughts and beliefs to be spread all around the world; and all it took was one book, journal, or pamphlet to be written and then it could be spread as far as the people would take it. One example of this would be Pierre Bayle’s journal Nouvelles de la Republique des Lettres, where he addresses an assortment of enlightenment ideals and mainly focuses on a world governed by knowledge. Specifically science was spread through scientific journals, which made their first appearance during the Enlightenment. The first was the Parisian Journal des Sçavans, but the scientific journals did not become increasingly popular until they were translated into german and dutch, so that the poor (who could not read latin or french) could as well read the texts.

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Unfortunately like most things in life, the upperclass still found a way to exclusively take over a part of this era; as they were the fortunate enough to get an education. With education in this time period many changes would come, there would be a shift towards natural history in the curriculums, as well as the advancement of schools and universities that shifted away from ‘old­school religious outlooks’, and the establishment of learned academies. Prior to the scientific revolution colleges and universities were predominantly dominated by religion and theology. Even after the scientific revolution this was still a prevailing topic in education. Yet the enlightenment era helped to diminish this through the radical changes it introduced to education and school. The enlightenment emphasized what was discussed by intellectuals rather than the state of education. This led to a pressure on the schools to teach more in order to round young minds rather than an intellectual being an expert on only one subject, which was predominantly on theology. This led to natural history becoming increasingly more popular for the upper class to be educated in. Natural history was basically a way of studying science without calling it science, since it still had somewhat of a negative connotation in years before. This field encompassed botany, zoology, meteorology, and mineralogy. These topics seemingly promised preparation for more intellectual careers as well as becoming a more intellectual person. It was this topic, Natural History,that helped to spread the forward thinking and knowledge seeking of the time period.

Learned academies was also another way for scholars to gather in an educational setting, in order to learn without limits. The major academy was the Academy of Science in Paris, which promoted new disciplines (such as those covered by natural history), as well as train new scientists. These academies demonstrate how, by the implementation of them, there was a huge rise in science and secularization. Yet these academies largest contribution was their concours academiques, or academic contests. Though contests have dated back as late as the Middle Ages, these contests tended to focus on religion or art. Yet in the 1700’s it would change, as the topics would expand to science, philosophy, politics, and public controversy; as well anyone could participate regardless of previous education. Although for the large part, it was the wealthier of society competing, the competition made sure applicants were completely anonymous in order for the judging to be fair. These competitions sparked the country’s inhabitants competitive spirit as people were intrigued by the idea of winning prizes at such undiscovered topics.

In the end it is clear that society may not be as advanced technologically, scientifically, or intellectually if not for the enlightenment era and it’s thinkers using unconventional methods to push their ideals. Despite all these methods being successful, the best had to be literature as a means to dispense thoughts and ideas. The tactic of using literature to impact the public was the best solution in terms of it was able to reach the most amount of people regardless of race, class, and (for the most part) age. It was as well cheaper due to the printing press and could be translated into multiple languages so that larger populations could all receive the same message. As well, due to it being literature, it was not just a somewhat more fun way to learn but also a subconscious way of learning; since a lot of times authors of that era wrote about the enlightenment in a hidden context within the novels in order to get the reader hooked. Despite this, all three of the aforementioned methods worked as they all reached different audiences and were able to change the course of history with just a little idea.

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