The Age of Reason
Posted by Erin on January 11, 1998 at 13:24:36:
In response to thanks, Myretta, and......, written by Caroline on January 11, 1998 at 12:31:32
Has anyone got a really good description of what "The age of Enlightenment" was? And how the ideas it upheld permeated the whole of society, not just ideas about literature and art? I think a definition would be 'enlightening ' in itself
Caroline --I finally have a purpose/use at the board!
I must point out that any 'brief' description of the era and its intellectual movements will inherently be incomplete.
As a cultural period, the age of Enlightenment is distinguished by fervent efforts to make reason (rational faculties) the absolute ruler of human life. The term 'enlightenment' generally refers to a period ranging from the early 17thc. to early 19thc.
Individual thinkers frequently alternated between optimism and despair, since awareness of the greatness of which human beings were capable was always qualified by the perception of the sorry state of the world. The range of diagnosis and proposed solutions makes it difficult to generalize, but two contrasting trends can be discerned: the pessimism of Jonathan Swift countered rational humanists, such as Diderot, and political philosophers like Rousseau based their veiws on the fundamental goodness of human nature (society was bad). It seems that Voltaire fell between the two ethics.
Essentially, Enlightenment thought is characterized by the belief that the world and man --his/herself is entirely intelligible through the faculty of reason. Reason grants humanity it's noblity and superiorty over every other living organism --a positive humanism. Developments in science further enhanced the supremacy of human reason. It was the age of Newton, who granted a view of a hidden world determined by invisible forces, which was accessible to the human mind via the rational principles of mathematics. Again, the fact that the human mind apprehended these forces of nature (and universe) underscored the belief that: (i) the world was ordered, it had a discernable purpose and structure, (ii) man can witness the ordered universe via reason.
Austen was brought up on this optimistic view and was fundamentally loyal to the virtues the philosophy put forth: balance, limits, definition. One can see the how much her work displayed these principles when compared to the Romantically inspired Brontes, who wrote about the un-discovered, irrational territory of the imagination and emotion.
Posting followups to old messages is disabled; instead go to the main index and post a new message which mentions this one.