s a great time of changein both Europe and America. Some of the biggest changes, however, happenedin the minds of many and in the writings of many philosophers. Theseincluded some of the beliefs of David Hume, JeanJacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Francois Voltaire.
Writers during thistime focused on optimism, which is the opinion to do everything for thebest (Chaney119), and the best for these philosophers was to stretch the minds of theordinary. David Hume was Scottish and was born on April 26, 1711 and diedin1776. He states that he was not born into a rich family and was born intotheCalvinist Presbyterian Church. However, after being influenced by the worksofIsaac Newton and John Locke he began to draw back from the Church. Hewrites inEnquiry, “The idea of God, as meaning an infinitely intelligent, wise andgood Being, arises from reflecting on the operations of our own mind, andaugmenting, without limit, those qualities of goodness and wisdom.”(Pomerleau214) The questions he brought up against religion were that concreteexperiences must lead us and that we must think about the quality of thestories that were handed down to us. He wanted everyone to only believe theactions that one experienced, there has to be proof. He also believed thatthere were four basic problems to the stories that we hear.
First of all,the facts to the stories are never the same to everyone. Second, we stretchthe truth to make everything interesting. Third, people who do notunderstand these stories tend to make things up. Finally, not all of thereligions agree. Therefore, the stories conflicted each other leaving aperson to not know what to believe. He believes that “Our most holyreligion is founded on Faith, not on reason; and it is a sure method ofexposing it to put it to such a trial as it is, by no means, fitted toendure.
” (215) Hume also believed in the social contract. This is thatkings are in power because of luck and citizens should have control overtheir own power. During Hume’s lifetime a representative government was notsomething that countries thrived on. He also thought that the duties of menwere to love children and to pity those that are less fortunate. He alsothought that one should respect other’s properties and keep our promises.Hume argued that we are born into our family with the knowledge passed onto us, from this pointHume says that government is only an interference in the lives of people.He uses the example of American Tribes where no one needs a government tokeep peace within the group (Pomerleau 222).
These are the two main pointsthat Hume tried to make. They are the basis of what got people to thinkabout their lives and decide that what they have now might not be the bestthing that their life can accomplish. From his points of view, we can moveon to another influential philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau. Jean JacquesRousseau was born in Geneva in1712.
His first years in his life were very hard because his mother diedshortly after birth and he was sent to live with his aunt. However, hislife turned around and he married and began his life as a philosopher.Rousseau was involved with the social contract like Hume.
His book,however, did not become popular until after the French Revolution becausethese were the conditions that the revolution was based on (Chambers 669).His ideal government would contain a small state, prevention ofoverpowering businesses, and equality in rank and fortune (Castell 419). Hedistrusted the aristocrats because he believed they were drawing away fromtraditions that were once held very high (“TheEnlightenment,” http). To him kings are just concerned with themselves andwhen one dies, another one is needed. None of these people ever take in toconsideration the less fortunate. Everyone has to move to the beliefs ofone man. Rousseau felt that the government should be in the hands of many,not just one. Ideally, everyone in a society needs to be in agreement withone another.
Another belief that Rousseau represented was deism, which is that godcreated the universe and then allowed it to run according to natural lawand not interfering with it anymore. Again, these questions began to bedisputed and the people began to realize that their lives could mean morethan just what the higher officials might say. They began to think aboutwhat life and the world is really about. This brings us to the nextphilosopher, Immanuel Kant. ImmanuelKant was born on April 22, 1724. Kant studied both Hume and Rousseau andrethought his aspects of science and shifted a little towards philosophy.
In addition to his thinking, he also spent a lot of time lecturing atKonigsberg,Martin Knutzen. His two main scientific questions dealt with how far canthe scientific method be applied to everything and how to explainscientific knowledge. He realizes that both of these cause the mind tostart with some given information and an answer is then given for humans tounderstand (Stumpf302). Kant was firm in his belief on a priori knowledge, which is theknowledge that is prior to experiences, but he also states that noteverything can be based on experiences since we cannot experienceeverything. From these beliefs, he also believed in two realities,phenomenal and noumena. Phenomena, derived from a Greek word meaning “thatwhich appears,” (Castell 599) is the world as we experience it and noumenais intelligible or nonsensual reality.
In the world we only experiencephenomena because noumena is present but it is external from us and onlyappears as it is organized by us (Stumpf 312). From a social standpoint,Kant believed that as long as a man could support himself and ownedproperty he should be qualified as a citizen. He states that if everyone isrequired to pay for public welfare then everyone should have his or herfreedom guaranteed. If this if present then there is no need for arebellion, which will lead to a stronger government. Kant feels that thisis hard to obtain because people need a political balance but at the sametime they need to be able to keep their freedom. A type of freedom that hefeels should be held by all is the freedom that everyone is punished thesame and the death penalty should only be carried out only when anindividual is proven guilty (Stumpf316). Kant believed in God because he felt that if one would deny allexistence that did not support any logic, then nothing at all would existto anyone.
He also states that “it is morally necessary to assume theexistence ofGod.” (Stumpf 319) From this he also realizes that one does not necessarilyneed to believe in God, but one needs to respect the beliefs “for duty’ssake.” When thinking about God, according to Kant, it is an experience thatwe can not experience.
Kant takes us to the last of the four majorphilosophers on the enlightenment period, Francois Voltaire. He based a lotof his thoughts on the three previous philosophers but did not speak tothem directly. His writings are fewer but more radical that the others.Francois Voltaire lived from 1694-1778. To most he was known as the mostvigorous antireligious debater.He was the philosopher that was favoring deism the most. He wished thateveryone would stop Christianity and follow his beliefs. One reason that hefelt this was because from his experiences, bad things came from religion(Chambers 660).
Voltaire, unlike Rousseau, favored the aristocracy and was often invited totheir parties to talk about some of his ideas. From this Voltaire, unlikemany of the philosophers of his day, was often left to think about thingson his own (“The Enlightenment,” http) and another reason for this isbecause for twenty eight years he was held in succession from Paris forsome of his extreme writings. One of the most disturbing things inVoltaire’s life was from the earthquake in Lisbon on Nobember1, 1755. Thiswas one thing that Voltaire could not understand and thought about forever.He did not want to turn to God as everyone else did, nor did he want to beon the side of the atheist. He was stuck in the middle and only left withthe thought of the innocent people that were killed (Gay 52). For most ofthe philosophers during the time of theEnlightenment, things were bad.
Most of them had to publish their books insecrecy and still had to deal with them getting burned as officials foundout.This would be a very big disappointment, but they later prove that some oftheir beliefs are right when people begin to rebel because of the dramaticmessages that they sent to people. Whether philosophy, religion, orpolitics were the basis of one’s reading they were generally flippedaround.
It is said that educated people have the power to do anything, andduring the Enlightenment this source of power is obvious and is carriedout. Whether the readers believed the philosophers or not, it got thereader thinking and he talked to his friends and the revolts began. TheEnlightenment was a time of change but it was also a time that dealt withthe “unreality” that some thought could be but never were because some wereso extreme or contradicted each other from philosopher to philosopher.