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The Enlightenment

Unit 5: c. 1750-1900

Main Ideas:

  • Enlightenment ideals promoted the use of rational reasoning in daily life & challenged the role of religion  Questioned the absolutism of existing kingdoms

  • Enlightenment ideals stimulated many reform movements & political revolutions

List of Enlightenment Philosophers

John Locke

All men have "natural rights" of "life, liberty, and property"

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Social Contract Theory: Gov serves the needs of the people; People can overthrow the gov if it fails to meet the needs of the people

Thomas Hobbes

People should adhere to a social contract with the gov to avoid chaos

Baron de Montesquieu

Gov should have multiple branches and a checks & balances system


Rulers shouldn't use religion to justify their rule

Mary Wollstonecraft

Advocated for feminist rights: Wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Olympe de Gouges

Believed French Revolution should also give women's suffrage

Rational Reasoning

The Enlightenment Promoted the Use of Rational Reasoning in Daily Life

Key Ideas:

  • Enlightenment ideals promoted the use of rational reasoning (instead of spiritual reasoning) in daily life, reexamining the role of religion in daily life

    • Rational reasoning: The use of logic and common sense rather than accrediting everything to god

    • Enlightenment philosophy undermined the idea that religion is important in daily life → Encouraged kingdoms to not use religion to justify their rule


  • Enlightenment ideals questioned the absolute power of existing governments and promoted new ideas about the relationship between individuals & the state

    • Philosophers promoted the idea of the equality of all men, questioning existing social hierarchies

    • Philosophers promoted the idea that the purpose of government is to serve the needs of the people, and if the gov fails to do that, the people can overthrow the government (Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "Social Contract" Theory

Reform Movements

The Spread of Enlightenment Thought Encouraged Many Liberal Reform Movements

Key Ideas:

  • Enlightenment ideals about equality encouraged many liberal reform movements about expanding basic civil rights

    • Influenced the abolition of slavery & end of serfdom (achieved in mid 1800s)

    • Influenced movements about universal male suffrage

  • Enlightenment ideals led to demands for women's suffrage, challenging existing gender hierarchies

    • Many women organized feminist movements to promote women's rights:​

      • Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

      • Olympe de Gouges challenged the French Revolution's goal of universal male suffrage, urging for female suffrage as well

      • US feminists organized the Seneca Falls Convention (1848) to promote women's rights

  • Enlightenment ideals influenced many political revolutions concerning independence and equality

    • American Revolution, French Revolution, Haitian Revolution, Latin American Revolutions, were all influenced by Enlightenment ideals about equality​

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