The meaning of the word is actually got from the beginning of his book. According to him, Enlightenment is the mankind’s coming of his final age, emancipation of man’s consciousness from being in a state of error and ignorance. The term seems to have called for tremendous critics specifically in Europe.
Behind this, there were the key enlightenment figures who viewed it differently. There were the Victorians who on the grounds of critics dismissed the phrase “Age of Reason”, the traditional term used to refer to the eighteenth century views. The Victorians alleged that as a moment of not only mechanical but also shallow thinkers. They believed that reason alone meant total knowledge of a man.
Still there existed the Romantics who later argued that however they existed in the world that was being day dreamt about in the world of philosophies of the enlightenment, not even through imagination, feeling or even the might power of the days tradition and history. The very term “Age of Reason” never escaped the Romantics point of view as they thought of the regime as soulless while the conservatives viewed it as too radical. In turn, the radicals just got totally distressed after finding out their leaders, notably Voltaire were at bottom worldly elitists. They found out that the leaders were just salon talkers rather than being revolutionary activists.
According to Kant, it can also be argued that even the historians were in one way or the other figures of enlightenment. They have agreed that this particular labeling of the eighteenth century as an ‘age of reason’ as widely misleading. Majority of the top historical intellectuals actually dismissed the rationalists who were the seventeenth philosophers, notably Leibnz and the Descartes. Some like Goya in his lifetime observed that the ‘sleep of reason’ bears nothing but monsters. Voltaire also delightfully demonstrated in his philosophical writings named Candide, in which the stooge, a doctor by the name Pangloss is completely blinded by his Leibnizian metaphysical conviction that all is for the best in the best of all possible existing world.
Philosophers also played their part in this controversial enlightenment issue though comparing them to the historians it may not be that simple to distinguish them. According to Gay, he believed that enlightenment exponents were neither rational nor were they irrational letting their judgment before feeling, faith, intuition and authority. The historians would criticize all such simple minded extremes simply because they were, most of all, critics, with an aim to test human intelligence as a mere engine for understanding human nature, analyzing man as a sociable being together with his natural environment were he resides. Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopédie defined this controversial philosopher as one who ‘messes up with prejudice’, universal consent, tradition and authority.
Intellectuals, the likes of Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia, advanced the science on electricity, having invented the bifocal spectacles and lightning conductors. They also made history considering that they set up the current American republic. Much defined knowledge of intellectuals, the likes of Diderot Condorcet has proved the former caricature of philosophies as simply dogmatic system builders infatuated with lots of pet economic nostrums.
Gay joyfully conceded that the time ancient historical intellectuals, though they sometimes differed on particular issues, shared a common character when it came to criticizing the injustices and letting open the inefficiencies of ancient regime. He insisted that these men of brains assisted in emancipating mankind through science, education, knowledge, from deep rooted ignorance cum error, superstition and the alleged theological dogma. They intended to instill a better and new wave of hope if at all there were expectations of a better future, engage into practical action for the creation of a bit greater prosperity, fairer laws and regulations, wash away religious intolerance, total intellectual freedom, excellent administration and heightened personal awareness.
Gay, in his ambition was able to show that the intellectuals were a little bit complex beings and whose ideas have varied over time with the elapsing time rather than only appearing in history books. In their efforts to realize their goals, the historians who were also in the list of enlightenment figures were trying to do away with the reference of the eighteenth century as an ‘age of reason’. In their due process of spreading enlightenment, they insisted that experience and experiment were the key factors to making a knowledgeable being hence letting open the reality about enlightenment.
These men of enlightenment had a distinctive stand pertaining religion. Voltaire, a historian actually went on to the offensive against the prevailing evils of religion. This later became the famous catchphrase ‘destroy the famous one’ .It would actually be simplistic upon jumping into the conclusion that Gay had declared a total war on religion whatsoever.
It is further notable of how religion undermining which was championed by the philosophers led to moral nihilism of the French Revolutionary Terror. Unlike some particular agents in history, namely political organizations and religious sects, it never had a formal program, creed or either a formal constitution. The so called Dissenters allegedly dissented from the Church of England.
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Great thinkers claim that experience of twentieth century police states should have taught the generation that followed why the Philosophers had to actually speak in foreign languages under varied circumstances: then they had to be blunt, hold forth in riddles if not fables. This was meant to circumvent the all-present censor, as open talking was proved not easy and neither was it effective.
Enlightenment has been interpreted in several ways. Interpretation may hinge upon whether we view the Enlightenment as a 'militant tendency' which operates amidst a hostile environment. This was a form of irony depicted by Gibbon who was referring to the ancient activities of the early Christians or as just a much bigger ideology or mentalité. The irony is in the real sense put across to show some kind of disapproval to Christianity and its practices.
While considering the political views the enlightenment era, the French thinker Michael Faucalt presumed that enlightenment principles and absolutist policy fused based on rational administration, to highlight social policies. For instance, several kinds of misfits namely the old, ill, beggars and not assuming the petty criminals and the mad were swept away from the streets, collected and locked up in institutions as they were considered as ‘unreasonable social residue’.
The writer claims that it may never matter that Voltaire held office as we may as well point out that for many years he was in communication with Frederick (the great) of Prussia. Frederick held advanced views. Further information points out that he was flagrantly irreligious. He mostly busied himself with the organization of his kingdom. Prussia was a militarized and a war hungry state very indifferent to individual civil and political liberties.
Interestingly, the rulers and administrators could heed the prompting of reason, this was meant to solely create their power and consequently enhance their authority in oppressive ways which just humiliated. What should never be assumed is the fact that for the entire celebration of cosmopolitanism, the tone, priorities and orientation of the same enlightenment varied from place to place and even from a certain kingdom to another. We can also conclude that despite the contentions of friends and enemies, the enlightenment was not actually responsible for invention of French revolution. It is questionable whether this would be so decisive a verdict as though we thought that the Communist Party failed and even in some nations to provoke a revolution.
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Back to the 'Age of Reason' the era found new friends in the nineteenth century. The Romantics judged it soulless, at the same time the conservatives thought it being too radical while the radical became more than distressed after discovering their leader, notably Voltaire were just at worldly elitists and also salon talkers rather than being revolutionary activists. It was only in the twentieth century when the real complexities of the actual relations between ideology and action have showed up to us and then the subtle ironies about the enlightenment at last come to be appreciated.
The Philosophers and just as Gay said, were contemptuous of dreamers with their head deep into the clouds. They championed what the Marxists were later to call ‘Praxis’. The moment Diderot visited Russia at least at the behest of Catherine the great, he clearly and deeply explained to her what her country required above all were artisans and craftsmen.