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German enlightenment refers to a period between mid seventeenth century and early nineteenth century, which helped to build up the German philosophy, political, economic and social frameworks. It was an intellectual movement which aimed at applying scientific knowledge and philosophy to provide solutions to the issues affecting people. The Enlightenment was driven by the scientific revolution which had already gained roots in Europe. It can therefore be said that this concept represented an intense expansion of man’s mental capacity, his opposition to illogical ways of thinking, superstition and the dictatorship that existed within the governing structures by then (Biesinger, 2006). This paper will focus on the German enlightenment drawing more attention on the major events and characters who contributed to its success.
German was split into around four hundred small regions which were each headed by a prince. The entire region was then collectively ruled by the Holy Roman Empire. Although the region was prosperous, it had been greatly destroyed by war which had lasted for thirty years. This was one of the major events that brought about enlightenment in the country. The war brought about a transformation in the way German writers addressed the issue of warfare and nationalism (Villon, 2006). These authors advocated for solutions to the problems that were affecting German by then. They managed to sell their ideas to other people through their writings thereby invoking them to embrace concepts of Enlightenment.
The war left many people dead thereby reducing the population of the region by almost a third. Negative impacts of the war include a decline in the economic and population growth of the area. This was due to the successive wars that rocked the place during the eighteenth century. It is quite clear that disasters of the war brought more damage to the adherents but not the princes (Villon, 2006). The princes had their own armies who protected them. However, their subjects were very vulnerable in case attacks were directed towards them.
Thomas Hobbes was a figure that caused a lot of debate after he released his article titled “Leviathan” in 1651. Although done in England, this event helped to liberalize people’s minds. What followed was overthrow of James II, who was a catholic king and instead, he was replaced by protestant and more liberal kings. Later on other revolutions ensued which saw institution of the Bill of Rights which gave more freedom to individuals (Biesinger, 2006).
During the middle ages, there were staunch religious loyalty and immeasurable cruelty. This was the time when the Holy Roman Empire ensured that its strong values that it stood by, were followed to the suit by subjects within its territories. As a result, there were brutal persecutions of heretics mainly through physical torture and death (Biesinger, 2006). These practices were well accepted during this period. Besides, the social framework was also highly hierarchical. Social classes constituting the masters and slaves were a common practice. The idea of individual rights was unheard off and as a matter of fact, most of the servants lived at the mercies of their masters (Villon, 2006). However, it did not take long before Germans and other Europeans realized the importance for having radical changes in the entire social, economic, political and philosophical aspects of life. This is what gave forth to enlightenment. There was gradual transformation from barbaric way of doing things to a more formal and liberal way (Biesinger, 2006).
Metaphysics of Morals was a contribution to the moral philosophy. It had an in-depth explanation that related to the categorical imperative, which formed the basis of concept of moral philosophy. It had three major sections that included firstly starting from the normal reason rising up to the ultimate unconditional law. The second approach moved backward from this point to establish the importance as well as the power of the moral law. The third and the last section of this work were somewhat obscure and it became ungraspable even to the authors themselves.
The work on metaphysics of morals generally argues that it is mandatory for reason to be the major ground for all moral actions and that actions performed out of obedience or convenience should not be considered moral despite the fact that sometimes they might be the right thing to do. This has the implication that morality of any action should be solely reliant on motivation for any action undertook. As such, if an individual arrives at a general inference that a certain action is worth and later pursues it, it can be concluded that that action was moral. These ideas were so significant during and after the life of Kant as it influenced the works of many other philosophers such as Marx, Niestzsche and Hegel who intensively borrowed from it.
After the defeat of the Romans in the 9th century by the Germans, The Germans remained secure from the Romans. This battle ensured that the Romans never attacked Germans beyond Rhine. The 772 battle by the Franks, a Germanic group, which attacked the Saxons left not less than 4000 Saxon captives beheaded, and the survivors were converted into Christianity by force (History World International, 2012). This explains the reason as to why majority of English men still adhere to Christianity up to date. It is also at this war that Bavaria was captured and made a part of the Germans. This happened precisely in 800 A.D (History World International, 2012).
Another significant event in the history of Germany was the Battle of Lechfeld which was led by Otto the Great in 955 A.D. After defeating the Magyars in 955, this successful war completely ended threat to Germany from the Magyars and ensured peace would overwhelm German domains (Lambert, 2012). Being influenced by the claims of a Christian thinker, Augustine, that God formed the Roman Empire in order to bring law to the people, Otto and the other emperors claimed to be followers of the ancient Roman Empire. The church was also empowered and there was a feeling that there should be only one religion with the pope as its head. This was the origin of Roman Catholic Church (Lambert, 2012).
The works of Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe in the field of theology, literature, drama, humanism science and poetry is yet another event that have had influence on many other works to date. These works also included development of an unconventional theory about light and color, which had a lot of influence on other artists (Buzzle.com, 2012). Discoveries on plants and animals, something that later influenced Darwin’s works which forms part of the school syllabi even today. The Second World War by Adolf Hitler is another event that left millions of people dead and destroyed a lot of property worth. Additionally, the Nazi genocide left over six million Jews dead (BBC, 2012).
In the realm of philosophy, many philosophers have had a major influence on the great scholars and a considerable percentage of today’s philosophy borrows from the ancient German philosophers like Arthur Schopenhauer. His use of simple language, something that was uncommon in the field of philosophy by then, has been emulated by others in order to produce works that can be understood by many people. He was also the very first thinker who studied Indian teachings, Buddhism and the Upanishads and hence broke ground for study in those sectors (Buzzle.com, 2012).
German enlightenment is also known as the age of reason which occurred in Germany in 1650 to 1800 century. It was patronized by intellectuals in Germany who sought to enlighten the Germans thus making reforms in the country. They sought to advance knowledge through scholarly enlightenment through science and intellectual discussions and interchanges (Biesinger, 2006). The intellectuals wanted to do away with intolerance, ignorance and superstations in Germany. According to these intellectuals the people of Germany needed enlightenment because they suffered abuse by the church and the state. The intellectuals thought that only through enlightenment would the Germans be able to set themselves free from abuse by the church and the state. They wanted the Germans to fight for their rights which they would only know through education. The following is an analysis of enlightenment age in Germany and the people who facilitated it.
The scholars who sparked the enlightenment age consisted of Baruch Spinoza who was a philosopher. He is credited with inspiring fundamental enlightenment in Germany. His philosophy was mostly political and sought to bring democracy and equality (Ozment, 2005). He advocated for racial and sexual equality by opposing dualism of mind and body. He argued that the mind should be viewed as indecent from the body that holds it. He facilitated his campaign through publications where he explained the rationale of middle age philosophy and its implications in society. He explained that the philosophy perpetuated in Middle Ages was retrogressive and turned against the very people who practiced it in palliation of rational thinking (Biesinger, 2006).
Spinoza also encouraged freedom of thought without political or religious influence. He rationalized that people should have the freedom to argue out circumstances without being influenced by fear from political implications or threat from religious beliefs (Biesinger, 2006). Spinoza directly opposed the government in their policies that thwarted freedom of the press. He enlightened the people that they had the freedom to gain information and therefore the press should be left free form political interference to disseminate information. He also encouraged the people of Germany to fight for their freedom to express their desires and wishes especially in governance. He encouraged the people to fight for their freedom of expression and meeting because they had a free country and everyone in it should be free to say or do whatever they wish to so long as it is legal.
Spinoza also wanted the religious authority be eradicated from education and the processes of legislature (Ozment, 2005). He argued this is because everyone had a right to choose the religion or beliefs to conform to and therefore one religion could not be involved in the legislature that governed the whole of Germany. He argued that involvement of religion in education matters corrupted education by teaching conservatively and disseminating knowledge that was only permitted by the religious beliefs. This was retrogressive and unfair to people who sought knowledge of science and physics. His argument was based on the act that religion was entirely against the principles of science and only sought to adhere to the bible with happenings that could not be explained by experiment unlike science.
He wanted the church to be fully separated from the state matters and leave governance of political nature to politicians while spiritual guidance was to be left to the clergy (White, 2001). He argued that failure to separate the two would lead to declaration that Germany was a one religion country which was oppressive to the rights of Germans to choose the religious beliefs that they should conform to. His teachings which were mostly in form of publications of science experiments and principles encouraged the Germans to fight for their fundamental rights as citizens and believers. His teachings also laid the foundation of enlightenment in Germany in the succeeding years after his death.
John Locke is another intellectual who encouraged enlightenment in Germany. He introduced moderate enlightenment through metaphysics (Ozment, 2005). He was mainly a political philosopher like Spinoza. He is credited with the launch of liberalism by opposing absolutism which was mainly in German system of governance. He argued strongly about separation of church and state and influenced intellectuals as well as writers such as Voltaire. He also influenced Alexander Hamilton on liberty and social contract through the works he had publicized. He expressed support for some of the thoughts that were present in early years. Furthermore, he advocated for counter enlightenment that encouraged conservative reforms and accommodation of parts of the old system of governance. He encouraged the power of faith and spiritual guidance through religion but had reservations to the extent of power in political governance. To some extent he argued that the church should influence the political governance for moral reasons.
Johann Gottfried von herder was a German who broke the Germans ground in poetry. He especially used his poetry to enlighten the people on proto-romanticism between 1744 and 1803 (White, 2001). Herder insisted that every one of it has its own identity culturally and individually. He argued that the identity of a particular person was identified in the language and culture behavior of the person. This encouraged people in Germany to use their language extensively without copying the French. The evolvement of German culture and language helped to shape German nationalism in the world. Weiner classicism was headed by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe which sought to enlighten Germans by synthesizing romanticism and establishment of humanism through classical enlightenment. Fredrich Schiller used his plays to enlighten the Germans on social injustices of his time and how they were overcome through persistence.
Music enlightenment of the Germans came with Johann Sebastian Bach in 1685 that was succeeded by Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1732 and 1756 respectively (Hofmann, 2005). Philosophers were not left behind in the quest to enlighten the Germans such as Immanuel Kant in 1724 to 1804 tried to unite rationale with religion by advocating for individual freedom and political authority coexistence. His great philosophies helped to shape not only the Germans but also large part of western thought. Kant’s work was mostly concerned with beauty. According to him, beauty did not exist as a property of an object but instead it was a way in which people acted in response to it (Murphy, 2008). Kant’s focus on beauty as being aligned to individual taste is what gives him originality and persuasion on others. He argued that people make judgements on taste intuitively since these responses causes delight in them. He also argued that these judgements are universally accepted and not based on certain individuals’ views. This is what made this philosopher to regard beauty as a question of the form of the object (Murphy, 2008). This implies that the object under consideration must express some kind of vague purposiveness so that it is taken with a predetermined purpose. According to Kant, when a relationship exists between beauty and taste, the purest way of making judgements of taste occurs when they are not controlled by emotions. He continued further to categorize beauty response into beautiful and sublime. He suggested that beautiful symbolized pleasure, harmony fragility and the resemblance. On the other hand, sublime symbolized the reaction of admiration on the infinite or the object (Murphy, 2008).
In conclusion, Germany has had its share of key political and clerical figures that shaped it to be what is today. Most of the political figures in German sought to create reforms in the political arena of Germans. Other figures who sought to bring reform through enlighten were educated philosophers as well as artists in music and poetry. Some political figures brought enlightenment to Germans through deeds. They set good example for Germans to follow in moving towards peace and social enlightening.
Enlightenment facilitated autonomy of thought in many aspects including politics, philosophy and economics among others. There was immensely new knowledge that surfaced and expanded. Actually, Enlightenment especially in Germany formed the basis of today’s knowledge and other countless achievements. The entire period was a crucial time for innovative and new strategies that displayed advancements in logical thinking and problem solving skills.
There are many setbacks that drew German societies apart throughout history. Culturally, the Germans have not been known to be homogenous. Furthermore, there were lines of differences which existed between Catholics and Protestants which further aggravated the division. Protestants were inclined to personal liberty as far as their faith was concerned. This was entirely different from the long standing faith of the Catholic Church. The autonomy of conscience was the main and most crucial idea that revolved around the spirit of enlightenment among the Germans that embraced the new way of thinking.
Skepticism was another threat that derailed application of Enlightenment ideas. It was a belief that challenged the ability of logical thinking to express universal truths. It even questioned whether people and the entire society could be perfected through application of reason (Villon, 2006). Despite the drawbacks brought about by the wars and other social challenges, the Germans still displayed a remarkable talent in the context of conceptual deliberations. German philosophers were talented in clear understanding of the nature and the classical world.
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