Philosophers and the Development of the Age OS Reason Term Paper

Pages: 8 (2901 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Black Studies - Philosophy

Age of Reason / Age of Enlightenment

The Age of Reason & the Age of Enlightenment

The Age of Reason is generally considered a separate movement in 17th and early 18th Century Europe, which preceded - and led into - the Age of Enlightenment; it is also commonplace to approach both eras as having overlapping boundaries - and hence, they are more often than not joined as one extended period of intellectual, scientific and philosophical advancement.

But aside from the issue of the co-mingling of the eras, the Age of Reason did indeed come first, and led into the Age of Enlightenment. Among the most prominent philosophers associated with the Age of Reason and the Age of Enlightenment are Voltaire, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant. Those three philosophers will be reviewed and critiqued in this paper.

Voltaire: Voltaire is perhaps best known for his novel Candide - which ranks as "one of the masterpieces of European literature," according to author A. Owen Aldridge (Voltaire and the Century of Light) (Aldridge 260). On page 260, the author explains that Voltaire's Candide was not (and is not) so much lauded for its style, but instead for its "realistic portrayal of the human condition." Voltaire's Candide is "unmitigated satire," Aldridge writes on page 252, and in the story Voltaire pokes fun at Germany - at the "deficiencies in aristocratic refinements and excess of pretensions" - because he had been harassed by the German court, and this was the way writers answered back when their dignity or credibility had been attacked.

But Candide was far more than just a satire; it is a many things to many people, and still stands out today as a masterpiece. Candide is a parody of a style of education in the 17th Century in which, Aldridge writes (253), "is carried on by means of extensive travel in the company of an all-knowing tutor." Candide is the protagonist who is being tutored, and his teacher / mentor is Pangloss, who taught "not that all is right...but that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds," Aldridge explains. This theme was used as an exaggeration of "ordinary deism," the author explains. Also among the characters are two who act as "foils" to Candide and his mentor; they are Jacques, who extols the "doctrine of moral degeneration of man" and Martin, who teaches the "supremacy of evil rather than a balance of evil and good." In both cases, the moral and political views of Voltaire are being expressed.

Although the book is roughly written in the episodic style of Gulliver's Travels - in which author Jonathan Swift used a number of different methods to convey his gloomy messages - Candide is written using one literary technique, "ludicrous juxtaposition." The protest message that Voltaire was putting forward - based on what he saw around him in the early 18th Century - was of course a kind of introduction into the midst of the Age of Reason and into the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment, during which wise and visionary men and philosophers creative and scientific pains to define the universe.

Candide the character is a "na ve, idealistic mind" which comes into constant contact with "opposing realities" (Aldridge 253). Candide is sent from his home, conscripted (against his will) into the Bulgarian army, and nearly killed by running the gauntlet. He is witness to a terribly bloody battle in which "thirty thousand men are slaughtered," Aldridge writes on page 254.

Candide is a survivor, though; he survives the terrible Lisbon earthquake, he survives a tempest and a shipwreck too. The parody and the satirical themes are carried throughout the novel, and all the time Candide's tutor Pangloss keeps muttering that "everything is for the best in the physical and moral realms," Aldridge continues on page 254. Even after Candide is "whipped to insensibility by the Inquisition," his mentor mumbles that "...Nothing could be any otherwise than it is."

Readers today are - and readers in Voltaire's day were - smart enough to know that's not how life works; everything isn't for the best when tens of thousands of people are being slaughtered and when an individual is being whipped nearly to death because he didn't follow the exact rules of the Church. But that was Voltaire's point, that things are not good and they must be made better in order to improve the lot of mankind.

The absurdity of these events of course was a design by Voltaire to make his statement that the world was a very violent, dangerous and unsettling place - due in large measure to the idiocy of the people (many of whom are in charge of institutions and should know better). Throughout his narrative, Voltaire critiques many "scientific, social, and philosophical notions" of great interest to himself and to his generation. He lampoons the evils of institutionalized religion, politics, and social pretensions; and he does it in such a way, with clever and refreshing narrative, that it could easily be applied to today's political, religious, and social institutions.

Jean Jacques Rousseau: While Voltaire's most memorable and influential work was Candide, Jean Jacques Rousseau's most meaningful works were his Second Discourse and his Social Contract.

When Jean Jacques Rousseau began his Discourse - "What is the Origin of Inequality Among Men, and is it Authorised by Natural Law?" - by calling attention to the fact that he considered his "Sovereign Lords" "honourable" and "magnificent," was he using charm to get attention? Was he "buttering them up" - those who would be reading his tome - in the hopes that his arguments would be more persuasive? No, and no. Those "Sovereign Lords" Rousseau spoke of were not the political or religious powers of his day in France, but rather, the citizens. The ordinary people who could read and write and think.

On that first page, Rousseau gave a strong pitch for the fact that he believed in equality; he wanted an open society "...in which every person being equal to his occupation"; he equated the "love of country" with "a love of the citizens... [rather] than of its soil." Those simple concepts relate directly to a more just society.

As readers continue into the meat of his presentation, it is obvious that he finds war a contemptible institution; if he had his choice, he "should have wished" to be in a place where no one was "above the law." He used the example of the Roman Empire, where people, once they were set free from dictatorship, had no idea how to govern themselves; "People once accustomed to masters are not in a condition to do without them." So, his point is, don't start with anything but liberty and democracy, and then justice won't be hard to find because it will always have been at hand. The people of Rome, a place that was "debased by slavery" - following its liberation from tyranny, was no better "than a stupid mob."

All the agony of starting from scratch in the process of training Roman citizens' minds (which had been "enervated...brutalized" under the iron rule of autocrats) to the idea of "health-giving air of liberty," could have been avoided if those citizens had been "long accustomed to a wise independence."

In Robert Wokler's book Rousseau the author cites the "most famous line" (Wokler 56) from Rousseau's Social Contract, and probably the "most often-cited statement" from everything Rousseau wrote is found at the beginning of book i. Rousseau offered three brief paragraphs in which he pronounced that he was fit and able to speak on "matters of right, justice, and utility." Rousseau pointedly reminded readers - as he often did - that his justification for speaking out through his sometimes-provocative narrative was not because he "was a prince or legislator," but rather because he was simply a "native son or citizen of a free state."

Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains," Rousseau asserted. And the use of force "creates no right," Wokler writes on page 57, which parallels Rousseau's earlier claim that the physical differences of people "provide no warrant for our moral inequalities," Wokler continues (in his paraphrasing of Rousseau). The fact Rousseau was making at the outset of his Social Contract was that if force could (or did) create "right," then, Wokler goes on, "right would be as transient as every change in the disposition of force." In other words, each time a new strategy is employed in the use of force, a new set of values would also necessarily emerge.

Rousseau's logic was that disobedience, then, would be "legitimate" as soon as "sufficient power were acquired." Part of what Rousseau was accomplishing in this writing was a rebuttal to Hobbes, who had asserted (in chapters 5 and 6 of De Cive, chapter 18 of Leviathan, along with other passages of his work) that right and force should always go hand-in-hand. Hobbes' reasoning was that mere words (laws) without the "sword"… [END OF PREVIEW]

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