A Letter Explaining the Age of Enlightenment

A Letter Explaining the Age of Enlightenment

ALetter Explaining the Age of Enlightenment

Inmy English class, we are studying the Age of Enlightenment which isalso referred to as the Age or Reason. The age of enlightenment,which was an era between 16thcentury and 18thcentury was characterized by various religious, social, philosophicaland political changes that transformed the society. Variousenlightenment thinkers such as Joseph Priestly, Benjamin Franklin andothers contributed significantly in transforming the society duringthis period of time. There are several passages and thoughts fromenlightenment thinkers that puzzle me. In his letter to Sir JosephBanks, the President of the Royal Society of London back in 1756,“Benjamin Franklin clearly expresses his hope that human kind asreasonable creatures would use reason and sense and iron out theirdifferences without war because to him there was never a good war ora bad peace”. I am mystified by this thought from an enlightenmentthinker, since they are the same people who challenged traditionalviews leading to deaths of many Kings.

Theage of reason was an era marked by an intellectual movementemphasizing on the use of science and reason to build an equal andjust society. The movement created conflicts between people whosupported traditions and those who supported modernity. The conflictslead to fights which had both bad and good impacts on the society.For instance, Kings were killed for people to believe that they hadno supernatural powers from God. Enlightenment thinkers supportedequality and focused on promoting human dignity. Therefore, theyopposed any act that brought about inequality such as slavery,intolerance and racism.

Theage of reason is closely related to scientific revolution. Thescientific works by enlightenment thinkers such as Joseph Priestlyplayed a significant role in bringing out a clear understanding ofthe world. Apart from discovering Oxygen, Priestly proposedorganization of science and philosophical knowledge in order totransform the world. Priestly proposed coherence in scientificstudies to enable the past, the present and the future scientistsharmonize their ideas and transform the world. According to Priestly,scientists needed to collaborate and bring their ideas together tobuild a better world. If researchers insisted on doing their worksindividually to compare who is more superior to other then, therewould be no consistency and progress in scientific work.

Theenlightenment period supported the idea that people should depend oneach other and less on God. During this period, a cosmopolitansociety was built supported by ideas proposed by enlightenmentthinker such as Priestley and Franklin. In his reading “TheOrganization of Scientific Research”, Priestly is educating otherscientist on the need to come together and build a consistent andreliable scientific work rather than work individually. On the otherhand, Franklin express his idea of a cosmopolitan society in hisletter to Banks by stating “ I believe that human beings as theycall themselves reasonable beings will have sense and reason enoughto settle their differences…..” People embraced the idea of acosmopolitan society after scientific such as Isaac Newton discoveredthat major occurrences that were believed to be controlled bysupernatural powers were controlled by natural laws. Enlightenmentthinkers rejected blind faith and can be said to be skeptics.

Duringthis era, there were major economic changes that were accompanied bysocial and political changes. As a result of a cosmopolitan society,new businesses and form of trade were developed and generated a lotof income. The tradesmen and business people having accumulatedwealth changes their social class and got a chance to share politicalpower. The Enlightenment age supported equality and hence there wereseveral social changes in the society as the fight to end slavery andmistreatment of the lower class people. As a result of newdiscoveries through application of science there were major changesin religion during this period of time. The community still believedthat God existed but allowed the universe to operate in accordance tonatural law, what is referred to as deism. During this era, therewere serious conflicts between the Protestant and Catholics regardingtheir faith in God.

Asstated earlier in this letter, I am puzzled that Benjamin Franklin,one of the Enlightenment thinkers criticized of human beings notbeing reasonable in killing other in fights instead of co-existingpeacefully. This passage puzzles me because enlightenment thinkerswere opposed to traditional practices such as Monarchies whichcreated inequality and social segregation. Therefore, people werereasonable enough to reject and abolish these monarchies throughfights in order to establish new politics and form of ruling thatwould embrace equality and respect human dignity. On the other hand,fights most of the times bring more harm than good hence notreasonable for people to indulge in them. Enlightenment thinkersshould have been reasonable enough to come up with practicalstrategies through which people could create a humane and justcommunity. Despite their good intentions, enlightenment thinkers insome way or another, failed even their own thoughts of an equal andpeaceful, cosmopolitan society.



Reading1-Benjamin Franklin’s letter to Banks

Reading2- Joseph Priestley- The Organization of Scientific Research