Age of Enlightenment

The Enlightenment was a period from the late 17th century into the 18th century where new ideas about government, personal freedom and religious beliefs began to develop in Europe. 

The development of these ideas would spread in European colonies as well which would have a profound effect on the society of the time.

This article will give details about the Age of Enlightenment within the context of the Civil Services Examination.

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Age of Enlightenment – Facts

Origins of Enlightenment

The Age of Enlightenment was influenced by the growth in scientific knowledge that began in the mid-17th century. People looked for reasons why things happened the way they did. Modern chemistry and biology grew out of this questioning and the existing knowledge about astronomy and physics was greatly improved.

The Spread of modern ideas

During the 18th-century people began to look at the whole world and the role of people in a different way. The French Philosopher and writer Francois Marie Voltaire attacked the authority of the religious institutions and the governments of the day. Jean-Jacques Rousseau criticized civilization itself saying that people should not obtain more possession or power than needed,

Both challenged the idea of absolute monarchy and the traditional that the nobility and clergy were entitled to special privileges. Other great thinkers of the Enlightenment included the economist Adam Smith, the historian David Hume, the philosopher Immanuel Kant, and writers Mary Wollstonecraft and Samuel Johnson.

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The New Ideas together with those of other scholars and philosophers of the time spread rapidly. Many had their thoughts published in books or pamphlets. Others wrote letters to the newspapers or gave lectures. The wealthy and well educated in France often met in the drawing-rooms of noblewomen to discuss the latest books, plays and issues of the day.

People began to question the way they were governed. A belief that everyone had the right to knowledge, freedom and happiness inspired the American War of Independence and the French Revolution and eventually led to an end to slavery and the break up of Spain’s empire in South America.

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Important Events during Enlightenment

The table below highlights some of the most notable events during the Age of Enlightenment:

Events during the Age of Enlightenment



1632 – 1704 Life of English philosopher John Locke. He believed that all men were free and equal and that the authority of government comes only from the consent of the governed
1687 Sir Issac Newton publishes his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica in which he set out his theories about light and the visible spectrum, the three laws of motion and the existence of gravity
1724 – 1804 Life of German philosopher Immanuel Kant. He spends his life trying to discover the laws which govern the way people live
1743 Benjamin Franklin sets up the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. Its members are interested in science as well as philosophy
1743 -1794 Life of French chemist Antoine Lavoisier, the first to establish that combustion (burning) is a form of chemical action
1751 The first volume of the Encyclopédie is published
1751 Carl Linnaeus publishes his Philosophia Botanica
1755 Samuel Johnson’s Complete Dictionary of the English Language is published. It contains 43,000 words
1768 The Encyclopedia Britannica is first published
1788 The Times newspaper is first published in London
1791 Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man is published. This world greatly influences America in its fight for independence from Britain
1792 Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women is published. It argues for equal opportunities in education for everyone

Legacy of the Enlightenment

Philosophers and scientists of the period widely circulated their ideas through meetings at scientific academies, Masonic lodges, literary salons, coffeehouses and in printed books, journals, and pamphlets. The ideas that spread as a result weakened the authority of the Church and that of absolute control of the monarchy. This laid the groundwork for the political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. It can be said that the 19th-century movements of liberalism and neoclassicism can trace their origins back to the Age of Enlightenment.

The full effect of these ideas in practice came to a head during the French revolution of 1789. Although the practical limits of the idea were demonstrated during the Reign of Terror.

It was only during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte when society was remade along rational lines which were enshrined in the Code of Napoleon, the basis of legal laws in many countries of Western Europe.

Still, its goal of egalitarianism attracted the admiration inspired both the Haitian war of independence and the radical racial inclusivism of Paraguay’s first post-independence government.

Enlightened rationality gave way to the wildness of Romanticism, but 19th-century Liberalism and Classicism—not to mention 20th-century Modernism—all owe a heavy debt to the thinkers of the Enlightenment.

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Frequently Asked Question on Age of Enlightenment


Q 1. Who were the important thinkers of the Age of Enlightenment?

Locke, Montesquieu and Rousseau are considered to be few of the important thinkers during the Age of Enlightenment


Q 2. When did the Age of Enlightenment originate?

Ans. The origin of the Age of Enlightenment dates back to the 17th century and was influenced by the growth in scientific knowledge. Philosophers and scientists of the period widely circulated their ideas through meetings at scientific academies, Masonic lodges, literary salons, coffeehouses and in printed books, journals, and pamphlets.

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