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The Age of Reason(1660 - 1780)


The Age of Reason Overview Major Ideas of the Age of Reason
Major Events during Age of Reason The Age of Reason authors & their works

The Age of Reason Overview

The Age of Reason (Enlightenment) in England was a widespread intellectual and literary movement that took place in Europe and England. The movement was shaped by the idea of rationalism (reliance on reason as the best guide for belief and action). The age encouraged intellectual freedom as well as freedom from prejudice, religious beliefs, and politics. Unlike the Enlightenment in Europe, the Age of Reason in England gave equal credit to experience and reason while in the process of regarding the human condition. Because of that, it is therefore less "rational" than various versions of the Enlightenment in France and other countries. Moreover, numerous writers in England, however, were averse toward the rationalist ideals of social advancement and human "perfectibility". To the very least, people at the time, especially in Europe, were more interested in character, ethics, self-understanding, comprehension of their society, and knowledge of one another. One of the works of John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), was a verbally expressed image of the society during that period. One of the quotes indicated that, "our business here is not to know all things, but those which concern our conduct." Last but not least, it was an era that heralded the scientific method.

John Locke

Major Ideas of the Age of Reason

During the Enlightenment, new ideas and new methods of learning were setting the stage for great revolutions to come. Beginning in the 17th century, the philosophers had all accepted the rationalism of Descartes. Then, natural science became engrossed in the area. Sir Isaac Newton, an English physicist, had discovered an underlying cosmic law of universal gravitation and motion. The 18th century was succumbed by a positive and experimental mentality. A suggestion of a "noble savage" was readily accepted by Rousseau and the encyclopedists. Alongside the philosophers' view of knowledge through the acquisition of logic and science, there was also an emphasis placed on the "particular rather than the general", "observable facts rather than principles", and "experience rather than rational speculation." Voltaire, probably the greatest humanist during the Age of Reason, embraced the idea of the brotherhood of man and the essential goodness of man. Encyclopedists at the time believed that societies must be in harmony with "metaphysical norms." They popularized the idea of progress and utlized the Leibnitz idea of continuity.

Sir Isaac Newton

Jean-Jacques Rosseau

Francois Marie Arouet (Voltaire)


Major Events during Age of Reason

One of the earliest and most important event was the Restoration of 1660. The Puritan government collapsed and King Charles II returned succesfully to the throne. A handful of years passed before two major events took place during Charles' rule. London endured two misfortunes in a lightning-quick sequence. In 1665, a plague spread throughout the city killing more than 70,000 people. Soon after the plagued died off, fire appeared in June 1666, and ran uncontrollably for five days. 13,000 houses were burned down, approximately 100 churches were destroyed, and 2/3 of the population were displaced. James II, the brother of Charles II, succeeded him. His oldest daughter, Mary, and her husband William of Orange, all the same, ousted Mary's father in the year of 1688. This event was appropriately called the Glorious Revolution because there were no mass murder involved. James II sensibly fled to France.

King Charles II of England

King James II

The Age of Reason authors & their works

Changes took place in literature beginning with the use of Greek or Roman models by Ben Jonson in the beginning of the 17th century. Love sonnets were substituted for satirical verses intended toward reforming the individual and society. The closed or heroic couplet was widely introduced by John Dryden and later perfected by Alexander Pope. During the beginning of the 18th century, the middle class both grew in size and in wealth. Middle-class readers began buying more and more books concerning realistic situations that pertain to themselves. Demands for more books led to Pamela (1740) written by Samuel Richardson and Tom Jones (1749) written by Henry Fielding. Literary periods such as The Tatler and The Spectator, both published by Richard Steele and Joseph Addison were written with the purpose of "educating" the people. Maybe most renown moralist and best prose satirist during the Age of Reason was Jonathan Swift. His satiric writing style lent itself to bringing forth the evils of society and the individual. A Modest Proposal and Gulliver's Travels were two of his finest writings. One of the great writers of the Age of Reason during the later years of 1744-1780 was Samuel Johnson. In addition to writing several writing materials including periodical essays and pamphlets, his three projects were the most highly recognized: an extensive English dictionary, an edited version of an edition of Shakespeare, and Lives of the Poet.

John Dryden

Alexander Pope

Jonathan Swift