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Episode
149

The Enlightenment

Apr 13, 2021
History
-
28
minutes
17th Century
18th Century
Philosophy
Mathematics
Economics
Scientists
France
Great Britain

It was the intellectual movement in 17th and 18th century Europe, where thinkers started to question the status quo.

From science to philosophy, The Age of Enlightenment saw an explosion in critical thinking and laid the groundwork for some huge shifts in society.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about The Age of Enlightenment, otherwise known as just The Enlightenment.

[00:00:33] It was the intellectual movement that involved philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, economists, and thinkers of all kinds, and had a profound impact on politics, philosophy, business, science and our society as a whole.

[00:00:52] You might have thought that a show called English Learning for Curious Minds, which has a mission of helping you expand your knowledge, might have chosen to do an episode on The Enlightenment much earlier than episode number 149. 

[00:01:08] You might be right, but I think that now is the perfect time, for two reasons.

[00:01:14] Firstly, there are many principles of The Enlightenment that are being particularly challenged all over the world, and so it’s a useful time to think about where these principles actually came from.

[00:01:29] And secondly, perhaps more importantly, the next episodes will be a mini series on The Age of Revolution, where we’ll cover The Industrial, American, and French Revolutions, all three of which were deeply influenced by Enlightenment thinking.

[00:01:48] It is a huge subject, and a fascinating one, so let’s get right into it.

[00:01:56] Now, the tricky thing about The Enlightenment is that there isn’t a specific start and end date for it. 

[00:02:05] No people’s uprising, no war, no one single event.

[00:02:11] Some people date the start of The Enlightenment back to 1637, which was when Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” philosophy was first published, while for others it doesn’t start for another 100 years.

[00:02:28] And in terms of when it ends, that’s perhaps an even harder question. 

[00:02:34] In France, most historians date the end of the Enlightenment to 1789, the start of The French Revolution, but others would say it continued into the 19th century.

[00:02:48] For the purposes of today’s episode, it doesn’t really matter. 

[00:02:53] The important thing to underline is that before The Enlightenment, in Europe the way the world worked was explained through religion. 

[00:03:04] God had created the world, kings and queens ruled countries on his behalf, and society was structured in a very hierarchical way. 

[00:03:15] Access to knowledge was difficult. 

[00:03:18] And that knowledge was often incomplete, or wrong, it wasn’t based on reason.

[00:03:25] The Enlightenment questioned all of this. 

[00:03:29] If there’s one word that we should probably associate with The Enlightenment, it’s not gravity, or humanity, or equality, it’s…..why. Yes, the word “why”.

[00:03:43] The Enlightenment was all about questioning the reason why certain things were the way they were. 

[00:03:51] Why do things happen? 

[00:03:53] What would be a better explanation for it, or a better way of doing things, a better way of structuring the society we live in?

[00:04:03] A great example both of the conventional way of thinking and about how Enlightenment thought changed this came after a terrible earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1755.

[00:04:18] It struck on All Saints Day, an important Christian holiday, and is thought to have killed between 30 and 50 thousand people.

[00:04:29] It was a tragedy, and as humans do in these circumstances, people looked for explanations.

[00:04:37] For some people, it was a sign that God was unhappy, he had sent this disaster down to show that people were not behaving in the way he wanted them to.

[00:04:49] For others, who had started to be influenced by Enlightenment ideas, they asked “why”? 

[00:04:56] Why would a God punish an entire city, and surely if this was his idea, he would have spared, he would have saved  all of the good Christians.

[00:05:08] As it happened, many churches were destroyed, worshippers killed, while some brothels, places where prostitutes work, were saved. 

[00:05:20] This didn’t seem to make a huge amount of sense, it didn’t stand up to reason.

[00:05:27] And if why is the word that one must first associate with The Enlightenment, it has an equally important twin, reason. 

[00:05:38] One of the main principles of the Enlightenment was a belief that reason is sovereign, it is the most important thing.

[00:05:47] We shouldn’t believe something just because someone else has told us that it is true, or it is conventional wisdom, we need to see it for ourselves, and to understand it.

[00:06:00] These ideas were developed by two early writers.

[00:06:05] First, René Descartes, the French-born philosopher, known for the phrase “Cogito, ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am”.

[00:06:16] And secondly, the English civil servant and philosopher, Francis Bacon who is widely credited with introducing a scientific method of enquiry; in other words you discover what works best through a meticulous and thorough process of experimentation – recording evidence and making judgements on the basis of that evidence. 

[00:06:42] The fancy and technical term for this movement is Empiricism. 

[00:06:48] The other founding father of the Enlightenment for many people is another Englishman, John Locke. 

[00:06:57] His main area of interest was in government and the rules by which societies were ruled. 

[00:07:04] Locke set out the principle that everyone has the right to “life, liberty and property“.

[00:07:12] All of these three were writing in the late 17th century, either before the Enlightenment began, or right at the start of the Enlightenment, depending on when exactly you believe it started.

[00:07:26] So, the writings and influence of such men as Descartes, Bacon and Locke were instrumental in causing others to think expansively about almost everything in society. 

[00:07:41] An obvious target for this was the power of monarchs, of kings and queens, and of the Church.

[00:07:49] If every person had the right to life, liberty, and property, having all-powerful kings, queens and nobility, while the poor suffered terribly didn’t seem very fair. It didn't seem very just.

[00:08:06] Why should this be the case?

[00:08:09] These sorts of ideas were discussed by scientists, writers, philosophers, and engineers all over Europe, and there was a huge growth in something called learned societies, where these people would come together to share ideas and question the status quo.

[00:08:30] An interesting way of exploring these ideas is by telling the stories of some of the major contributors to the main part of the Enlightenment and focusing on the four countries I mentioned at the start: Scotland, England, France and Italy.

[00:08:48] Although Scotland was only formally joined with England, Wales and Ireland to make the United Kingdom in 1707, the strength of its own Enlightenment thinkers, based in Edinburgh and Glasgow, means that the Scottish Enlightenment deserves to have its own story told.

[00:09:08] One of the two most influential people here is a philosopher called David Hume, who wrote from the 1730s to the 1760s.

[00:09:19] He invites me to introduce the central Enlightenment quality - scepticism

[00:09:27] Scepticism is best defined as an attitude through which you doubt whether something is true or useful. 

[00:09:36] Now when we say someone is a sceptic, it often has a slightly negative connotation, but in the case of Hume it was a vitally important characteristic; it meant that you actually thought critically about what you read or heard, you didn’t just take it as true.

[00:09:58] Alongside Hume stood the best known of the British Enlightenment thinkers, a Scotsman you will probably have heard of and someone who is often described as the Father of Capitalism: Adam Smith. 

[00:10:13] Smith‘s lengthy and profoundly influential book, “The Wealth of Nations”, challenged the conventional thought of the day, which said that the amount of wealth in the world was finite, there was a defined amount of it, and therefore encouraged nations to protect their trade and economies from other countries. 

[00:10:38] Smith's big idea was that there was an “invisible hand” which operated and that through what he called enlightened self-interest and trade within societies and between nations, everyone’s lives could improve. 

[00:10:55] Smith writes in a very effective and vivid way. Here is perhaps his best known quotation:

[00:11:03] “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.”

[00:11:15] So, just to explain that, Smith is saying that the people who provide our food do not do so because they are kind, but rather because it is in their advantage. And of course, he isn’t talking just about food, but about the economy as a whole.

[00:11:34] And his theory was that if society was structured in this way, then everyone’s lives would improve. This is really the heart of modern day capitalism, it’s the society that most of us live in today.

[00:11:50] Now let us leave Scotland and travel south to England, where the giant of Enlightenment thinking was the great scientist, Isaac Newton.

[00:12:01] Legend has it that Newton was sitting under a tree and an apple fell on his head, and it was from there that he came up with the idea for gravity

[00:12:11] This is, of course, a great oversimplification.

[00:12:15] Newton was not only a pioneering scientist who set out the basis for much of today’s science but he also showed how you could use scientific techniques to solve problems. 

[00:12:28] He demonstrated how, although Nature may be a puzzle, it can be hard to understand, we could, through scientific methods, gradually work it out and learn how better to control it for our own benefit. 

[00:12:44] So, that was Isaac Newton.

[00:12:46] The third country we will visit on our journey is France where the giants of this movement were Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, or as he is called in English, Rousseau. 

[00:13:00] Voltaire was arguably the most influential philosopher of the 18th century and certainly the most famous. 

[00:13:08] Perhaps his most important achievements were to champion freedom of speech, to challenge the prevailing power of religion and in particular to support the separation of church and state. 

[00:13:23] His most famous work that sets out a lot of this philosophy is his short book Candide, or Optimism. 

[00:13:32] His ideas were pretty radical at the time, and throughout his life he was in conflict with the authorities of France, being imprisoned twice and also exiled or banished for two years, when he went to England. 

[00:13:49] When he was in England he saw what he considered to be the success of a constitutional government, and this was very influential in his subsequent criticisms of the absolute power of the French King Louis XV. 

[00:14:06] We can see, through a look at the life of Voltaire, how closely linked a lot of these Enlightenment thinkers were, and how much they collaborated with each other with the shared goal of increasing human knowledge and understanding.

[00:14:22] Voltaire’s great hero was Isaac Newton, and indeed when Voltaire was sent to England he was there at Isaac Newton’s funeral.

[00:14:32] Back in France, at his estate on the Swiss border, he entertained other Enlightenment thinkers such as Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, and Adam Smith, the Scottish philosopher and economist we heard about a few minutes ago.

[00:14:49] And the other French master of the Enlightenment to mention was Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

[00:14:54] Rousseau likewise challenged the status-quo, and put forward the radical and dangerous idea – even heretical idea – that human beings are born essentially good, but they are corrupted by human society and institutions.

[00:15:13] You may well remember the quote “man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains”, which is how he starts his most famous work, Du Contrat Social, or The Social Contract.

[00:15:26] These ideas were, of course, radical

[00:15:29] If you believe that the institutions of society corrupt innocent people, well then the institutions of society aren’t going to react particularly well to that idea. 

[00:15:41] And indeed Rousseau was denounced publicly as the antichrist, and he had to flee to Great Britain, where he stayed with his friend David Hume, the father of scepticism, who we heard about a few minutes ago.

[00:15:55] Now to our fourth country, Italy – or the area of the world now known as Italy – and to the splendidly named Marquis Cesare Di Beccaria. 

[00:16:07] His famous work “On Crimes and Punishment” is a short but powerful and spine-tingling work to read even now. 

[00:16:17] It has the added benefit of having a commentary written by his admirer, the aforementioned Voltaire. 

[00:16:25] As I am sure you know, the penal system or system of punishment in 1764 when Beccaria wrote his ground-breaking work, was utterly brutal.

[00:16:38] For even what we would now consider to be the smallest of crimes you could be tortured, cut up into pieces, publicly executed, and suffer the most horrible of punishments.

[00:16:52] Beccaria challenged all of that; in his introduction he questions why it should be that in all human societies one part is given “the height of power and happiness“ and reduces the other part – the poor and weak – to “the extreme of weakness and misery“. 

[00:17:12] His work explains how good laws should work against this tendency and so “diffuse their influence universally and equally.” 

[00:17:22] This might seem to us to be simple good sense, but in Europe of the 18th century this was revolutionary and radical, enlightened thinking. 

[00:17:34] And because of this, Beccaria can be justly described as the father of criminal law.

[00:17:42] So, these are some of the most famous individual thinkers of The Enlightenment, but before we move onto the influence of the Enlightenment, it’s worth mentioning a remarkable innovation that came out of this period.

[00:17:57] And that is the Encyclopedia.

[00:18:00] Its founding editor, the Frenchman Denis Diderot stated that its mission was for people “to be able to inform themselves and to know things.”

[00:18:11] 17 volumes were printed over a period of 21 years amounting to 20 million words. 

[00:18:20] It was a collaboration, drawing on the best minds of the day and aiming to include information across a whole range of subjects and “to change the way people think“.

[00:18:33] Now, encyclopedias have obviously gone slightly out of fashion with the creation of The Internet, but it’s hard to overestimate quite how important this invention was.

[00:18:45] It wasn’t free, of course, but people could suddenly find information for themselves, they could inform themselves and make up their own minds through rational thought. 

[00:18:58] Now, as we move on to consider the influence of Enlightenment ideas on the world that came after them, and of course our modern world, perhaps the stated mission of Diderot and his encyclopedia might remind you of an ever present element of our own knowledge universe. 

[00:19:17] Google, of course, whose mission is “to organise the world’s information making it universally accessible and useful.”

[00:19:26] A cynic, or sceptic even, might say that Diderot’s mission was purely intellectual and for the public good, whereas Google is also pretty good at making money, but that is beside the point.

[00:19:40] Let’s pause for a moment and take stock – or gather our thoughts. 

[00:19:46] We have had a quick survey of some of the key contributors to the Enlightenment and started to look at the ways in which they, collectively, amassed knowledge, collaborated and stimulated each other to think. 

[00:20:00] Before moving on to discuss the impact and influence they had on different countries in the succeeding 50 years, let me illustrate a bit more fully how their ideas spread and in doing so say a little bit about the climate of ideas that operated in Europe at this time.

[00:20:20] During the first half of the 18th century there was a particularly rapid growth in all the different ways that humans could congregate – that they could meet together – and communicate. 

[00:20:34] Coffee houses became the centre of talk and political debate. 

[00:20:39] Especially in England, newspapers and political pamphlets - or short essays – were plentiful, they were all over the place. 

[00:20:49] Not only were there the learned societies mentioned before, but also debating societies sprung up

[00:20:57] New heights of sophistication in entertainment became popular, with London, the largest and richest city in Europe, a particularly strong centre for music, attracting [albeit only for 15 months] the young Mozart, and – more permanently – Georg Händel.

[00:21:17] Now, moving on to the biggest effects of the Enlightenment– and here I am pointing towards the mini series on revolutions - we are talking about three very different kinds of revolution: the Industrial, the American and the French.

[00:21:34] Taking each one in turn, I will say a brief word on each revolution, but leave the majority for the full episodes.

[00:21:42] So, the Industrial Revolution was the period from approximately 1760 to 1820 when Western Europe initially and then the USA went through a period of explosive and transformative growth based on the use of new industrial techniques, such as spinning machines for making cotton and steam engines. 

[00:22:07] Although it is difficult to show direct cause and effect, the scientific method and Empiricism, pioneered by Enlightenment thinkers, laid the basis for this revolution. 

[00:22:21] Both industrialists and Enlightenment thinkers gathered in coffee shops and in learned societies, and so there was a great sharing of ideas that helped stimulate the Industrial Revolution.

[00:22:36] And the concept of empiricism, of trial and error, and of experimentation, created completely new professions, such as the engineer, and it was these people who were some of the key drivers of The Industrial Revolution.

[00:22:54] Moving on to The American Revolution, there is no doubting the impact that the Enlightenment had on it. 

[00:23:03] Of the most important founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were particularly influenced by what they saw and heard when visiting Europe and also what they read. 

[00:23:17] Jefferson, the architect of the American Constitution, declared Locke, Newton and Bacon as “three of the greatest men that had ever lived.”

[00:23:29] In designing the American Constitution, the influence of the thought of Isaac Newton is there in the way in which the different interlocking and counterbalancing parts of the Constitution work together. 

[00:23:44] As we saw in the final days of President Donald Trump, this robustly and ingeniously organised mechanism can withstand great pressure - it’s quite the legacy.

[00:23:57] Whilst the Industrial Revolution brought about a seismic and massive change in society and the American Revolution was a war of independence against the colonial power, the French Revolution was the overthrowing of an existing regime - at that time one of the most famous monarchies in the world.

[00:24:20] As you may well have detected from what you’ve learned about the French contributors to the Enlightenment, they often found themselves needing to escape from France because they were seen as representing a threat to the status quo

[00:24:34] Which, history shows us, they were.

[00:24:38] As you will learn about in the episode on The French Revolution, Enlightenment ideas about the social contract between the rulers and the ruled and in particular about each human being‘s rights to liberty and equality were at the heart of its revolutionary ideals. 

[00:24:58] And it shows you quite how important some of the Enlightenment thinkers in France were that shortly after the French Revolution the bodies of both Voltaire and Rousseau were brought to be buried with full honours in the Pantheon in Paris. 

[00:25:15] The number of people who lined the streets in Paris to pay their respects to Voltaire was said to be around one million, which is more people than the entire population of Paris at the time.

[00:25:31] So, to the final section and some concluding thoughts on the impact and influence of the Enlightenment movement on today‘s world.

[00:25:41] As I have indicated earlier, you can see its workings in the American constitution in particular, and you can see it in the current French state, with its emphasis on individual freedoms, and the separation of church and state. 

[00:25:56] These ideas about what constitutes good government and commonly accepted ideas about civil liberties have been enshrined in such concepts as universal human rights. 

[00:26:09] Indeed, a lot of these ideas, whether that’s challenging the status quo, or the importance of reason, of equality between people, or of the right to access information, they don’t seem particularly revolutionary at all to us now. 

[00:26:27] If anything, for most people living in a Western democracy, they seem normal.

[00:26:34] And that is no doubt the most lasting legacy of The Enlightenment. 

[00:26:40] OK then, that is it for today's slightly longer than usual episode on The Age of Enlightenment.

[00:26:48] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that it will be helpful when it comes to this mini series on the Age of Revolution.

[00:26:58] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:27:02] Which Enlightenment thinkers, or ideas, do you think had the greatest impact? Was it even someone, or an idea, that I didn’t mention in this episode?

[00:27:13] I would love to know.

[00:27:14] You can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:27:24] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:27:30] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about The Age of Enlightenment, otherwise known as just The Enlightenment.

[00:00:33] It was the intellectual movement that involved philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, economists, and thinkers of all kinds, and had a profound impact on politics, philosophy, business, science and our society as a whole.

[00:00:52] You might have thought that a show called English Learning for Curious Minds, which has a mission of helping you expand your knowledge, might have chosen to do an episode on The Enlightenment much earlier than episode number 149. 

[00:01:08] You might be right, but I think that now is the perfect time, for two reasons.

[00:01:14] Firstly, there are many principles of The Enlightenment that are being particularly challenged all over the world, and so it’s a useful time to think about where these principles actually came from.

[00:01:29] And secondly, perhaps more importantly, the next episodes will be a mini series on The Age of Revolution, where we’ll cover The Industrial, American, and French Revolutions, all three of which were deeply influenced by Enlightenment thinking.

[00:01:48] It is a huge subject, and a fascinating one, so let’s get right into it.

[00:01:56] Now, the tricky thing about The Enlightenment is that there isn’t a specific start and end date for it. 

[00:02:05] No people’s uprising, no war, no one single event.

[00:02:11] Some people date the start of The Enlightenment back to 1637, which was when Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” philosophy was first published, while for others it doesn’t start for another 100 years.

[00:02:28] And in terms of when it ends, that’s perhaps an even harder question. 

[00:02:34] In France, most historians date the end of the Enlightenment to 1789, the start of The French Revolution, but others would say it continued into the 19th century.

[00:02:48] For the purposes of today’s episode, it doesn’t really matter. 

[00:02:53] The important thing to underline is that before The Enlightenment, in Europe the way the world worked was explained through religion. 

[00:03:04] God had created the world, kings and queens ruled countries on his behalf, and society was structured in a very hierarchical way. 

[00:03:15] Access to knowledge was difficult. 

[00:03:18] And that knowledge was often incomplete, or wrong, it wasn’t based on reason.

[00:03:25] The Enlightenment questioned all of this. 

[00:03:29] If there’s one word that we should probably associate with The Enlightenment, it’s not gravity, or humanity, or equality, it’s…..why. Yes, the word “why”.

[00:03:43] The Enlightenment was all about questioning the reason why certain things were the way they were. 

[00:03:51] Why do things happen? 

[00:03:53] What would be a better explanation for it, or a better way of doing things, a better way of structuring the society we live in?

[00:04:03] A great example both of the conventional way of thinking and about how Enlightenment thought changed this came after a terrible earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1755.

[00:04:18] It struck on All Saints Day, an important Christian holiday, and is thought to have killed between 30 and 50 thousand people.

[00:04:29] It was a tragedy, and as humans do in these circumstances, people looked for explanations.

[00:04:37] For some people, it was a sign that God was unhappy, he had sent this disaster down to show that people were not behaving in the way he wanted them to.

[00:04:49] For others, who had started to be influenced by Enlightenment ideas, they asked “why”? 

[00:04:56] Why would a God punish an entire city, and surely if this was his idea, he would have spared, he would have saved  all of the good Christians.

[00:05:08] As it happened, many churches were destroyed, worshippers killed, while some brothels, places where prostitutes work, were saved. 

[00:05:20] This didn’t seem to make a huge amount of sense, it didn’t stand up to reason.

[00:05:27] And if why is the word that one must first associate with The Enlightenment, it has an equally important twin, reason. 

[00:05:38] One of the main principles of the Enlightenment was a belief that reason is sovereign, it is the most important thing.

[00:05:47] We shouldn’t believe something just because someone else has told us that it is true, or it is conventional wisdom, we need to see it for ourselves, and to understand it.

[00:06:00] These ideas were developed by two early writers.

[00:06:05] First, René Descartes, the French-born philosopher, known for the phrase “Cogito, ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am”.

[00:06:16] And secondly, the English civil servant and philosopher, Francis Bacon who is widely credited with introducing a scientific method of enquiry; in other words you discover what works best through a meticulous and thorough process of experimentation – recording evidence and making judgements on the basis of that evidence. 

[00:06:42] The fancy and technical term for this movement is Empiricism. 

[00:06:48] The other founding father of the Enlightenment for many people is another Englishman, John Locke. 

[00:06:57] His main area of interest was in government and the rules by which societies were ruled. 

[00:07:04] Locke set out the principle that everyone has the right to “life, liberty and property“.

[00:07:12] All of these three were writing in the late 17th century, either before the Enlightenment began, or right at the start of the Enlightenment, depending on when exactly you believe it started.

[00:07:26] So, the writings and influence of such men as Descartes, Bacon and Locke were instrumental in causing others to think expansively about almost everything in society. 

[00:07:41] An obvious target for this was the power of monarchs, of kings and queens, and of the Church.

[00:07:49] If every person had the right to life, liberty, and property, having all-powerful kings, queens and nobility, while the poor suffered terribly didn’t seem very fair. It didn't seem very just.

[00:08:06] Why should this be the case?

[00:08:09] These sorts of ideas were discussed by scientists, writers, philosophers, and engineers all over Europe, and there was a huge growth in something called learned societies, where these people would come together to share ideas and question the status quo.

[00:08:30] An interesting way of exploring these ideas is by telling the stories of some of the major contributors to the main part of the Enlightenment and focusing on the four countries I mentioned at the start: Scotland, England, France and Italy.

[00:08:48] Although Scotland was only formally joined with England, Wales and Ireland to make the United Kingdom in 1707, the strength of its own Enlightenment thinkers, based in Edinburgh and Glasgow, means that the Scottish Enlightenment deserves to have its own story told.

[00:09:08] One of the two most influential people here is a philosopher called David Hume, who wrote from the 1730s to the 1760s.

[00:09:19] He invites me to introduce the central Enlightenment quality - scepticism

[00:09:27] Scepticism is best defined as an attitude through which you doubt whether something is true or useful. 

[00:09:36] Now when we say someone is a sceptic, it often has a slightly negative connotation, but in the case of Hume it was a vitally important characteristic; it meant that you actually thought critically about what you read or heard, you didn’t just take it as true.

[00:09:58] Alongside Hume stood the best known of the British Enlightenment thinkers, a Scotsman you will probably have heard of and someone who is often described as the Father of Capitalism: Adam Smith. 

[00:10:13] Smith‘s lengthy and profoundly influential book, “The Wealth of Nations”, challenged the conventional thought of the day, which said that the amount of wealth in the world was finite, there was a defined amount of it, and therefore encouraged nations to protect their trade and economies from other countries. 

[00:10:38] Smith's big idea was that there was an “invisible hand” which operated and that through what he called enlightened self-interest and trade within societies and between nations, everyone’s lives could improve. 

[00:10:55] Smith writes in a very effective and vivid way. Here is perhaps his best known quotation:

[00:11:03] “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.”

[00:11:15] So, just to explain that, Smith is saying that the people who provide our food do not do so because they are kind, but rather because it is in their advantage. And of course, he isn’t talking just about food, but about the economy as a whole.

[00:11:34] And his theory was that if society was structured in this way, then everyone’s lives would improve. This is really the heart of modern day capitalism, it’s the society that most of us live in today.

[00:11:50] Now let us leave Scotland and travel south to England, where the giant of Enlightenment thinking was the great scientist, Isaac Newton.

[00:12:01] Legend has it that Newton was sitting under a tree and an apple fell on his head, and it was from there that he came up with the idea for gravity

[00:12:11] This is, of course, a great oversimplification.

[00:12:15] Newton was not only a pioneering scientist who set out the basis for much of today’s science but he also showed how you could use scientific techniques to solve problems. 

[00:12:28] He demonstrated how, although Nature may be a puzzle, it can be hard to understand, we could, through scientific methods, gradually work it out and learn how better to control it for our own benefit. 

[00:12:44] So, that was Isaac Newton.

[00:12:46] The third country we will visit on our journey is France where the giants of this movement were Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, or as he is called in English, Rousseau. 

[00:13:00] Voltaire was arguably the most influential philosopher of the 18th century and certainly the most famous. 

[00:13:08] Perhaps his most important achievements were to champion freedom of speech, to challenge the prevailing power of religion and in particular to support the separation of church and state. 

[00:13:23] His most famous work that sets out a lot of this philosophy is his short book Candide, or Optimism. 

[00:13:32] His ideas were pretty radical at the time, and throughout his life he was in conflict with the authorities of France, being imprisoned twice and also exiled or banished for two years, when he went to England. 

[00:13:49] When he was in England he saw what he considered to be the success of a constitutional government, and this was very influential in his subsequent criticisms of the absolute power of the French King Louis XV. 

[00:14:06] We can see, through a look at the life of Voltaire, how closely linked a lot of these Enlightenment thinkers were, and how much they collaborated with each other with the shared goal of increasing human knowledge and understanding.

[00:14:22] Voltaire’s great hero was Isaac Newton, and indeed when Voltaire was sent to England he was there at Isaac Newton’s funeral.

[00:14:32] Back in France, at his estate on the Swiss border, he entertained other Enlightenment thinkers such as Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, and Adam Smith, the Scottish philosopher and economist we heard about a few minutes ago.

[00:14:49] And the other French master of the Enlightenment to mention was Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

[00:14:54] Rousseau likewise challenged the status-quo, and put forward the radical and dangerous idea – even heretical idea – that human beings are born essentially good, but they are corrupted by human society and institutions.

[00:15:13] You may well remember the quote “man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains”, which is how he starts his most famous work, Du Contrat Social, or The Social Contract.

[00:15:26] These ideas were, of course, radical

[00:15:29] If you believe that the institutions of society corrupt innocent people, well then the institutions of society aren’t going to react particularly well to that idea. 

[00:15:41] And indeed Rousseau was denounced publicly as the antichrist, and he had to flee to Great Britain, where he stayed with his friend David Hume, the father of scepticism, who we heard about a few minutes ago.

[00:15:55] Now to our fourth country, Italy – or the area of the world now known as Italy – and to the splendidly named Marquis Cesare Di Beccaria. 

[00:16:07] His famous work “On Crimes and Punishment” is a short but powerful and spine-tingling work to read even now. 

[00:16:17] It has the added benefit of having a commentary written by his admirer, the aforementioned Voltaire. 

[00:16:25] As I am sure you know, the penal system or system of punishment in 1764 when Beccaria wrote his ground-breaking work, was utterly brutal.

[00:16:38] For even what we would now consider to be the smallest of crimes you could be tortured, cut up into pieces, publicly executed, and suffer the most horrible of punishments.

[00:16:52] Beccaria challenged all of that; in his introduction he questions why it should be that in all human societies one part is given “the height of power and happiness“ and reduces the other part – the poor and weak – to “the extreme of weakness and misery“. 

[00:17:12] His work explains how good laws should work against this tendency and so “diffuse their influence universally and equally.” 

[00:17:22] This might seem to us to be simple good sense, but in Europe of the 18th century this was revolutionary and radical, enlightened thinking. 

[00:17:34] And because of this, Beccaria can be justly described as the father of criminal law.

[00:17:42] So, these are some of the most famous individual thinkers of The Enlightenment, but before we move onto the influence of the Enlightenment, it’s worth mentioning a remarkable innovation that came out of this period.

[00:17:57] And that is the Encyclopedia.

[00:18:00] Its founding editor, the Frenchman Denis Diderot stated that its mission was for people “to be able to inform themselves and to know things.”

[00:18:11] 17 volumes were printed over a period of 21 years amounting to 20 million words. 

[00:18:20] It was a collaboration, drawing on the best minds of the day and aiming to include information across a whole range of subjects and “to change the way people think“.

[00:18:33] Now, encyclopedias have obviously gone slightly out of fashion with the creation of The Internet, but it’s hard to overestimate quite how important this invention was.

[00:18:45] It wasn’t free, of course, but people could suddenly find information for themselves, they could inform themselves and make up their own minds through rational thought. 

[00:18:58] Now, as we move on to consider the influence of Enlightenment ideas on the world that came after them, and of course our modern world, perhaps the stated mission of Diderot and his encyclopedia might remind you of an ever present element of our own knowledge universe. 

[00:19:17] Google, of course, whose mission is “to organise the world’s information making it universally accessible and useful.”

[00:19:26] A cynic, or sceptic even, might say that Diderot’s mission was purely intellectual and for the public good, whereas Google is also pretty good at making money, but that is beside the point.

[00:19:40] Let’s pause for a moment and take stock – or gather our thoughts. 

[00:19:46] We have had a quick survey of some of the key contributors to the Enlightenment and started to look at the ways in which they, collectively, amassed knowledge, collaborated and stimulated each other to think. 

[00:20:00] Before moving on to discuss the impact and influence they had on different countries in the succeeding 50 years, let me illustrate a bit more fully how their ideas spread and in doing so say a little bit about the climate of ideas that operated in Europe at this time.

[00:20:20] During the first half of the 18th century there was a particularly rapid growth in all the different ways that humans could congregate – that they could meet together – and communicate. 

[00:20:34] Coffee houses became the centre of talk and political debate. 

[00:20:39] Especially in England, newspapers and political pamphlets - or short essays – were plentiful, they were all over the place. 

[00:20:49] Not only were there the learned societies mentioned before, but also debating societies sprung up

[00:20:57] New heights of sophistication in entertainment became popular, with London, the largest and richest city in Europe, a particularly strong centre for music, attracting [albeit only for 15 months] the young Mozart, and – more permanently – Georg Händel.

[00:21:17] Now, moving on to the biggest effects of the Enlightenment– and here I am pointing towards the mini series on revolutions - we are talking about three very different kinds of revolution: the Industrial, the American and the French.

[00:21:34] Taking each one in turn, I will say a brief word on each revolution, but leave the majority for the full episodes.

[00:21:42] So, the Industrial Revolution was the period from approximately 1760 to 1820 when Western Europe initially and then the USA went through a period of explosive and transformative growth based on the use of new industrial techniques, such as spinning machines for making cotton and steam engines. 

[00:22:07] Although it is difficult to show direct cause and effect, the scientific method and Empiricism, pioneered by Enlightenment thinkers, laid the basis for this revolution. 

[00:22:21] Both industrialists and Enlightenment thinkers gathered in coffee shops and in learned societies, and so there was a great sharing of ideas that helped stimulate the Industrial Revolution.

[00:22:36] And the concept of empiricism, of trial and error, and of experimentation, created completely new professions, such as the engineer, and it was these people who were some of the key drivers of The Industrial Revolution.

[00:22:54] Moving on to The American Revolution, there is no doubting the impact that the Enlightenment had on it. 

[00:23:03] Of the most important founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were particularly influenced by what they saw and heard when visiting Europe and also what they read. 

[00:23:17] Jefferson, the architect of the American Constitution, declared Locke, Newton and Bacon as “three of the greatest men that had ever lived.”

[00:23:29] In designing the American Constitution, the influence of the thought of Isaac Newton is there in the way in which the different interlocking and counterbalancing parts of the Constitution work together. 

[00:23:44] As we saw in the final days of President Donald Trump, this robustly and ingeniously organised mechanism can withstand great pressure - it’s quite the legacy.

[00:23:57] Whilst the Industrial Revolution brought about a seismic and massive change in society and the American Revolution was a war of independence against the colonial power, the French Revolution was the overthrowing of an existing regime - at that time one of the most famous monarchies in the world.

[00:24:20] As you may well have detected from what you’ve learned about the French contributors to the Enlightenment, they often found themselves needing to escape from France because they were seen as representing a threat to the status quo

[00:24:34] Which, history shows us, they were.

[00:24:38] As you will learn about in the episode on The French Revolution, Enlightenment ideas about the social contract between the rulers and the ruled and in particular about each human being‘s rights to liberty and equality were at the heart of its revolutionary ideals. 

[00:24:58] And it shows you quite how important some of the Enlightenment thinkers in France were that shortly after the French Revolution the bodies of both Voltaire and Rousseau were brought to be buried with full honours in the Pantheon in Paris. 

[00:25:15] The number of people who lined the streets in Paris to pay their respects to Voltaire was said to be around one million, which is more people than the entire population of Paris at the time.

[00:25:31] So, to the final section and some concluding thoughts on the impact and influence of the Enlightenment movement on today‘s world.

[00:25:41] As I have indicated earlier, you can see its workings in the American constitution in particular, and you can see it in the current French state, with its emphasis on individual freedoms, and the separation of church and state. 

[00:25:56] These ideas about what constitutes good government and commonly accepted ideas about civil liberties have been enshrined in such concepts as universal human rights. 

[00:26:09] Indeed, a lot of these ideas, whether that’s challenging the status quo, or the importance of reason, of equality between people, or of the right to access information, they don’t seem particularly revolutionary at all to us now. 

[00:26:27] If anything, for most people living in a Western democracy, they seem normal.

[00:26:34] And that is no doubt the most lasting legacy of The Enlightenment. 

[00:26:40] OK then, that is it for today's slightly longer than usual episode on The Age of Enlightenment.

[00:26:48] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that it will be helpful when it comes to this mini series on the Age of Revolution.

[00:26:58] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:27:02] Which Enlightenment thinkers, or ideas, do you think had the greatest impact? Was it even someone, or an idea, that I didn’t mention in this episode?

[00:27:13] I would love to know.

[00:27:14] You can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:27:24] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:27:30] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about The Age of Enlightenment, otherwise known as just The Enlightenment.

[00:00:33] It was the intellectual movement that involved philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, economists, and thinkers of all kinds, and had a profound impact on politics, philosophy, business, science and our society as a whole.

[00:00:52] You might have thought that a show called English Learning for Curious Minds, which has a mission of helping you expand your knowledge, might have chosen to do an episode on The Enlightenment much earlier than episode number 149. 

[00:01:08] You might be right, but I think that now is the perfect time, for two reasons.

[00:01:14] Firstly, there are many principles of The Enlightenment that are being particularly challenged all over the world, and so it’s a useful time to think about where these principles actually came from.

[00:01:29] And secondly, perhaps more importantly, the next episodes will be a mini series on The Age of Revolution, where we’ll cover The Industrial, American, and French Revolutions, all three of which were deeply influenced by Enlightenment thinking.

[00:01:48] It is a huge subject, and a fascinating one, so let’s get right into it.

[00:01:56] Now, the tricky thing about The Enlightenment is that there isn’t a specific start and end date for it. 

[00:02:05] No people’s uprising, no war, no one single event.

[00:02:11] Some people date the start of The Enlightenment back to 1637, which was when Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” philosophy was first published, while for others it doesn’t start for another 100 years.

[00:02:28] And in terms of when it ends, that’s perhaps an even harder question. 

[00:02:34] In France, most historians date the end of the Enlightenment to 1789, the start of The French Revolution, but others would say it continued into the 19th century.

[00:02:48] For the purposes of today’s episode, it doesn’t really matter. 

[00:02:53] The important thing to underline is that before The Enlightenment, in Europe the way the world worked was explained through religion. 

[00:03:04] God had created the world, kings and queens ruled countries on his behalf, and society was structured in a very hierarchical way. 

[00:03:15] Access to knowledge was difficult. 

[00:03:18] And that knowledge was often incomplete, or wrong, it wasn’t based on reason.

[00:03:25] The Enlightenment questioned all of this. 

[00:03:29] If there’s one word that we should probably associate with The Enlightenment, it’s not gravity, or humanity, or equality, it’s…..why. Yes, the word “why”.

[00:03:43] The Enlightenment was all about questioning the reason why certain things were the way they were. 

[00:03:51] Why do things happen? 

[00:03:53] What would be a better explanation for it, or a better way of doing things, a better way of structuring the society we live in?

[00:04:03] A great example both of the conventional way of thinking and about how Enlightenment thought changed this came after a terrible earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1755.

[00:04:18] It struck on All Saints Day, an important Christian holiday, and is thought to have killed between 30 and 50 thousand people.

[00:04:29] It was a tragedy, and as humans do in these circumstances, people looked for explanations.

[00:04:37] For some people, it was a sign that God was unhappy, he had sent this disaster down to show that people were not behaving in the way he wanted them to.

[00:04:49] For others, who had started to be influenced by Enlightenment ideas, they asked “why”? 

[00:04:56] Why would a God punish an entire city, and surely if this was his idea, he would have spared, he would have saved  all of the good Christians.

[00:05:08] As it happened, many churches were destroyed, worshippers killed, while some brothels, places where prostitutes work, were saved. 

[00:05:20] This didn’t seem to make a huge amount of sense, it didn’t stand up to reason.

[00:05:27] And if why is the word that one must first associate with The Enlightenment, it has an equally important twin, reason. 

[00:05:38] One of the main principles of the Enlightenment was a belief that reason is sovereign, it is the most important thing.

[00:05:47] We shouldn’t believe something just because someone else has told us that it is true, or it is conventional wisdom, we need to see it for ourselves, and to understand it.

[00:06:00] These ideas were developed by two early writers.

[00:06:05] First, René Descartes, the French-born philosopher, known for the phrase “Cogito, ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am”.

[00:06:16] And secondly, the English civil servant and philosopher, Francis Bacon who is widely credited with introducing a scientific method of enquiry; in other words you discover what works best through a meticulous and thorough process of experimentation – recording evidence and making judgements on the basis of that evidence. 

[00:06:42] The fancy and technical term for this movement is Empiricism. 

[00:06:48] The other founding father of the Enlightenment for many people is another Englishman, John Locke. 

[00:06:57] His main area of interest was in government and the rules by which societies were ruled. 

[00:07:04] Locke set out the principle that everyone has the right to “life, liberty and property“.

[00:07:12] All of these three were writing in the late 17th century, either before the Enlightenment began, or right at the start of the Enlightenment, depending on when exactly you believe it started.

[00:07:26] So, the writings and influence of such men as Descartes, Bacon and Locke were instrumental in causing others to think expansively about almost everything in society. 

[00:07:41] An obvious target for this was the power of monarchs, of kings and queens, and of the Church.

[00:07:49] If every person had the right to life, liberty, and property, having all-powerful kings, queens and nobility, while the poor suffered terribly didn’t seem very fair. It didn't seem very just.

[00:08:06] Why should this be the case?

[00:08:09] These sorts of ideas were discussed by scientists, writers, philosophers, and engineers all over Europe, and there was a huge growth in something called learned societies, where these people would come together to share ideas and question the status quo.

[00:08:30] An interesting way of exploring these ideas is by telling the stories of some of the major contributors to the main part of the Enlightenment and focusing on the four countries I mentioned at the start: Scotland, England, France and Italy.

[00:08:48] Although Scotland was only formally joined with England, Wales and Ireland to make the United Kingdom in 1707, the strength of its own Enlightenment thinkers, based in Edinburgh and Glasgow, means that the Scottish Enlightenment deserves to have its own story told.

[00:09:08] One of the two most influential people here is a philosopher called David Hume, who wrote from the 1730s to the 1760s.

[00:09:19] He invites me to introduce the central Enlightenment quality - scepticism

[00:09:27] Scepticism is best defined as an attitude through which you doubt whether something is true or useful. 

[00:09:36] Now when we say someone is a sceptic, it often has a slightly negative connotation, but in the case of Hume it was a vitally important characteristic; it meant that you actually thought critically about what you read or heard, you didn’t just take it as true.

[00:09:58] Alongside Hume stood the best known of the British Enlightenment thinkers, a Scotsman you will probably have heard of and someone who is often described as the Father of Capitalism: Adam Smith. 

[00:10:13] Smith‘s lengthy and profoundly influential book, “The Wealth of Nations”, challenged the conventional thought of the day, which said that the amount of wealth in the world was finite, there was a defined amount of it, and therefore encouraged nations to protect their trade and economies from other countries. 

[00:10:38] Smith's big idea was that there was an “invisible hand” which operated and that through what he called enlightened self-interest and trade within societies and between nations, everyone’s lives could improve. 

[00:10:55] Smith writes in a very effective and vivid way. Here is perhaps his best known quotation:

[00:11:03] “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.”

[00:11:15] So, just to explain that, Smith is saying that the people who provide our food do not do so because they are kind, but rather because it is in their advantage. And of course, he isn’t talking just about food, but about the economy as a whole.

[00:11:34] And his theory was that if society was structured in this way, then everyone’s lives would improve. This is really the heart of modern day capitalism, it’s the society that most of us live in today.

[00:11:50] Now let us leave Scotland and travel south to England, where the giant of Enlightenment thinking was the great scientist, Isaac Newton.

[00:12:01] Legend has it that Newton was sitting under a tree and an apple fell on his head, and it was from there that he came up with the idea for gravity

[00:12:11] This is, of course, a great oversimplification.

[00:12:15] Newton was not only a pioneering scientist who set out the basis for much of today’s science but he also showed how you could use scientific techniques to solve problems. 

[00:12:28] He demonstrated how, although Nature may be a puzzle, it can be hard to understand, we could, through scientific methods, gradually work it out and learn how better to control it for our own benefit. 

[00:12:44] So, that was Isaac Newton.

[00:12:46] The third country we will visit on our journey is France where the giants of this movement were Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, or as he is called in English, Rousseau. 

[00:13:00] Voltaire was arguably the most influential philosopher of the 18th century and certainly the most famous. 

[00:13:08] Perhaps his most important achievements were to champion freedom of speech, to challenge the prevailing power of religion and in particular to support the separation of church and state. 

[00:13:23] His most famous work that sets out a lot of this philosophy is his short book Candide, or Optimism. 

[00:13:32] His ideas were pretty radical at the time, and throughout his life he was in conflict with the authorities of France, being imprisoned twice and also exiled or banished for two years, when he went to England. 

[00:13:49] When he was in England he saw what he considered to be the success of a constitutional government, and this was very influential in his subsequent criticisms of the absolute power of the French King Louis XV. 

[00:14:06] We can see, through a look at the life of Voltaire, how closely linked a lot of these Enlightenment thinkers were, and how much they collaborated with each other with the shared goal of increasing human knowledge and understanding.

[00:14:22] Voltaire’s great hero was Isaac Newton, and indeed when Voltaire was sent to England he was there at Isaac Newton’s funeral.

[00:14:32] Back in France, at his estate on the Swiss border, he entertained other Enlightenment thinkers such as Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, and Adam Smith, the Scottish philosopher and economist we heard about a few minutes ago.

[00:14:49] And the other French master of the Enlightenment to mention was Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

[00:14:54] Rousseau likewise challenged the status-quo, and put forward the radical and dangerous idea – even heretical idea – that human beings are born essentially good, but they are corrupted by human society and institutions.

[00:15:13] You may well remember the quote “man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains”, which is how he starts his most famous work, Du Contrat Social, or The Social Contract.

[00:15:26] These ideas were, of course, radical

[00:15:29] If you believe that the institutions of society corrupt innocent people, well then the institutions of society aren’t going to react particularly well to that idea. 

[00:15:41] And indeed Rousseau was denounced publicly as the antichrist, and he had to flee to Great Britain, where he stayed with his friend David Hume, the father of scepticism, who we heard about a few minutes ago.

[00:15:55] Now to our fourth country, Italy – or the area of the world now known as Italy – and to the splendidly named Marquis Cesare Di Beccaria. 

[00:16:07] His famous work “On Crimes and Punishment” is a short but powerful and spine-tingling work to read even now. 

[00:16:17] It has the added benefit of having a commentary written by his admirer, the aforementioned Voltaire. 

[00:16:25] As I am sure you know, the penal system or system of punishment in 1764 when Beccaria wrote his ground-breaking work, was utterly brutal.

[00:16:38] For even what we would now consider to be the smallest of crimes you could be tortured, cut up into pieces, publicly executed, and suffer the most horrible of punishments.

[00:16:52] Beccaria challenged all of that; in his introduction he questions why it should be that in all human societies one part is given “the height of power and happiness“ and reduces the other part – the poor and weak – to “the extreme of weakness and misery“. 

[00:17:12] His work explains how good laws should work against this tendency and so “diffuse their influence universally and equally.” 

[00:17:22] This might seem to us to be simple good sense, but in Europe of the 18th century this was revolutionary and radical, enlightened thinking. 

[00:17:34] And because of this, Beccaria can be justly described as the father of criminal law.

[00:17:42] So, these are some of the most famous individual thinkers of The Enlightenment, but before we move onto the influence of the Enlightenment, it’s worth mentioning a remarkable innovation that came out of this period.

[00:17:57] And that is the Encyclopedia.

[00:18:00] Its founding editor, the Frenchman Denis Diderot stated that its mission was for people “to be able to inform themselves and to know things.”

[00:18:11] 17 volumes were printed over a period of 21 years amounting to 20 million words. 

[00:18:20] It was a collaboration, drawing on the best minds of the day and aiming to include information across a whole range of subjects and “to change the way people think“.

[00:18:33] Now, encyclopedias have obviously gone slightly out of fashion with the creation of The Internet, but it’s hard to overestimate quite how important this invention was.

[00:18:45] It wasn’t free, of course, but people could suddenly find information for themselves, they could inform themselves and make up their own minds through rational thought. 

[00:18:58] Now, as we move on to consider the influence of Enlightenment ideas on the world that came after them, and of course our modern world, perhaps the stated mission of Diderot and his encyclopedia might remind you of an ever present element of our own knowledge universe. 

[00:19:17] Google, of course, whose mission is “to organise the world’s information making it universally accessible and useful.”

[00:19:26] A cynic, or sceptic even, might say that Diderot’s mission was purely intellectual and for the public good, whereas Google is also pretty good at making money, but that is beside the point.

[00:19:40] Let’s pause for a moment and take stock – or gather our thoughts. 

[00:19:46] We have had a quick survey of some of the key contributors to the Enlightenment and started to look at the ways in which they, collectively, amassed knowledge, collaborated and stimulated each other to think. 

[00:20:00] Before moving on to discuss the impact and influence they had on different countries in the succeeding 50 years, let me illustrate a bit more fully how their ideas spread and in doing so say a little bit about the climate of ideas that operated in Europe at this time.

[00:20:20] During the first half of the 18th century there was a particularly rapid growth in all the different ways that humans could congregate – that they could meet together – and communicate. 

[00:20:34] Coffee houses became the centre of talk and political debate. 

[00:20:39] Especially in England, newspapers and political pamphlets - or short essays – were plentiful, they were all over the place. 

[00:20:49] Not only were there the learned societies mentioned before, but also debating societies sprung up

[00:20:57] New heights of sophistication in entertainment became popular, with London, the largest and richest city in Europe, a particularly strong centre for music, attracting [albeit only for 15 months] the young Mozart, and – more permanently – Georg Händel.

[00:21:17] Now, moving on to the biggest effects of the Enlightenment– and here I am pointing towards the mini series on revolutions - we are talking about three very different kinds of revolution: the Industrial, the American and the French.

[00:21:34] Taking each one in turn, I will say a brief word on each revolution, but leave the majority for the full episodes.

[00:21:42] So, the Industrial Revolution was the period from approximately 1760 to 1820 when Western Europe initially and then the USA went through a period of explosive and transformative growth based on the use of new industrial techniques, such as spinning machines for making cotton and steam engines. 

[00:22:07] Although it is difficult to show direct cause and effect, the scientific method and Empiricism, pioneered by Enlightenment thinkers, laid the basis for this revolution. 

[00:22:21] Both industrialists and Enlightenment thinkers gathered in coffee shops and in learned societies, and so there was a great sharing of ideas that helped stimulate the Industrial Revolution.

[00:22:36] And the concept of empiricism, of trial and error, and of experimentation, created completely new professions, such as the engineer, and it was these people who were some of the key drivers of The Industrial Revolution.

[00:22:54] Moving on to The American Revolution, there is no doubting the impact that the Enlightenment had on it. 

[00:23:03] Of the most important founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were particularly influenced by what they saw and heard when visiting Europe and also what they read. 

[00:23:17] Jefferson, the architect of the American Constitution, declared Locke, Newton and Bacon as “three of the greatest men that had ever lived.”

[00:23:29] In designing the American Constitution, the influence of the thought of Isaac Newton is there in the way in which the different interlocking and counterbalancing parts of the Constitution work together. 

[00:23:44] As we saw in the final days of President Donald Trump, this robustly and ingeniously organised mechanism can withstand great pressure - it’s quite the legacy.

[00:23:57] Whilst the Industrial Revolution brought about a seismic and massive change in society and the American Revolution was a war of independence against the colonial power, the French Revolution was the overthrowing of an existing regime - at that time one of the most famous monarchies in the world.

[00:24:20] As you may well have detected from what you’ve learned about the French contributors to the Enlightenment, they often found themselves needing to escape from France because they were seen as representing a threat to the status quo

[00:24:34] Which, history shows us, they were.

[00:24:38] As you will learn about in the episode on The French Revolution, Enlightenment ideas about the social contract between the rulers and the ruled and in particular about each human being‘s rights to liberty and equality were at the heart of its revolutionary ideals. 

[00:24:58] And it shows you quite how important some of the Enlightenment thinkers in France were that shortly after the French Revolution the bodies of both Voltaire and Rousseau were brought to be buried with full honours in the Pantheon in Paris. 

[00:25:15] The number of people who lined the streets in Paris to pay their respects to Voltaire was said to be around one million, which is more people than the entire population of Paris at the time.

[00:25:31] So, to the final section and some concluding thoughts on the impact and influence of the Enlightenment movement on today‘s world.

[00:25:41] As I have indicated earlier, you can see its workings in the American constitution in particular, and you can see it in the current French state, with its emphasis on individual freedoms, and the separation of church and state. 

[00:25:56] These ideas about what constitutes good government and commonly accepted ideas about civil liberties have been enshrined in such concepts as universal human rights. 

[00:26:09] Indeed, a lot of these ideas, whether that’s challenging the status quo, or the importance of reason, of equality between people, or of the right to access information, they don’t seem particularly revolutionary at all to us now. 

[00:26:27] If anything, for most people living in a Western democracy, they seem normal.

[00:26:34] And that is no doubt the most lasting legacy of The Enlightenment. 

[00:26:40] OK then, that is it for today's slightly longer than usual episode on The Age of Enlightenment.

[00:26:48] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that it will be helpful when it comes to this mini series on the Age of Revolution.

[00:26:58] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:27:02] Which Enlightenment thinkers, or ideas, do you think had the greatest impact? Was it even someone, or an idea, that I didn’t mention in this episode?

[00:27:13] I would love to know.

[00:27:14] You can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:27:24] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:27:30] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

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