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Summary - The Enlightenment - Thinkers and Characteristics

Summary - The Enlightenment - Thinkers and Characteristics

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O Enlightenment It was an intellectual movement that emerged during the eighteenth century in Europe, advocating the use of reason (light) against the old regime (darkness) and preaching greater economic and political freedom.
This movement promoted political, economic and social changes based on the ideals of freedom, equality and fraternity.
The Enlightenment had the support of the bourgeoisie, because the thinkers and the bourgeois had common interests.

The criticism of the movement to the Old Regime was in several aspects as:
- Mercantilism.
- Monarchical Absolutism.
- Church power and truths revealed by faith.
Based on the three points above, we can say that the Enlightenment advocated:
- Economic freedom, ie without state intervention in the economy.
- Anthropocentrism, that is, the advance of science and reason.
- The predominance of the bourgeoisie and its ideals.
The liberal ideas of the Enlightenment spread rapidly throughout the population. Some absolutist kings, afraid of losing their government - or even their heads - have come to accept some Enlightenment ideas.

These kings were called Enlightened Despots, for they tried to reconcile the absolutist way of governing with the Enlightenment ideas of progress.

Some representatives of enlightened despotism were: Frederick II of Prussia; Catherine II of Russia; and Marquês de Pombal, from Portugal.

Some thinkers became famous and were highlighted for their works and ideas in this period. Are they:

John Locke

John Locke is considered the "father of the Enlightenment." His main work was “Essay on human understanding ”, where Locke defends reason by stating that our mind is like a tabula rasa with no idea.
It defended the freedom of the citizens and condemned the absolutism.


François Marie Arouet Voltaire stood out for criticism of the Catholic clergy, religious inflexibility and the arrogance of the powerful.


Charles de Secondat Montesquieu in his work “The Spirit of the Laws ” defended the tripartition of powers: Legislative, Executive and Judiciary.
However, Montesquieu was not in favor of a bourgeois government. His political sympathy leaned toward a moderate monarchy.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau is the author of the work “The social contract”, Which states that the sovereign should lead the state according to the will of the people. Only a democratically based state would be able to offer legal equality to all citizens. Rousseau also stood out as a defender of the petty bourgeoisie.


François Quesnay was the official representative of the physiocracy. Physiocrats preached agrarian capitalism without state interference.

Adam Smith

Adam Smith was the principal representative of a set of ideas called economic liberalism, which is composed of the following:
- the state is legitimately powerful if it is rich;
- To enrich, the state needs to expand capitalist economic activities;
- In order to expand capitalist activities, the state must give economic and political freedom to particular groups.
Smith's main work was “The Wealth of Nations ”in which he argues that the economy should be driven by the free play of supply and demand.


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