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Enlightenment in the Literature of the 18th Century

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The 18th century was marked by the appearance of the new philosophy and change of the conventional image of the world. Numerous geographical discoveries, technological and scientific achievements, increasing social and political awareness and rise of the literary and cultural movements led to the changes in the personal and collective outlooks. This period is commonly known as Enlightenment or Age of Reason. In fact, the main concepts and ideas of Enlightenment influenced the whole world, although at various stages of history. Thus, Europe faced the changes some decades earlier in comparison with the American continent. Nevertheless, the Age of Reason introduced significant changes in the social and philosophical tendencies and found its reflection in the scientific and literary works of that time.

The main peculiarity of the Age of Reason was its pragmatic orientation and emphasis on the scientific achievements. Instead of the blind faith in the Supreme Being and miracles, the Enlightenment highlighted the importance of practical evidences and proofs of every phenomenon and occasion. People became more aware of their social roles, personal rights and individual aims and objectives. They tried to explain and analyze the events and situations they observed rather than name them and enumerate. Such an obsession with the science and education, as well as the refusal of the divine interferences into the human lives, resulted in the appearance of the self-persistent, confident and independent citizens.

Nowadays, we can observe the reflections of these ideas in the works of the leading philosophers and writers of the 18th century. B. Franklin widely applied the philosophy of Enlightenment in his “Autobiography”. Thus, the author continuously emphasized the importance of the self-education for the contemporary people. Additionally, he believed that every person is responsible for defining and organizing their earthly lives.

B. Franklin also focused on the necessity of the professional and personal growth for the success and prosperity. This idea is much different from the previous images of the world because it does not emphasize the role of the divine providence, making the humans bear responsibility for their actions and deeds. It does not mean that B. Franklin or other philosophers refused the existence of God completely. On the contrary, they supposed that God had created the world, allowing people make personal decisions and choose the lifestyle.

Since the humans realized that they themselves played the crucial role in their well-being and health, the Enlightenment raised the importance of the role of the political institutions and courts, the main purpose of which was to protect the human rights and guarantee independence and freedom for every citizen. The idea of the fairness and justice was not fully implemented in practice, although it found a brilliant reflection in the literature. Th. Jefferson’s “Declaration” drew the public attention to the concepts of liberty, independence, life security and the right to happiness, fair government and comfortable living conditions. These ideas found a great support in the population and quickly raised the collective consciousness. Actually, these ideas reflected the nature of Enlightenment as they coincided with the desires to explain the structure of the world and society and find the new methods of fair government.

To sum up, the Age of Reason was a qualitative shift in the social consciousness, varying from the devoted faith in God to progressive and advanced perception of the world and the place of humans in it. This period was concerned with the scientific evidences, practical experiments and theoretical interpretations of all phenomena and actions. People started paying more attention to the self-development and self-education, regarding them as the major keys of success in the society. In addition, the Enlightenment encouraged plenty of new discoveries and movements, both in culture and politics.

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