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Spark/The Enlightenment


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Olympe de Gouges
A French feminist and reformer in the waning years of the Enlightenment who articulated the rights of women with her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen (1791).
Cesare Beccaria
An Italian politician who ventured into philosophy to protest the horrible injustices that he observed in various European judicial systems. Beccaria's book On Crimes and Punishments (1764) exposed these practices and led to the abolition of many
Denis Diderot
A French scholar who was the primary editor of the Encyclopédie, a massive thirty-five-volume compilation of human knowledge in the arts and sciences, along with commentary from a number of Enlightenment thinkers. The Encyclopédie became a prominent symbol of the Enlightenment and helped spread the movement throughout Europe.
Thomas Jefferson
American thinker and politician who penned the Declaration of Independence (1776), which was inspired directly by Enlightenment thought.
Hugo Grotius
A Dutch scholar who, like Czech John Comenius, lived during the Thirty Years' War and felt compelled to write in response to it. The result, a treatise on war and international relations titled On the Law of War and Peace (1625), eventually became accepted as the basis for the rules of modern warfare.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
Generally considered the founder of the Aufklärung, or German Enlightenment, who injected a bit of spirituality into the Enlightenment with writings regarding God and his perfect, harmonious world. Also a scientist who shared credit for the discovery of calculus, Leibniz hated the idea of relying on empirical evidence in the world. Instead, he developed a theory that the universe consists of metaphysical building blocks he called monads.
Johann Sebastian Bach
An enormously influential German composer who rose to prominence in the early 1700s. Best known by his contemporaries as an organist, Bach also wrote an enormous body of both sacred and secular music that synthesized a variety of styles and in turn influenced countless later composers.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
A German author who wrote near the end of the Aufklärung, the German Enlightenment. Goethe's morose The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) helped fuel the Sturm und Drang movement, and his two-part Faust (1808, 1832) is seen as one of the landmarks of Western literature
Francis Bacon
An English philosopher and statesman who developed the inductive method or Baconian method of scientific investigation, which stresses observation and reasoning as a means for coming to general conclusions. Bacon's work influenced his later contemporary René Descartes
John Comenius
A Czech educational and social reformer who, in response to the Thirty Years' War, made the bold move of challenging the necessity of war in the first place. Comenius stressed tolerance and education as alternatives for war, which were revolutionary concepts at the time.
George Frideric Handel
A German-English composer of the late Baroque period whose Messiah remains one of the best-known pieces of music in the world. Handel was an active court composer, receiving commissions from such notables as King George I of England, for whom his Water Music suite was written and performed.
Benjamin Franklin
American thinker, diplomat, and inventor who traveled frequently between the American colonies and Europe during the Enlightenment and facilitated an exchange of ideas between them. Franklin exerted profound influence on the formation of the new government of the United States, with a hand in both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
Thomas Hobbes
A philosopher and political theorist whose 1651 treatise Leviathan effectively kicked off the English Enlightenment. The controversial Leviathan detailed Hobbes's theory that all humans are inherently self-driven and evil and that the best form of government is thus a single, all-powerful monarch to keep everything in order
René Descartes
A French philosopher and scientist who revolutionized algebra and geometry and made the famous philosophical statement "I think, therefore I am." Descartes developed a deductive approach to philosophy using math and logic that still remains a standard for problem solving.
David Hume
A Scottish philosopher and one of the most prominent figures in the field of skepticism during the Enlightenment. Hume took religion to task, asking why a perfect God would ever create an imperfect world, and even suggested that our own senses are fallible, bringing all observations and truths into question. Hume's skepticism proved very influential to others, such as Immanuel Kant, and was instrumental in the shift away from rationalist thought that ended the Enlightenment.
Immanuel Kant
A German skeptic philosopher who built on David Hume's theories and brought the school of thought to an even higher level. Kant theorized that all humans are born with innate "experiences" that then reflect onto the world, giving them a perspective. Thus, since no one actually knows what other people see, the idea of "reasoning" is not valid. Kant's philosophies applied the brakes to the Enlightenment, effectively denouncing reason as an invalid approach to thought.

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