3 Enlightenment and the era of modernity
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3 Enlightenment and the era of modernity book
Just as light cuts through darkness, the philosophy of the Enlightenment was seen as something that would open the eyes of the world’s poor and free them from unjust rule. The ‘age of Enlightenment’ is most often traced to the eighteenth century and represented a catalyst for the development of particular styles of social thought in the form of a movement or a programme in which reason was used in order to achieve freedom and progress, and during which hostility to religion was omnipresent. In its simplest sense, the Enlightenment was the creation of a new framework of ideas and secure ‘truths’ about the relationships between humanity, society and nature which sought to challenge traditional worldviews dominated
by Christianity. Science, and the scientific approach, became the tool to investigate the world, instead of theological dogmas. According to Gay (1973: 3), at this time educated Europeans experienced ‘an expansive sense of power over nature and themselves: the pitiless cycles of epidemics, famines, risky life and early death, devastating war and uneasy peace – the treadmill of human existence – seemed to be yielding at last to the application of critical intelligence’. Fear of change began to give way to fear of stagnation. It was a century of commitment to enquiry and criticism, of a decline in mysticism, of growing hope and trust in effort and innovation (Hampson, 1968). One of the primary interests was social reform, and the progression and development of societies built around an increasing secularism and a growing willingness to take risks (Gay, 1973).