Enlightenment, The

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(From L. lumen, light). Illumination of the understanding with the light of the intellect. In world history, this name, the Age of E. or Century of Light was given to the eighteenth century. The beginnings of this current of thought, which gives priority to scientific knowledge and human reason, were marked by the works of Benedict Spinoza, René Descartes, John Locke, Isaac Newton, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, and other thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While these elaborator of universal systems can be considered the precursors of the E., the encyclopedists gave priority to empirical and historical knowledge, and the symbol of this period is Encyclopedic, which managed to imprint the seal of enlightenment on global society and to place scientific knowledge, rationalism and empiricism as the driving forces of social progress. According to the thinkers of the E., the ideas of good, justice and human solidarity, reinforced by scientific knowledge, would succeed in changing qualitatively both the human being and all of society, contributing to the humanization of life. Diderot introduced the idea of the unity of goodness and beauty. Voltaire wielded his critical scalpel against the conservative institution of the Church. Montesquieu established the principle of the separation of powers. Condillac founded the sensualist school, highlighting the role of analysis in scientific knowledge. Rousseau elaborated the doctrine of the “social contract” Schiller proclaimed his romantic humanism. Goethe placed special attention on the fusion of the natural and social dimensions in each human being. The extension of encyclopedic scientific knowledge, the intertwining of religious and atheistic approaches in the analysis of the phenomena of life, the aspiration to harmony and prosperity, the consolidation of the principles of justice and solidarity, paved the way for the inception of modern times. This new social order turned out to be neither as harmonious nor as humanistic as the thinkers of the E. had dreamed it would be, but it nevertheless signified an enormous step forward in the development of civilization. The principal historical merit of the Age of E. and the Renaissance as well consists of the renewal of humanism as a social ideology, a way of life and an ethical base. All of this has had lasting significance for world civilization.