The Main Ideas of Enlightenment Philosophers

During the Enlightenment, revolutionary thinkers called philosophes brought about new ideas as to how to better understand and improve their society. They were all modern thinkers and had the best interests of society in mind. Although each philosoph had his or her own ideas, they all centered around one main theme: equality and human freedom. One famous influential philosopher was John Locke. Locke was born in England in the mid 17th century and lived through both the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution. He strongly believed in equality for all men.

In his book Second Treatise on Civil Government, he says that “creatures of the same species and rank…should be equal amongst another without subordination or subjection…. ” Locke wrote this piece in 1690, and 86 years later Thomas Jefferson incorporated Locke’s ideas into our very own United States’ Declaration of Independence. Locke also believed that the people should have the power in government. He argued that if a government was proven unbeneficial to the people then the people had the responsibility to change or create a new government.

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According to Locke, a government exists to protect the rights of the people and freedom is a natural right, so it is the responsibility of the government to protect the people’s freedom. In order to do so, he advocated that legislative and executive branches of government would be indispensable in doing so, while also preserving and protecting society. Francois-Marie Arouet, more commonly known by his pen name, Voltaire, is another influential Enlightenment philosopher. Born in late 17th century Paris, Voltaire is the author of many poems, essays, novels, plays, and over 20,000 personal letters.

Today he is still known for his support of tolerance of all kinds, especially religious. He was concerned about the lack of religious equality in his native France. In his writings, he praised England for their religious tolerance. Voltaire believed that if only one religion was to be allowed in a certain population, that the government would become arbitrary and only represent the rights of people belonging to that one particular religion. Only two religions allowed in a population, Voltaire says, would create animosity and competition between the two groups for power.

But if all religions are tolerated, accepted, and represented, then peace will be prominent and government will function much for efficiently and to the benefit of all of the people. Everyone’s rights will be represented because all of the focus will not just be on one or two groups of people but a multitude of groups, creating religious equality for all. Called the Father of Modern Economics, Adam Smith was an enormous advocate for private markets. He supported an economic system based on the decision making by individuals instead of the government.

Smith felt that no one person or a group is fit to make decisions for a whole population of people and that the population knows how to make decisions for its welfare. In Smith’s mind, people work to supplement their own lives, and when people seek individual economic gain then they unexpectedly promote society and stimulate the economy subconsciously. If people earn more money by working harder then almost all people will work harder. Smith insinuates that people are naturally self preserving and by default selfish; but to a point.

Everyone has something that they want and in this world most things can be obtained if a person has enough money. Smith believes that every man should be free to pursue his own interests without government interference in order to stimulate the economy and reach individual economic gain and happiness. Another philosopher, Mary Wollstonecraft, wrote many works, including a history of the French Revolution, many novels, and one of her more famous pieces, Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

Wollstonecraft is a huge advocate for women’s rights and freedom for women, and it was in Vindication of the Rights of Women that she argued that women are equal to men. She says that in order to “render mankind more virtuous… both sexes must act from the same principle. ” Wollstonecraft means that if the human race is to be happier and function peacefully, then women need to be equal to men and have the same rights as they do. Wollstonecraft said that “reason and experience” convinced her that the only way to create gender equality was to “free them from all restraint by allowing them to participate in the inherent rights of mankind. To make this so, Wollstonecraft says that women have to be educated as men are. This would give women a better understanding of society and the world around them and allow them to contribute to the public. The philosophers of the Enlightenment were all brilliant people with modern ideas that helped revolutionize society and the modern world. Every philosopher had their own ideas, but all of their ideas centered around equality and human freedom. The bright ideas of people such as John Locke, Voltaire, Adam Smith, and Mary Wollstonecraft helped change the world for the benefit of all people.

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