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Rational thinking is making decisions based on reasoning and not emotion. In other words, it became more and more important to people to use reason and scientific fact in their daily lives. Scientific thinking was all the rage, even for those who weren’t scientists.
One of the major manifestations the Enlightenment. This was an intellectual movement towards less reliance on religious and traditional authority. Instead, Enlightenment thinkers emphasized thinking logically and rationally. This was, for example, the kind of thinking behind the French Revolution. It held that there was no logical, rational reason to believe that kings and aristocrats were favored by God to rule. Instead, democracy was a much more rational idea.
To extend the line of logic even further:
The rise of reason brought on by the scientific revolution and applied to society by the enlightenment thinkers brought an end to 1000+ years of the feudal system in Europe by powering the Glorious revolution and the English Bill of Rights in 1688 and the French revolution in 1789.
The rise of reason meant the end of Scholasticism, the idea that only the Bible and Aristotle were acceptable authorities. One was taught under scholastic discipline to accept dogma without proof. All of this changed, of course with the Scientific Revolution when reason (then called "ration") became important. As a result, religion and church doctrine became more important. An important result of this was the rise of banking and industry based on new ideas. Previously, the church had forbidden the lending of money at interest; now with the waning influence of the church, banking and lending became common practice. The advent of competitive lending (previously, one could only borrow money from Jewish money lenders) proved a boon to the European economy.
The spirit of rationality relates to rational thought which was a key component of the Enlightenment. This argued that everything had a scientific explanation and that by distrusting our emotions and emphasising cool, scientific logic we could discover these reasons and why things do what they do.
There is a great book by that name by Thomas Khun. His point is that there are changes or revolutions in the study of since. He is actually the one who has coined the term, paradigm shift. The states that revolutions take place whenever people study anomalies in any theory. When a better explanation comes up, then there is a shift. the theoretical framework is great for historians to study social history. This approach will certainly help you as well.
# 2's answer seems especially relevant to your question. I'll try to give it a go as well. Here is the quotation you cited:
"The spirit of rationality that had been so important to the scientific revolution of the 17th century continued to manifest itself in the economic life of the 18th century.". What is the spirit of rationality? How is it manifested in the 18th century in Europe?
Here's the basic meaning of this quotation: During the 1600s, reason -- the disciplined, logical use of the mind to discover empirical truth -- was especially important to scientists. In fact, in the 1600s reason had become so important that a "scientific revolution" occurred. In other words, people began to use rational, intellectually disciplined ways to study the physical universe in ways (and to an extent) that had not been true in earlier centuries. By the 1700s, rational, disciplined, logical, methodical thinking had also become more and more important in economic life. Large businesses were beginning to arise; international trade ballooned; cities became larger and larger; companies began to employ more and more people; etc. For all these reasons, it became especially important to use systematic, disciplined, reliable, proven methods of conducting economic activities.
The ideas of the prominent thinkers and writers of the 1600s--such as Newton, with scientific discoveries, and Francis Bacon, with ideas on empiricism, and John Locke, with ideas on moral and scientific order--helped restructure economic approaches to social productivity. These restructured concepts carried over to the next century, the Enlightenment of the 1700s, and influenced innovation in economic principles, philosophies and activities.
The quantification of the physical world by Englishman Isaac Newton in the 1700's was the supreme achievement of the Scientific Revolution. For the first time in human history, the physical world could be described by calculus, which meant accurate predictions regarding the material world could be made. The scientific study of thermodynamics at this time led inventors to build more efficient steam engines, which led to them being the ultimate devices during the Industrial Revolution. Britain, as the first nation to industrialize, made extensive use of the new devices, and the economy and standard of living boomed. The Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution are clearly linked; the first was the cause of the second. Interestingly, both occured in Great Britain!
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