In what ways did Enlightenment challenge old patterns in European thinking?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Enlightenment thinkers sought to subject time-honored traditions, many of which had been accepted more or less on faith, to scrutiny. Those institutions that did not conform to reason should be altered or abolished. This included religion, and while most of the philosophes did not call the notion of faith itself into question, they did argue, almost unanimously, for religious toleration.

Because they held that mankind benefited from critical examination of its basic beliefs, the philosophes also argued for a free press, though many of them were forced to publish their works anonymously or in exile. From calls for educational reform to the advent of serious literary criticism to new theories international finance, the Enlightenment amounted to a sea change in the way educated Europeans viewed their world. As historian Peter Gay once observed, it was a "recovery of nerve," in which thinking people dared to reexamine their most fundamental beliefs.


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