The scientific revolution, which spanned the late sixteenth to the early eighteenth century in Europe, is best described as a change in worldview. European intellectuals came to view the world as understandable by the human mind, as it was governed by certain natural laws that could be discovered through scientific inquiry. The heliocentric theory of the universe posited by Nicolaus Copernicus, the new rational system of inquiry espoused by Rene Decartes, Johannes Kepler's laws of planetary motion, Galileo's explanation of motion, and Isaac Newton's laws of gravity were among the greatest achievements of the period.
The Enlightenment, sometimes called the Age of Reason, lasted from the beginnings of the eighteenth century (though some scholars would date it about fifty years earlier) to the outbreak of the French Revolution. It was an extremely broad and diverse movement that went in different directions in different countries, but in general, Enlightenment thinkers sought to apply the same critical reason that scientists were applying to the natural world to questions of philosophy and society. Leading thinkers of the movement, known as philosophes, included Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and David Hume. They attacked what they saw as superstition in religion and anachronisms in social institutions.