How did the Enlightenment affect the lives of ordinary people?

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The Enlightenment affected everyday people primarily through religious skepticism and democratic revolution, all influenced by the underlying shift to a human dependency on reason as opposed to the previously understood natural law.

In Thomas Aquinas's Scholasticism, he postulates that reason is not merely a scientific endeavor, but something that...

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The Enlightenment affected everyday people primarily through religious skepticism and democratic revolution, all influenced by the underlying shift to a human dependency on reason as opposed to the previously understood natural law.

In Thomas Aquinas's Scholasticism, he postulates that reason is not merely a scientific endeavor, but something that could be applied to Christianity and human understanding of God. This concept led to disrupting a divine right to rule that was used to subordinate "ordinary" people during and before the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Religious skepticism rose with this notion of reason through several Protestant movements that established themselves as opposed to the Catholic Church. For ordinary people, this skepticism initially manifested through turmoil and war (the Thirty Years' War), but eventually, it encouraged an overall religious tolerance and the separation of church and state.

Democracy also re-emerged during this time period through the "social contract," leading to revolutions in France and the US that established a dramatic shift in political power for ordinary people, particularly for white, landowning men.

Both religious skepticism and, later, democracy were embraced by democracies as emblematic of the culture of "the West." For ordinary people, the construction of "the West" implemented an us-versus-them dialogue in the progression of globalism that heavily influenced the construction of race in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

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The Enlightenment was important for many people though they might not have seen it as its own unique historical period. Enlightenment thought directly challenged the concept of the divine right of kings and thus led to the American Revolution and the French Revolution where common people sought self-rule. Though the revolutions ended quite differently, both initially were in favor of self-government for the people. Another way the Enlightenment was important was in the realm of science as inventors and doctors sought empirical evidence to discover how the world worked. These advances led to important inventions such as the lightning rod and a smallpox vaccine. Another key aspect of the Enlightenment was the importance of education. This was especially true in the American colonies as colleges sprang up to support an educated clergy and public education became important in the northeastern United States as a way to promote literacy among future town meeting participants.

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Perhaps the most obvious way the Enlightenment affected the lives of ordinary people is the role it played in fostering revolutions in the eighteenth century. While the causal link between the Enlightenment and the American and French Revolutions is not a clear one, certainly these revolutions, which changed the lives of millions of ordinary people, were strongly influenced and justified by Enlightenment thought. The Enlightenment affected ordinary people in other ways. Enlightenment thinkers proposed legal reforms in a number of areas, including penal codes, marriage and inheritance laws, and laws regarding religious establishment. Many of these reforms were actually implemented in a number of places, including the United States, Great Britain, and France, and they affected ordinary people as much as anyone else. The "print revolution" that led to increased literacy throughout Europe in the eighteenth-century is also generally associated with the Enlightenment's push for greater literacy, even if most Europeans were not reading Enlightenment texts. At the same time, some changes that emerged among the people--the religious revivals of the Great Awakening, for example--were in many ways a reaction among ordinary people to the rationalism of the Enlightenment.

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