What were the pros and cons of the Enlightenment?

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The Enlightenment was based in an appeal to reason, with Enlightenment era thinkers believing it could be used to advance real social and political progress. Their ideas were critical in shaping the American and French Revolutions, which in turn have proved critical in shaping so much of modernity. In that respect, much of our modern understanding of democracy and rights ultimately stems out of the Enlightenment's influence.

At the same time, however, it is important to recognize that this same appeal to reason had a deeply unpleasant side to it as well. Indeed, consider the example of the French Revolution, with all of its violence and bloodshed, and the ways in which it threw both France and all of Europe into turmoil. These historical moments should not be oversimplified, and the Enlightenment is no different.

Ultimately, the Enlightenment does hold a deeply unpleasant side to its history. For one thing, consider that Enlightenment era rationality contained within itself a focus...

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Last Reviewed by eNotes Editorial on December 19, 2019