The Enlightenment

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What Enlightenment forces caused major changes in Europe and North American English colonies?

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The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement of the 18th century that had profound consequences for both Europe and America. It emphasized science over superstition and religion. It ushered in the belief that knowledge could be categorized and that reality could be discovered through science and reason. The church and the secular rulers did not have a monopoly on truth. These were the tenets of the Enlightenment.

The movement spread throughout Europe in French salons, English coffeehouses, and German universities. At these places, men met to to discuss and argue a wide variety of subjects(women were barred from participation). This widespread exchange of ideas was unprecedented.

Traditional Christian religion was called into question. Other ideas such as the pantheism of Baruch Spinoza (1632–77) and the empiricism of John Locke (1632–1704) challenged traditional religious thoughts and beliefs. In 1687, Sir Isaac Newton published Principia (Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, or Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), which revolutionized science.

Denis Diderot (1713–1784) was the influential editor of the first modern encyclopedia. The idea of gathering and storing all knowledge in one publication was novel at the time.

In Europe, the Enlightenment ultimately contributed to the French Revolution of the late 18th century. French revolutionaries were extremely hostile to both the king and the church.

In America, the Enlightenment led to the weakening of the bonds with England. Enlightenment thought diminished the institution of monarchy, and it inspired and informed the Founding Fathers as they wrote the United States Constitution in the late 18th century.

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