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How does life today compare and contrast with the "Enlightenment" period?

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In terms of similarities between then and now, both the thinkers of the Age of Enlightenment and many important thinkers of today place importance on the questioning of traditional authority figures. For example, the French Revolution, which was inspired by many of the ideals put forth by Enlightenment thinkers, sought change that upended long-held political traditions. Today, political upheaval in America is characterized by similar challenges to traditional authority figures by disempowered individuals who are tired of their lot.

In terms of differences between then and now, many of the religious thinkers of the Enlightenment were able to maintain their positions in society and even gain strength by explaining aspects of their beliefs in rational terms. These appeals to reason by religious people are not as popular nor frequent in today's day and age; in fact, the opposite is taking place as renewed religious zealotry continues to create a lot of tension amongst different people in different parts of the world. The tension that emerges from these uncompromising belief systems reflects extremist thinking that is vastly different from the approach of some Enlightenment religious figures who tried to work with the new ways of the period.

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The the Age of Enlightenment or Age of Reason (or Aufklärung in German) usually refers to the period between 1715 and 1789. There were several major differences between this period and the twenty-first- century.

Perhaps the most significant was technology. Travel over land was powered by horses and both travel and communication were relatively slow as compared to modern air or car travel. A letter or person could take weeks to travel across Europe. Travel was also expensive. Most poor people lives their lives in a limited area and rarely would communicate or travel farther than the nearest market town, unlike people today who care more mobile. Lack of electricity meant that most people (except the very wealthy) worked in the fields during the day and slept at night.

Scientists were just beginning to understand human anatomy and bacteria and viruses were not understood nor curable, and so many people died from epidemic diseases and infections. Infant and maternal mortality rates were much higher than the present.

Culturally, homosexuality was illegal in most of Europe and women had few rights. Gender and ethnic discrimination (including antisemitism) was common.

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Late Eighteenth Century: By the 1770s, significant growth in the printing industry means wider distribution of newspapers and books. This enables Enlightenment writers to reach a greater audience. Censorship is also waning, enabling Enlightenment thinkers to write more plainly about their views and theories.

Today: The Internet enables anyone to reach a worldwide audience. Any information, theory, or ideology can be read by millions of people. Such communications are virtually unpoliced.

Late Eighteenth Century: In 1762, Rousseau’s Émile is published. In this world-famous novel presenting a new approach to education, the author expresses the typical view of the day that limited education is acceptable for women but that ultimately they should be prepared for domestic life.

Today: Women are given the same access to higher education as men. Some well-educated women choose to stay home and rear their children, but this is a choice rather than an expectation.

Late Eighteenth Century: World exploration and colonization by European nations affects the Enlightenment in two ways. First, exposure to new cultures brings about the philosophes’ view that culture is relative and that tolerance is necessary. Second, colonization often leads to oppression.

Today: The world has been explored and colonized. There are no new lands or peoples to conquer.

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