Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment

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Everything in history has its cause, its reason for happening and nothing goes unnoticed. According to the laws of probability, there are infinite outcomes to every minor event in our lives, and each of those possible outcomes will have tremendous impact on the future. Of course, these laws are taken for granted by most of us, but in looking at them we could better understand the present with respect to our past. In this case the Scientific Revolution was the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment, which eventually led to the French Revolution and the American Revolution. What was the Scientific Revolution and why was it such an important time in the history of Europe? The Scientific Revolution changed people's perception of the world around them, the medieval view of the Universe was destroyed, and a new, completely different cosmology was created. The medieval cosmology was based on a mixture of theories derived from ancient Greed thinkers and Christian thought. Aristotle believed that "the heavens were unchangeable, and therefore, they were better than the earth. The sun, moon, and planets were all faultless spheres, unblemished, and immune from decay. Their motion was circular because the circle was the perfect form of motion. The earth was the center of the universe because it was the heaviest planet and because it was at the center of the Great Chain of Being, between the underworld of spirits and the upper world of gods" (Kishlansky, 554-555). Ptolemy used this idea to develop his theory of a geocentric universe, where the Earth was at the center and all the other planets rotated around it. This view was easily incorporated in the Christianity and helped make a clear distinction between the Earth and the Heavens. The obvious problems with Aristotle's theories were overlooked and other questions were explained by the idea of Heaven and Earth. The Scientific Revolution shattered the tied between science and religion. Revolutionary thinkers, such as Copernicus (1473-1543), who stated that we lived in a heliocentric universe, and Kepler (1571- 1630), who developed the three laws of planetary motion, radically changed the views of the pre-revolution period. Copernicus' heliocentric universe disproved the beliefs of Aristotle and Ptolemy, which were the partial basis of the medieval cosmology. Kepler's three laws of planetary motion proved that planets have elliptical orbits, that a planet's velocity is not uniform, and brought the planets together into a unified mathematical system. Other great thinkers such as Galileo (1564-1642) and Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) helped to develop a new cosmology not dominated by Christian belief and the Heavens. Newton's Law of Gravitation changed ideas about the motion of an object. It showed that the laws and forces of motion at work in nature determined the motion of a body. Galileo used his self-built telescope to observe the universe and deduce that heavenly bodies undergo change and that there was no distinction between the Heavens and Earth. All of these ideas were quite contrary to the cosmology of the medieval times. These ideas were dangerous and destructive to the Christian religion. The cosmology adequately explained the movement of the planets and the role of our own Earth in the universe. However, this theory did not account for the presence of God as an unchanging part of the universe. The scientists did not attempt to disprove the accepted views of the church, few of them saw any contradiction between their research and their faith, but were accused of heretic teaching. They were persecuted, forced to renounce their ideas and even killed for the work they did to explain the world around us. This did not stop any of them from continuing their quest for knowledge. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the new science had firmly established itself in Europe. The wealthy noble patrons of scientists provided the equipment and the cost of the experiments, thus supporting the further development of scientific learning. The Scientific Revolution was beneficial for many reasons. The development of the scientific method helped start research in areas like medicine, biology, alchemy, and physics. The scientific thought put an end to centuries of superstition and allowed many people feel a sense of control over the material world. The quest for knowledge led to the improvements in agriculture, mining, industry, and navigation. The Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, was the dominant intellectual movement of the eighteenth century. The thinkers of the time are known as philosophes, they shared the faith of the supremacy of human reason, believing that people through the use of their reason could find answers to their questions and solution to their problems. Insisting that human institutions should conform to logic and reason, they challenged traditional royal and church authority and called for the end of the Old Regime. The Enlightenment was a crucial movement in the development of the modern world. The writers, philosophers, artists and musicians of the eighteenth century who saw themselves as being enlightened had a profound conviction that they were at the forefront of a new age which would sweep aside the superstitions of the past and replace them with the clear light of reason. The vision was not confined to the world of ideas it also had profound political implications. In the minds of many of the leading figures of the Enlightenment, superstition and ignorance were not confined to private life - they had their outworking in the rule of autocratic monarchs and corrupt governments. There were some monarchs at the time that considered themselves to be 'enlightened', we now refer to them as "The Enlightened Despots", for their belief, although somewhat valid, was based mostly on their perception of themselves. Catherine the Great of Russia, was one of such rulers. She was well acquainted with the literature of the French Enlightenment, which was an important influence on her own political thinking. She corresponded extensively with Voltaire and Denis Diderot, gave financial support to them and a number of other French writers, and played host to Diderot at her court in 1773. Although this activity was partly aimed at creating a favorable image in Western Europe, she was probably sincere in her interest and her hope to apply some of the ideas of the Enlightenment to rationalize and reform the administration of the Russian Empire. Frederic the Great of Prussia almost perfect example of the benevolent or "enlightened" despot. He was familiar with the ideas of the eighteenth-century reformers and a friend of Voltaire. Many of the philosophes, including Voltaire, felt progress could come faster if the government were directed by a reasonable, benevolent, "enlightened" despot, who would make his state's welfare his highest aim. Frederick the Great was just such a man. Frederick the Great put many of the philosophes' concepts into practice. He was much influenced by the philsophes' ideas that the king was the servant of his people. The Enlightenment did not just have a pacifistic tone, it was the main cause of the French Revolution of 1789-1792. France was long overdue for a financial and political reform. It was full of new ideas, new theories and new thinkers, but it was kept together by traditions of many centuries. The Church, the monarchy and the nobility had all the power in the country and a large percentage of the wealth. This was acceptable to them, but caused a great deal of unhappiness for common people who worked for their money. There was talk of reform and progress, but for many years it simply remained a plan. The Old Regime was doomed to fall eventually, it was just a matter of time. The French population consisted of three classes: the nobility, the clergy, and the commoners. Most of the wealth resided in the first two estates, but most of the population belonged to the third. In the middle of the eighteenth century, a subset of the third estate called the bourgeoisie had emerged. These were people of common birth that had nothing to do with the nobility or the clergy, but through their efforts became successful in business, accumulating a considerable amount of money. They were the most educated, and often the most respected members of the community they lived in, and they were the ones who initiated the revolution on July 14th 1789 by storming the Bastille. This event was very significant, it was the people taking the ruling of the country into their won hands. The privileged classes were no more, the third estate became the power in the land, and no one had the right to dictate the terms of the constitution and the laws. Abbe Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes was a member of the first estate, but held the progressive views of the time: "What is the third estate? Everything. What had it been heretofore in the political order? Nothing. What does it demand? To become something therein… The third estate, then, comprises everything appertaining to the nation; and whatever is not the third estate may not be regarded as being of the nation. What is the third estate? Everything!" (Kishlansky, 671). However, not many people in the first and second estates agreed with this philosophy. They struggled to keep the revolution under their control, determined to retain their power and privileges, but it was now out of their hands. The storming of the Bastille was a symbol of breaking free from the chains of the tyranny and the oppression and taking control of their lives, according to the teachings of the enlightened philosophes. The second revolution in 1792 was the revolution of the people; its motto was equality. This time it was led by the common people, urban workers, and peasants from the villages close to Paris. There were no high ideas of liberty and respect for tradition, it was simply the mob doing its job. The popular movement constituted from the working men and women, some wealthier then others, but all from the lower part of the third estate. They all hated the privileged first and second estates, they believed that these privileges were not deserved and should not be condoned. Kishlansky states: "As the have-nots, they were increasingly intent on pulling down the haves, and they translated this sense of vengeance into a new revolutionary justice"(Kishlansky, 679). The ideas of the Enlightenment were finally realized. The bourgeoisie were educated people who were familiar with the works of many authors from the Age of Reason, these works

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