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The Enlightenment By the mid-century, what was regarded by many as the pinnacle of purely Enlightenment thinking was being

reached with Voltairewhose combination of wit, insight, and anger made him the most hailed man of letters since Erasmus. Born Franois Marie Arouet in 1694, he was exiled to England between 1726 and 1729, and there he studied Locke, Newton, and the English Monarchy. Voltaire's ethos was that "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities"that if people believed in what is unreasonable, they will do what is unreasonable. This point is, perhaps, the central point of contention over the Enlightenment: whether the construction of reason and credibility creates, inherently, as many problems as it deals with. From the perspective of many crucial figures of the Enlightenment, credible reports, viewed through the lens of reason annealed knowledge, empirical observation, and knowledge should be compiled into a source which stood as the authoritative one. The opposing view, which was held with increasing force by the Romantic movement and its adherents, is that this process is inherently corrupted by social convention, and bars truth which is unique, individual and immanent from being expressed. The Enlightenment balanced then, on the call for "natural" freedom which was good, without a "license" which would, in their view, degenerate. Thus the Age of Enlightenment sought reform of the Monarchy by laws which were in the best interest of its subjects, and the "enlightened" ordering of society. The idea of enlightened ordering was reflected in the sciences by, for example, Carolus Linnaeus' categorization of biology.

In mid-century Germany, the idea of philosophy as a critical discipline began with the work of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Johann Gottfried Herder. Both argued that formal unities that underlie language and structure hold deeper meaning than a surface reading, and that philosophy could be a tool for improving the virtue, political and personal, of the individual. This strain of thinking would influence Kant's critiques, as well as subsequent philosophers seeking an apparatus to examine works, beliefs and social organization, and it is particularly notable in the history of later German philosophy. These ideas became volatile when it reached the point where the idea that natural freedom was more self-ordering than hierarchy, since hierarchy was the social reality. As that social reality repeatedly disappointed the fundamentally optimistic ideal that reform could end disasters, there became a progressively more strident naturalism which would, eventually, lead to the Romantic movement. Thinkers of the last wave of the EnlightenmentJean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant as well as Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson and the young Johann Wolfgang von Goethe adopted the increasingly used biological metaphor of self-organization and evolutionary forces. This represented the impending end of the Enlightenment: which believed that nature, while basically good, was not basically self-orderingsee Voltaire's Candide for an example of why not. Instead, it had to be ordered with reasoning and maturity. The impending Romantic view saw the universe as self-ordering, and that chaos was, in a real sense, the result of excesses of rational impositions on an organic world. Role of the Enlightenment in later philosophy

The Enlightenment occupies a central role in the justification for the movement known as modernism. The neo-classicizing trend in modernism came to see itself as being a period of rationality which was overturning foolishly established traditions, and therefore analogized itself to the Encyclopediasts and other philosophes. A variety of 20th century movements, including liberalism and neo-classicism traced their intellectual heritage back to the "reasonable" past, and away from the "emotionalism" of the 19th century. Geometric order, rigor and reductionism were seen as virtues of the Enlightenment. The modern movement points to reductionism and rationality as crucial aspects of Enlightenment thinking of which it is the inheritor, as opposed to irrationality and emotionalism. In this view, the Enlightenment represents the basis for modern ideas of liberalism against superstition and intolerance. Influential philosophers who have held this view are Jrgen Habermas and Isaiah Berlin. This view asserts that the Enlightenment was the point where Europe broke through what historian Peter Gay calls "the sacred circle," where previous dogma circumscribed thinking. The Enlightenment is held, in this view, to be the source of critical ideas, such as the centrality of freedom, democracy and reason as being the primary values of a society. This view argues that the establishment of a contractual basis of rights would lead to the market mechanism and capitalism, the scientific method, religious and racial tolerance, and the organization of states into self-governing republics through democratic means. In this view, the tendency of the philosophes in particular to apply rationality to every problem is considered to be the essential change. From this point on, thinkers and writers were held to be free to pursue the truth in whatever form, without the threat of sanction for violating established ideas.