The Enlightenment movement occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries when European thinkers synthesized and coined ideas concerning God, reason, humanity, and nature. These ideas gained popularity in the western nations emphasizing reason, individualism, and skepticism. Preceded by the scientific revolution, the Enlightenment period led to remarkable revolutions in philosophy, arts, and politics.

The Enlightenment period began with the work of Isaac Newton – Principia Mathematics, and of John Locke – Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Locke’s essay argued that knowledge was acquired through experience and that the nature of humans was mutable. Newton’s essay was a foundation of scientific and mathematical philosophies that measured change in the universe. Both publications provided a novel lens to view a reason and human reason and understanding, and would later become the toolkit to advance science, math, and philosophy since the Enlightenment. Other thinkers developed critiques on the two publications and prominent philosophical ideas, which brought about rational dialogues, and thus Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment period was characterized by various themes that revolved around rationalism. As such, the first characteristic is rationalism, which regards actions and opinions on the basis of knowledge. For instance, besides belief in God, Christians repositioned their faith in rationalism, which has ever been used as proof of Gods existence. Also, the period had increased scientific methods that entailed analysis, experiments and conclusions. For instance, the development of gravitational laws, theories of motion, and the invention of the telescope and the microscope occurred during this period. Besides, there was a rise of secular beliefs as such propagated by materialists. They argued that the universe was a system, and its processes do not rely on the intervention of God.


Also, the period featured increased optimism and confidence, backed by Locke’s essay that humans were capable of everything if human nature is mutable and knowledge fostered through experience. In connection to confidence, there was an increased sense of freedom, which would later impact the perception of colonialism. For instance, the notion of freedom escalated the fight for freedom for American colonies, to become independent nations. Philosophical ideas revealed the need for legal reforms, such as the formal institution of judicial, and the development of paradigms for justice, kindness, and charity. As such, the Enlightenment led to the development of constitutions, with laws of the land, and development of written human rights. Further, the period marked the advent of tolerance, where northing was worth hurting a neighbor. These would later influence the course of slavery and colonialism in the west, especially through the civil rights movement.

Notably, most of the thinkers attributed to the Enlightenment were from France, including Descartes, Voltaire, D’Alembert, Diderot, Montesquieu, among others. Also, most of the fundamental doctrines that date back to Enlightenment were from French thinkers. Some of the initial characteristics of Enlightenment rose from England, but it is in France the movement caused significant changes. France became the hotbed of retinal debates, and soon after the beginning of French Enlightenment, the French Revolution began. For these reasons, the Enlightenment is primarily associated with France.