Freedom from Fear
The process of enlightenment consists not in teaching people what to think, but in teaching them how to think. Immanuel Kant’s famous formulation, published in 1784, cannot be repeated too often: the watchword of enlightenment is ‘Have the courage to use your own intellect!’ (xvii)
If the Enlightenment had a collective mission, part of it was ‘the slow vanquishing of fear’. (Pg.10)
In 1690 the conservative-minded diplomat Sir William Temple could still call thunder and lightning ‘that great Artillery of God Almighty’.66 Now, instead of signs of divine anger, they were natural phenomena that could be mastered. (Pg.13)
In the meantime, Enlighteners tried to free people from the additional burden of imaginary terrors. Chief among these were the terrors of religion. The poet Louis Racine, a Jansenist, believing in Original Sin and predestination like his father the dramatist, imagined Paradise as a hierarchy of fear:
L’ordre régnoit alors, tout était dans son lieu:
L’animal craignoit l’homme, et l’homme craignoit Dieu.57
[At that time order reigned, everything was in its proper place: animals were afraid of man, and man was afraid of God.] Exactly, retorted the Enlightenment: religion was about fear. ‘
[I]t must be acknowledged,’ says a persuasive speaker in Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ‘that, as Terror is the primary Principle of Religion, it is the Passion, which always predominates in it, and admits but of short intervals of Pleasure.’58 A God who inspired fear rather than love could hardly be the perfectly good being that Christianity claimed. ‘[T]o fear God any otherwise than as a consequence of some justly blameable and imputable act is to fear a devilish nature, not a divine one’, argued the diplomat and philosopher Lord Shaftesbury in 1699.59 Enlighteners targeted also the everyday anxieties induced by superstition. An early issue of the Spectator in 1711 deplores the fears aroused by spilling salt or laying one’s knife and fork across each other. ‘As if the natural Calamities of Life were not sufficient for it, we turn the most indifferent Circumstances into Misfortunes, and suffer as much from trifling Accidents, as from real Evils . . . A Screech-Owl at Midnight has alarm’d a family, more than a Band of Robbers.’60 These campaigns gradually achieved so much success that Samuel Johnson could write in 1770:
One of the chief advantages derived by the present generation from the improvement and diffusion of philosophy, is deliverance from unnecessary terrours, and exemption from false alarms. The unusual appearances, whether regular or accidental, which once spread consternation over ages of ignorance, are now the recreations of inquisitive security. The sun is no more lamented when it is eclipsed, than when it sets; and meteors play their coruscations without prognostick or prediction.61
Thunder and lightning were particularly alarming. Readers of the Bible remembered that God had spoken to Moses in thunder on Mount Sinai. When, in 1505, the young Martin Luther was caught in a thunderstorm in the open air, he vowed to become a monk, and kept his vow despite his father’s disapproval.62 In 1641 the fourteen-year-old Robert Boyle was terrified by a thunderstorm in Switzerland, first into thinking that the world was about to end, then into resolving to lead a fully Christian life.63 Even without fearing divine wrath, people were generally afraid of thunder: when Jean-François Marmontel stayed with his lover Marie de Navarre at her country house around 1745, she so much feared thunder that on a stormy day she would have her meals in the wine-cellar, amid fifty thousand bottles of champagne.64 Later in the century, however, the devout came to regard thunder with awe rather than terror, while for others thunder became a source of the aesthetic thrill labelled ‘sublime’.65
Lightning strikes were interpreted as signs of God’s wrath, even though they tended especially to hit church spires. When St Michael’s Church in Hamburg was struck by lightning in 1750, an extraordinary day of fasting and prayer was ordained for the entire city. A great symbolic moment for the Enlightenment, and for its project of freeing humanity from needless terrors, occurred in 1752 in Philadelphia. During a thunderstorm, Benjamin Franklin flew a kite with a pointed wire at the end and succeeded in drawing electric sparks from a cloud. He thus proved that lightning was an electrical phenomenon and made possible the invention of the lightning-rod, which, mounted on a high building, diverted the lightning and drew it harmlessly to the ground by means of a wire. Humanity no longer needed to fear fire from heaven. (Pg.13)
Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky by Benjamin West (c. 1816).
Kant, whose early publications were on natural science, called Franklin ‘the Prometheus of modern times’, recalling the mythical giant who defied the Greek gods by stealing fire from heaven and giving it to the human race.68 Gradually a change of outlook was occurring. Extraordinary events need not be signs from God; they might just be natural phenomena, which could be understood and brought under some measure of human control. (Pg.14)
The Age of Enlightnment 1715-1789
The Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on the pursuit of happiness, sovereignty of reason and the evidence of the senses as the primary sources of knowledge and advanced ideals such as liberty, progress, toleration, fraternity, constitutional government and separation of church and state.
Terms in this set (5)
- reason. divine force; makes humans human; destroys intolerance.
- nature. good and reasonable; nature’s laws govern the universe.
- happiness. achieved if you live by nature’s laws; don’t have to wait for heaven.
- progress. …
- liberty and freedom.
The Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, was an intellectual and cultural movement in the eighteenth century that emphasized reason over superstition and science over blind faith. … Rationalism is the idea that humans are capable of using their faculty of reason to gain knowledge.
Did Enlightenment thinkers believe in God? These thinkers agreed with deists that there was a kind of “natural religion,” basic truths about God and morality accessible to reasoning people. Natural religion was not a rival or alternative, however, to revealed religion. It was a prelude, a necessary but insufficient foundation for belief.
What was the most important influence on the Enlightenment? The Scientific Revolution- During the 1500s when European scientists used reason, observation, and experimentation to learn about the physical world.
A dimly imagined happiness might exist beyond the grave, but the prospect could not compensate for the shortcomings of this life. If happiness was possible – and that was far from certain – Enlighteners wanted to attain it before death. To them, happiness was not, as it often is in present-day discussions, simply a subjective state, such as might be induced by chemicals; it meant attaining the preconditions for personal happiness, including domestic affection, material sufficiency and a suitable degree of freedom.7 (Pg.3)
The Enlightenment declared the conviction that the goal of life was happiness, and that if this goal could be attained at all, it was to be found in the here and now, despite the manifold imperfections of earthly life. (Pg.1)
WE&P by: EZorrilla