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The Enlightenment

Autor:   •  November 9, 2011  •  Essay  •  1,592 Words (7 Pages)  •  817 Views

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The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment was an explosion of free thought and an advancement of knowledge that spread throughout Europe in the 18th century. The Enlightenment, led by revolutionary thinkers such as Copernicus, Voltaire and Sir Isaac Newton, broke the stranglehold of the church on the expression of new ideas in the areas of philosophy, mathematics and astronomy. The many contributions of these free thinkers led the way for a new understanding of both the world around them as well as the known universe of the era.

A key movement and arguably the most important aspect of the Enlightenment period is the Scientific Revolution. Advancements in Astronomy were seen as a threat to the church and their advocates labeled as heretics. One such astronomer was Copernicus.

Nicholas Copernicus was a Renaissance astronomer born in the Polish town of Thorn in 1473 and the first person to unseat the geocentric dogma perpetuated by the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church believed that God created the Earth, therefore, it must be the center of the universe and thus it never moved. Instead, everything revolved around the Earth. By observing and studying the movements of the stars and heavenly bodies, Copernicus placed the sun as the center of the known universe. Although some saw him as a heretic, he was not an atheist. Copernicus believed that God lived in the sun. His heliocentric model would be studied and expanded on for centuries to come. Although he enjoyed good relations with Pope Urban VIII his views eventually caught the eye of the Roman Inquisition . Unfortunately, he was placed under house arrest where he lived the rest of his life. Copernicus is directly responsible for changing the thinking of the day and inspiring countless astronomers to expand on his theories.

Secondly, books were a key element in the Enlightenment movement. Gutenberg's printing press is arguably one of the greatest inventions in modern history, because it enabled the spread of knowledge throughout the population of Europe and the rest of the world. No longer were knowledge and reading only for the aristocracy.

One person who took full advantage of the press was Voltaire. Born Francois-Marie Arouet in 1692, Voltaire was a French Enlightenment writer and philosopher famous for his wit and satirical writings, but to the powers that be, he was far too critical of the aristocracy of France. In 1725, Voltaire engaged in a quarrel with a descendant of a noble family. As a consequence, he was imprisoned in the Bastille and was facing an indefinite imprisonment. Upon his suggestion, it was agreed upon that Voltaire would be exiled to Great Britain, which the French authorities allowed in 1726. His exile lasted three years and during this time he was greatly influenced by English culture and impressed with Great Britain's constitutional monarchy and tolerance of different religious views.

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