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The Age of Disenlightenment

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Berna Da’Costa

Global History-10

January 13, 2017

The Age of DisEnlightenment

        What if the South had won the Civil War? What if Napoleon had succeeded in invading Russia? What if Christopher Columbus never sailed west? What if President John F. Kennedy survived the assassination attempt? With alternate timelines, our present day would be different. History builds the future. Every event will eventually become a catalyst to another and a chain reaction will take place, a domino effect that will connect the present to the past and the past to the present.

        During the late 1600s, the world turned upside down. Beginning in the mid-1500s, a few scholars began to question how the universe operated, theorizing that the dark mystery could be solved. These few numbers launched a change in European thought known today as the Scientific Revolution. As this new way of thinking spread, the movement inspired new insight into other aspects of society and eventually spurred the Enlightenment. Also known as the Age of Reason, this movement reached its height in the mid-1700s as people dared to want to know and found the courage to use reason.[1] So, what if it never happened? If the Age of Enlightenment was erased from history, how would it alter our timeline?

        The legacy of the Enlightenment has brought great change to the modern world. So, of it had never occurred, Western civilization would have been shaped very differently. One of the major impacts the of the Enlightenment in Europe was that it gave people a belief in progress. Without that confidence in human reason, there would have been very little advancement in the fields of chemistry, physics, biology, and mechanics, mainly because religion would have prevented the progress of science and accepted beliefs would generally be decided by referring to the Bible.

        [2]The Enlightenment period, in the context of it enormous role in the general decline of the Church, can be summed up in words of Fredrich Nietzsche when he famously proclaimed that God was dead. But if this period in history had not taken place, what would have a time of reasoning and scientific discovery, would be replaced by the seizure of freedom and the damnation of the individual by the control of scripture. The Church would have remained a dominant political entity and become a powerful controlling force to overpower the government. Without the Enlightenment thinkers, who challenged the ideas of the Church, religion would still have a big influence because the authority of the Church would have never been questioned.

        Science had become the new faith during the 1800s and the explosion of scientific discovery catapulted human invention. But where these inventions would have changed the course of human history, religion would have stalled it. Modern scholars would rely on ancient authorities, church teachings, common sense and reasoning to explain the mysteries of the physical world rather than using the scientific method, developed by Bacon and Descartes, to draw conclusions that had been proven. The ideas that had been accepted for hundreds of years would still be the beliefs held by the people today. The Earth would still be believed to be an immovable object deliberately place at the center of the universe by God but Copernicus’s heliocentric theory would not have been brought forth to the table to challenge the geocentric theory.

        Furthermore, Galileo Galilei would have never improved astronomical observation by his invention of the telescope to study the heavens, Johannes Kepler would have never discovered the proper motion of planets, and Isaac Newton would have never discovered gravity.  Other important tools and instruments that would not have been developed if the Enlightenment didn’t happen are the first microscope that was used to observe bacteria and later on red blood cells, the first mercury barometer, and the first thermometer.

        In addition to the reset of thinking, knowledge of the human body and medicine would still be based upon the writings of an ancient Greek philosopher who had never even dissected the body of a human being. Our knowledge of autonomy would be very limited instead of how detailed it actually is today.  A technique called inoculation wouldn’t have been introduced so as to create an immunity to diseases. Also, the advanced treatment of diseases that is practiced today would have not been introduced and modern chemistry would not even exist without the pioneering work of Robert Boyle.

        Along with the breakthroughs in scientific fields that wouldn’t have happened without the notions of reason and order that the Enlightenment encouraged, the advancement of other fields of life would also be stilled. If the thinkers that helped to challenge the traditional relationship between a government and its people weren’t there, the political landscape of government today could have been drastically different.

         Without the Age of Enlightenment, government would lack democracy. A political thinker of the 1600s, philosopher John Locke, favored the idea of self-government. He believed that human beings had the natural ability to govern their own affairs. This belief that the power of the government comes from the consent of the governed is the very foundation of modern democracy. Without it, older notions about the divine right of kings and absolute monarchy would still exist today. If a main philosopher like Locke had not been born, people would have signed Hobbes’s social contract and hand over their rights to a strong ruler.

        John Locke also believed that if a government fails to protect the rights of its citizens, then the citizens have a right to overthrow it. Throughout the 1600s and 1700s, when King George III became king of Great Britain in 1760. American colonists considered themselves to be subjects of the British king and that would have never changed if Enlightenment ideas had not emboldened England’s colonists to assert their rights to declare independence and attempt to throw what was then the mightiest government in Europe and create their own nation.

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