| Chapter 18: Toward a New World-view, 1540-1789
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> Chapter 18
Chapter 18: Toward a New World-view, 1540-1789

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Chapter Outline

  • The Scientific Revolution
  • Scientific Thought in 1500
  • Scientific thought in the early 1500s was based on ancient and medieval ideas.
  • European notions about the universe were based on Aristotelian principles.
  • A chief feature of this view was the belief in a motionless, static earth at the center of the universe.
  • Ten crystal spheres moved around the earth.
  • The Copernican Hypothesis
  • Copernicus overturned the medieval view of the universe.
  • He postulated that the earth revolved around the sun and that the sun was the center of the universe.
  • This heliocentric view was a departure from the medieval view endorsed by both Catholic and Protestant churchmen.
  • From Brahe to Galileo
  • Scholars from Brahe to Galileo refined and collected evidence in support of Copernicus’s model.
  • Brahe built an observatory and collected data.
  • Galileo discovered the laws of motion using the experimental method.
  • Newton’s Synthesis
  • Newton synthesized the integral parts into a whole.
  • Newton integrated the astronomy of Copernicus and Kepler with the physics of Galileo.
  • He formulated a set of mathematical principles to explain motion.
  • At the core of Newton’s theory was the universal law of gravitation.
  • Causes of the Scientific Revolution
  • Medieval universities had provided the framework for the new view.
  • The Renaissance stimulated science by rediscovering ancient mathematics.
  • Better ways of obtaining knowledge about the world, including improved tools such as telescopes and sextants, improved the scientific method.
  • Bacon advocated empirical, experimental research.
  • Descartes emphasized deductive reasoning and was the first to graph equations.
  • Science and Society
  • The Scientific Revolution helped create the international scientific community.
  • As governments intervened to support and direct research, the scientific community became closely tied to the state and its agendas.
  • The Scientific Revolution resulted in the development of the scientific method.
  • The Scientific Revolution created few new opportunities for women.
  • The Scientific Revolution had few economic and social consequences for the masses until the eighteenth century.
  • The Enlightenment
  • The Emergence of the Enlightenment
  • The overriding idea of the Enlightenment was that natural science and reason could explain all aspects of life.
  • The scientific method can explain the laws of nature.
  • Progress is possible if the laws are understood and followed.
  • The Philosophes and the Public
  • Many writers made Enlightenment thought accessible to a wide range of people.
  • Fontenelle stressed the idea of progress.
  • Skeptics such as Bayle believed that nothing could be known beyond all doubt.
  • Locke stressed that all ideas are derived from experience.
  • The French philosophes were committed to the fundamental reform of society.
  • Montesquieu’s theory of the separation of powers was fundamental.
  • Voltaire challenged traditional Catholic theology.
  • The Enlightenment Outside of France
  • Historians have identified distinctive Enlightenment movements in eighteenth-century Italy, Greece, the Balkans, Poland, Hungary, and Russia.
  • Different areas followed different strands of Enlightenment thinking.
  • David Hume (1711–1776) was the most important figure in the Scottish Enlightenment.
  • Urban Culture and the Public Sphere
  • The European market for books grew dramatically in the eighteenth century.
  • Popular titles addressed a wide range of subjects.
  • The illegal book trade included titles denouncing high political figures.
  • The nature of reading changed.
  • Conversation and debate also played a critical role in the Englightenment, with Parisian salons setting the example.
  • Elite women exerted considerable influence on salon culture and on artistic taste in general.
  • The new public sphere celebrated open debate informed by critical reason.
  • Late Enlightenment
  • After 1770, a number of thinkers and writers began to attack the Enlightenment’s faith in reason, progress, and moderation.
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) was devoted to individual freedom, but saw rationalism and civilization as enemies of the individual.
  • Rousseau believed in a rigid division of gender roles.
  • The Social Contract (1762) made an important contribution to political theory.
  • Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) argued that serious thinkers should be granted the freedom to exercise their reason publicly in print.
  • Race and the Enlightenment
  • Enlightenment thinkers developed new and highly influential ideas about racial difference.
  • A primary catalyst for new ideas about race was the urge to classify nature.
  • “Race” began to be used in similar way to “species.”
  • Thinkers such as Hume and Kant helped popularize new ideas about race.
  • These ideas did not go unchallenged.
  • The Enlightenment and Absolutism
  • Frederick the Great of Prussia
  • Frederick II built on the accomplishments of his father.
  • He fought successfully to defend Prussia from external threats.
  • Frederick allowed religious freedom and promoted education and legal reform.
  • He was unwilling to change Prussia’s social structure and rejected calls for civil rights for Jews.
  • Catherine the Great of Russia
  • Catherine deposed her husband Peter III and became empress of Russia.
  • Catherine imported Western culture to Russia, supported the philosophers, and introduced limited legal and penal reforms to her adopted country.
  • Pugachev’s rebellion put an end to Catherine’s efforts to reform serfdom.
  • Under Catherine, Russia continued to expand.
  • The Austrian Habsburgs
  • Joseph II (r. 1780–1790) and Maria Theresa (1740–1780) introduced reforms in Austria.
  • Maria Theresa introduced measures aimed at limiting the power of the papacy in her realm, strengthening the central bureaucracy, and improving the lot of the agricultural population.
  • Joseph II pursued reforms aggressively when he came to the throne in 1780.
  • His rapid reforms sent Austria into turmoil and after Joseph’s death, his brother was forced to repeal his radical edicts.
  • Evaluating “Enlightened Absolutism”
  • The leading European monarchs of the later eighteenth century all claimed that they were acting on the principles of the Enlightenment.
  • There is general agreement that such monarchs did spread the cultural values of the Enlightenment.
  • Absolute monarchs believed in change from above and tried to enact reforms.
  • Recent historians have argued that absolutists were primarily interested in strengthening the state, not in pursuing humanitarian goals for their own sake.


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