A History of World Societies,
Toward a New World View in the West
As the title of this chapter suggests,
Europeans, at least the more privileged classes, developed a new world–view
during the eighteenth century. As future chapters will demonstrate, this new
outlook had a profound effect on political, economic, and social developments
in Europe during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As Europe's contacts
with other civilizations and societies increased, this new world–view also
shaped world history. The introduction to this chapter in McKay, A History
of World Societies
(Fifth Edition), asks you to contemplate the following
- Why did this momentous change occur?
- How did this new world–view affect the way people thought
about society and human relations?
- What impact did this new way of thinking have on political
developments and monarchical absolutism?
These activities will assist you in
your efforts to respond to these questions.
- You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore
different sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and
questions detailed in each activity.
- On many web sites you can increase the size of the images
by clicking on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine
fine details in photographs.
- Most historians refer to the eighteenth century as the
Age of Enlightenment in Europe. For a good definition of the term read the
first two paragraphs of Seventeenth Century Enlightenment
Thought. Then read about the Eighteenth-Century Enlightenment.
According to these sites, what ideas emerged in the Western world during
the eighteenth century, and what were the effects of these ideas?
- One of the most important thinkers of the Scientific
Revolution and Enlightenment was John Locke. Unlike many of the his contemporaries,
who hoped to improve society through science, Locke hoped to do so by reflecting
on government. For example, consider his theory of the proper role of government
as outlined in An
Essay concerning the true original, extent and end of civil Government (1690).
- Another philosopher not mentioned in the article, Benjamin
Franklin, spent much of his time on more practical matters, such as bettering
the daily lives of ordinary people through technological improvements. For
example, see Benjamin
Franklin: Glimpses of the Man: Inventor. Yet each shared a common goal:
they both wanted to improve the world around them using a similar approach.
They are just two examples of the "philosophes" of the eighteenth
century. To better understand this description, go to Denis
Diderot: "The Philosophe". What, according to Diderot, did
all philosophes have in common? What were their shared goals and assumptions?
What were their obligations to society? Pay particular attention to the
end of this document.
- What led Locke, Franklin, and Diderot to develop
this new attitude? According to McKay, A History of World Societies
(Sixth Edition), a major factor was the scientific revolution that occurred
between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. The scientific revolution
rejected traditional European concepts of the universe. Read about Claudius Ptolemy
(make sure to view the images of both astronomers' models of the universe.
How did Copernicus's model of the universe differ from Aristotle's? According
to McKay, why were Copernicus's ideas so revolutionary? (See pages 572-574.)
- Other scientists elaborated on Copernicus's theory
in the seventeenth century and developed a new view of the universe. Read
as "Mechanism". What does the title of this essay mean? How
might a European scientist in the twelfth or thirteenth century have defined
the cosmos? What were the roles of Galileo, Descartes, and Newton in developing
and promoting the concept that the universe operated like a machine? Don't
just focus on their theories but also consider how they promoted these theories.
How did Locke bring the "human mind into this mechanical world"?
In other words, how did he apply the principles of Galileo, Descartes, and
Newton to the human mind?
- Read "Causes of the Scientific Revolution"
in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition) (pages 575–577).
Compare and contrast this text to The Origins
of the Scientific Revolution. Make a list of all the causes McKay and
the author of the web site offer for the scientific revolution. After doing
so, which cause do you think was most important? Defend your answer.
As the first activity stresses, the
men and women who attained the new world–view in the eighteenth century all
shared a common goal in that they sought to improve the world around them.
Many philosophes' activities varied throughout their lives. Some focused on
science, others on philosophy. Some pursued both lines of inquiry. As a result,
their recommendations for how to reform their world often changed and evolved.
The philosophes also did not agree on how best to improve any particular situation.
What they did share was the assumption that progress was possible. One way
of exploring the diversity of ideas is to explore the lives of two philosophes
not covered in McKay, A History of World Societies
You have already been introduced to one, Benjamin Franklin, in the first activity.
The other, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz, is probably less familiar.
Although Franklin and
Leibnitz lived in different parts of the world and at different times, each
embodies the Age of Enlightenment. Their goals and the methods they used to
obtain these goals were similar, even if they reached different conclusions
and focused on different problems.
Do you agree with this
statement? To help you formulate your opinion, answer the following questions.
Where were these men from? Where did they receive their education? Using today's
terminology, how could we classify each man's intellectual pursuits and activities?
For example, were they historians, mathematicians, political scientists? What
major contributions did they make to the world? Did they propose any radically
new ideas? Did they invent anything important?
- Learning about Franklin and Leibnitz helps explain
how the ideas of the Enlightenment spread throughout the European world
in the eighteenth century. Both men symbolize the development of a common
culture among the educated elite, regardless of nationality. Who influenced
the work of these men? How did they in turn expose their own discoveries
and views to others? Were they members of any organizations? Did they found
any? Did either man have any sponsors? Who were they? How do the lives of
Franklin and Leibnitz explain how a common world–view emerged among the
educated elite of the European world?
- In the fourth activity, you discovered that government
often played a role in the spread and development of enlightened thought
among individuals. As you learned in the activities for Chapter 17, "Absolutism
and Constitutionalism in Europe, ca 1589–1725," specifically Activity
Three, governments were taking a more active role in shaping the minds of
their citizens. This trend continued in the eighteenth century. Leibnitz,
for example, was a member of many national academies. Why did governments
create these institutions? What was their purpose? For further insight,
see Russia in the Age
of Enlightenment: Intellectual Life.
- Many monarchs in Europe were influenced by the
ideas of the Enlightenment. Some even tried to govern according to those
principles, with the full support of many philosophes. To learn more about
this movement, read Absolute
Monarchy and Enlightened Absolutism. Who were the principal "enlightened"?
How did their policies reflect enlightenment principles?
- Arguably, Frederick the Great of Prussia best
symbolized the "enlightened monarch." For more on his life, go
Rex: Prussia's King Frederick the Great. After clicking your way
through the entire essay, explain the role Frederick believed a monarch
should have in a country's development.
- For Frederick's own words, see Frederick
II (1740–1786: Essay on the Forms of Government. Who helped influence
these ideas? With which philosophes did Frederick communicate? Could Frederick
the man, not the king, be considered among the educated elite of the European
world? According to this author, did he succeed in achieving his enlightened
goal? For another view, see The
Rise of Prussia.
- After completing these activities and reading
Chapter 18 in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition),
review the questions posed at the beginning of this exercise. Identify which
question or questions each activity addresses. Can you answer all the questions