Chapter 2: The Enlightenment & the Scientific Revolution: “Upping the Ante: Game-Changers”

The Protestant Reformation was certainly damaging to the Roman Catholic Church’s influence on Europe. However, that was just the beginning of the intense individual questioning of Middle Ages society—the questioning that Renaissance humanism demanded. By raising the bar so high, the “Renaissance men” in effect laid down the challenge for every future generation to do better than the last.

The next generations after the Renaissance, and the next huge philosophical movement, would do just that. If the “Dark Ages” were an age of ignorance and complete spiritual focus, the Enlightenment brought human focus back down firmly to the ground and attempted to precisely define not just humanity, but the entire universe.

The Enlightenment is often called “The Age of Reason.” Understanding the concept of Reason is necessary to see how the Western world changed in the 17th-18th centuries and beyond. Everyone has reasons for doing what they do: “I am dating So-and-So” because “s/he is ______.” “I didn’t eat chocolate cake today” because “_________.” Even the most disobedient acts have reasons: “I threw a rock at that window” because “I felt like it.”

The distinction between these reasons and Reason (with a capital “R”) is that the concept of Reason proposed that the human mind—by itself, without any other authority or power—had the potential of figuring out the reasons for just about anything. Once the reasons were figured out, the whole system could be better understood and then, in most cases, improved. So Reason was tied in closely with another belief: the belief in Progress. The Renaissance era slogan, “We can always do better,” became the same as “We can always know more.” With knowledge unlocked with Reason, European societies thought that individuals could create the “perfect formula” for describing the world, the universe, and the ideal society.