Apr 11 2010

Enlightenment to Romanticism 1

Published by Peter Schneck

John Locke? Jean-Jacques Rousseau? Immanuel Kant?

All these thinkers are important for a deeper understanding of the processes and the ideas that led to what I called the central event of the period between enlightenment and romanticism in American history: the American revolution.

It certainly would not harm to read up on each of these figures, but as I said we will return to them again and again during the course of the lectures, and right now it may be enough to remember that their ideas stand for a new way of thinking – called the ‘Enlightenment’ – which emerged over the late 17th and most of the 18th century in Europe and which also found its way to America.

OK, there are three questions that I have, and you may want to try to answer them as a traning sessions for things to come ;-) :

1. What was the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and what does John Locke have to do with it?
2. Who was Cotton Mather?
3. What was the Royal Society and can you say something about its notion of science?

Enjoy, if you can…

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Enlightenment to Romanticism 1”

  1. Konstantin P.on 12 Apr 2010 at 20:37


    ist das schon eine der drei “Take home exams”? Bin bin nicht sicher :/


  2. Peter Schneckon 12 Apr 2010 at 20:47

    As I said: training sessions. You may use it as a test – send it in and see what happens. Or better yet, type in your answers here and I can comment on it.

    Of course, others could also comment on it, that’s the beauty of a blog conversation :-) .

  3. Isabelon 13 Apr 2010 at 07:34

    1. What was the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and what does John Locke have to do with it?

    The “Glorious Revolution” was an overthrow that has taken place in 1688 in Great Britain. It was directed against King James II of England, member of the Stuart community. James wanted to reintroduce Catholicism to England; therefore a union of Parliamentarians who were against the royal absolutism of the Anglican Church overthrew James.
    The origins of this crisis went back to June 1688, when King James II of England fathered a son, James Francis Edward Stuart. Hitherto, his protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William of Orange Nassau would have acceded to the throne. With the newborn the chance of a Catholic Dynasty in the kingdoms was presumably and the mere thought of this gave rise to a notably fusion. Key leaders of the Tories united with members of the opposition Whigs, a group who stood up for the rights of the Parliament. In a body, they resolved the conflict by calling on William of Orange to England.
    Consequently, Mary and William III of Orange ascended the English throne, and William of Orange becomes generally known as William III of England.
    The term “Glorious” implies the importance of this bloodless takeover– a deliberate contrast to the cruelty of the English Civil War of 1642. Nevertheless, associated with the Glorious Revolution was the loss of religious tolerance of Catholics and Protestant Dissenters (e.g. the Quakers).
    One of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers was the philosopher John Locke (1632-1704). His Two Treatises of Civil Government were published after William III of England and Mary ascended the English throne. Locke, as being friends with Shaftesbury, was associated with the Whigs. Nevertheless, his truly revolutionary work was presumably intended to justify and explain the revolutionary acts before 1688– the time of the Whig’s revolutionary plots against Charles II.
    Locke was characterized by his opposition to authoritarianism; nowadays his Treatises are viewed as an argument against Absolute Monarchy in general and serve as the basis of political legitimacy. Locke suggests a theory of natural human rights and law. Thereby legitimate and illegitimate options of civil government are discerned and the rightfulness of revolt is emphasized.

    2. Who was Cotton Mather?

    Cotton Mather (1663- 1728) was a leading New England Puritan scholar and theologian born in Boston. He was politically and socially influential and drafted more than 400 publications on topics in all areas of religion, philosophy and science. Besides, he was a proponent of the inoculation against small pox, which was, back then in 1721, a controversial procedure.
    As his publications indicate, Mather was active AND influential in virtually all areas: He was a member of the Royal Society and was involved in The Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692, the tension between the traditional regime of knowledge– the dogma– and Enlightenment– scientific knowledge. In 1702, his seven volumes of the history of the Puritan church Magnalia Christi Americana served as a proof of God’s providence. His hybrid texts include a mixture of chronicles, biographies of saints, a history of Harvard College, religious treatises and metaphysical observations. Aside from that, he was known for his combination of “popular forms” of narratives, like execution sermons, conversion narratives, reports of wonders and conduct books. As a result, these are the early forms of moralistic advice in form of narratives– while all the time he keeps in mind the Jeremiad. By his comparison between the ideal and the real, Mather tried to steadily remind the community of their permission– the idea of “the city upon the hill”.

    3. What was the Royal Society and can you say something about its notion of science?

    The “Royal Society of London” is an academic society for science that was founded in November 1660. It is the oldest society of that form and serves as the national academy for science of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, once authorized by King Charles II.
    The Royal Society has its origins within a group of approximately 12 scientists, such as John Wilkins, Robert Boyle and William Petty. Also known as the “Invisible College”, the members met at their homes and discussed Francis Bacon’s “new science”. During the time of their discoveries, they– because of concerns of time and distance– separated into the two groups: the “London Society” and the “Oxford Society”, whereby the latter was more active.
    The basic idea was the realization of experiments and the discussion about its outcome afterwards– initially with no strict rules or methods intended. The experiments were both important and trivial and affected on various provinces. As developments in science have an important impact on human daily life, the Royal Society sees the vital need to understand and discuss the detections and novelties. As the quotation “Nullius in Verba” (meaning something like “swearing by/ believing nobody else’s words”) serves as their slogan, the notion of science becomes clear: knowledge is based on experimentation; only evidence- based discoveries are considerable, and this knowledge needs to be expanded.
    To put it in a nutshell, the Royal Society – as being witnesses– furnished proof and perfect empirical legitimacy. Thereby, they contributed to the spread of Enlightenment ideas and principles in the 1660s.

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