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The Enlightenment and Moral Theory

During the period known as the Enlightenment, moral theory centered on issues of reason and the degree to which moral theory derived from the application of reason. The question was whether moral precepts were brought into being by the application of reason or pre-existed and were only discovered by reason. The Enlightenment was the period in European history when writing and thought in general was characterized by an emphasis on experience and reason. This meant there was a mistrust of religion and traditional authority, and one result was the gradual emergence of the ideals of liberal, secular, democratic societies. The Enlightenment is associated with a materialist view of human beings, an optimism about human progress through education, and a general utilitarian approach to society and ethics. The emphasis on learning in the Enlightenment would contribute to the development of various systems of learning, the founding of universities and colleges, and the development of philosophical systems such as the one offered by Kant. Freedom is all that is required, says Kant, and he means here the freedom to use one's reason. One link found among the systems developed by Hobbes, Hume, Kant, and Mill is found on their reliance on reason and their mistrust of emotion as a source of morality, though they differ on the degree to which the basis of morality is innate or based on experience.

Hobbes was the first to apply the basic assumptions of science as it was known in the seventeenth century to human behavior, and in so doing, he sought to unify human knowledge, including all branches of philosophy, physics, biology, and politics (126). He looked to the idea that the theory of mechanistic materialism that then infused physics could be applied to other areas of human thought. This view held that everything can be reduced to material bodies in motion, and Hobbes saw this as applicable to psychology, politics, and moral theory as wel...

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The Enlightenment and Moral Theory. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 07:48, February 28, 2017, from