Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Through the Eye of Enlightenment

Through the Eye of Enlightenment
Eighteenth Century Views on Man
Throughout societies, throughout time, man has questioned. And, no matter how abstract or indifferent his analysis may attempt to be, his eye will eventually fall upon himself and speculation as to the exact character of man. So it was, by necessity, that man created ideas on his own nature during the Age of Enlightenment, the historical period after the Renaissance was over in its entirety. These particular ideas would have the power to shake and reshape the world, starting during the late eighteenth century, when the European monarchies, having grown to almost unimaginable heights, would begin to be questioned to the very core, and in many cases, fall. The Enlightenment saw revolutionary political and religious philosophy, venomous satire, and statesmen who would forever change the face of government. As the realm of philosophy is often too abstract and shows its impact elsewhere, four works of the latter two types will be considered instead in speaking on eighteenth century man’s views on himself. The single most important pair of documents in American history, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, will be considered first, and then the great French satirist Voltaire’s considerably less serious views on man from the novellas Candide and Zadig will be discussed. The uttermost seriousness of ideas and the parody of men will then be seen to form a more satisfying Aristotelian mean between extremes.

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