The Enlightenment was a prolonged social, philosophical, cultural and intellectual development around France, England, Germany and other parts of Europe in the 1700s. The Enlightenment was also known as the Age of Reason.
In the 17th century the Scientific Revolution had supported a new pattern for how problems could be fixed by means of rational thinking and experimenting, rather than by religion and ancients (Foucault, 35).
There were four substantial changes that occurred together with the Enlightenment in Europe. The first one was concerning religion. A lot of questioning about Protestantism and Catholicism made a great influence on acceptance of new ideas. The next change was around the intellect. Free intellectual investigations had led to the change of opposition into religious intolerance. Moreover, there was a considerable spread of religious-free educational institutions. And also the Age of Reason had been arisen as a result of French revolution. Additionally, economic system also fell under the influence. It means that industrial revolution had led to the wealthy, educated and independent middle class. The last, but not the least change has pertained to political system which developed the nation controlled by kings and parliament (Foucault, 39).
Apart from these four changes, era of Enlightenment in Europe also experienced optimism in future and self-confidence, which was completely different viewpoint from the medieval era. Tolerance was also accepted, which meant that various societies and cultures could exist. Human mind, as well as the whole society, was free to think and function; there was also no sign of discrimination. Furthermore, the theory of Cosmology appeared, which formed a new world based on the Newtonian physics. The Enlightenment was also popular due to its utilitarianism that was responsible for creating laws for common good, rather than for vested interests (Foucault, 43).
The philosophers of the Enlightenment were supporting an important source of ideas that was utilized in order to diminish those political and social systems that existed for a long period of time. Their knowledge was based directly on the experience as the way of comprehension. John Locke is known as a founder of Enlightenment in philosophy. He believed that human mind was clear at birth, which is why everybody was good; with years people tend to shape their mind and spoilt it; God created the divine law and the universe has to obey these rules. Denis Diderot was the first who published a big ‘Encyclopédie’ in 1751 that became a standard and support for human knowledge (Mokyr, 12).
David Hume was one of the greatest intellects of the Scottish Enlightenment. His idea was to give explanation of the human knowledge and system of human mind itself. He claimed that knowledge comes not from the Divine; however, it comes from experience and observation. He was well-known for his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, written in 1784, where he disputed about cause/ effect and distinguished that correlation does not involve causation. He was also positive about the fact that knowledge should not be taken for granted, instead, doubt must always remain. Besides, he was against metaphysics (Mokyr, 13).
Being an Enlightenment adherent, Voltaire based his ideas on universalism. He was also positive about the fact that the reason can be used for obtaining universal principles of manner and for describing the world. Voltaire was convinced that the freedom of speech, conscience and mind were necessary for the society. Moreover, he believed that all religions were equal, since they were created from the same source (Mokyr, 15).
All in all, considering the long-term impact of Enlightenment in Europe, one can distinguish a faith in progress which continued in Europe regardless of excess of French Revolution and Napoleon. Era of Enlightenment also contributed to a slow but sure democratization of parts of Europe. Owing to this period, the importance of individuals continued to exist. Besides, it had an impact on numerous governmental structures that still exist nowadays.