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"Age of Reason" redirects here. For other uses, see Age of Reason (disambiguation).

The Age of Enlightenment (or simply the Enlightenment, or Age of Reason) is an era from the 1650s to the 1780s in which cultural and intellectual forces in Western Europe emphasized reason, analysis, and individualism rather than traditional lines of authority. It was promoted by philosophes and local thinkers in urban coffee houses, salons, and Masonic lodges. It challenged the authority of institutions that were deeply rooted in society, especially the Catholic Church; there was much talk of ways to reform society with toleration, science and skepticism.

Philosophers including Francis Bacon (1562–1626), René Descartes (1596–1650), John Locke (1632–1704), Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677), Pierre Bayle (1647–1706), Voltaire (1694–1778), David Hume (1711–1776), Cesare Beccaria (1738–1794), Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), and Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) influenced society by publishing widely read works. Upon learning about enlightened views, some rulers met with intellectuals and tried to apply their reforms, such as allowing for toleration, or accepting multiple religions, in what became known as enlightened absolutism. Coinciding with the Age of Enlightenment was the Scientific revolution, spearheaded by Newton.

New ideas and beliefs spread around the continent and were fostered by an increase in literacy due to a departure from solely religious texts. Publications include Encyclopédie (1751–72) that was edited by Denis Diderot and (until 1759) Jean le Rond d'Alembert. Some 25,000 copies of the 35 volume encyclopedia were sold, half of them outside France. The Dictionnaire philosophique (Philosophical Dictionary, 1764) and Letters on the English (1733) written by Voltaire (1694–1778) were revolutionary texts that spread the ideals of the Enlightenment. Some of these ideals proved influential and decisive in the course of the French Revolution, which began in 1789. After the Revolution, the Enlightenment was followed by an opposing intellectual movement known as Romanticism.


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