Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Lock and John Stuart Mills are one of the leading figure of the Enlightenment (1650-1800) period that emphasize scientific knowledge as opposed to religious dogmas of the time and the idea of progress of humanity towards a better future. In the following post I would try to summarize their main ideas that influenced and changed the mindset of the people of that time as well as the implications of their ideas for the modern society and our time.
Essay Concerning Human Knowledge is regarded as his most important work that analyses human mind and its perception of knowledge. According to Lock’s famous phrase ‘a tabula rasa’ human mind is like a blank plate and it gets knowledge through interaction, memory and experience, there is nothing like ‘innate knowledge’ and that our knowledge is the combination of those ideas that we perceive through experience. This idea sensory perceptions made John Lock the first empiricist in Western philosophy that would lead towards our modern conception of scientific method. Furthermore, Lock is also among the proponents of the theory of social contract and also that human beings are by nature equal and free and are all subject to a monarch.
The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality was Rousseau’s first major and the most influence work, in this work he argues that the idea of progress and science has corrupted human nature and morality. He also proposed his critique of the society and argues that human beings are by nature good and that society has corrupted its true nature in The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality.
John Stewart Mill’s the idea of Utilitarianism can be understood by the idea of the collective goodness. According to this idea if human action is instigated for the general good and happiness it is a good action but if it promotes unhappiness it is a wrong action. For Mill every good action must promote collective happiness not the happiness of the individual but of the society. The philosophy is ethical in its profound implications.
Lock’s empiricism is still the basis of any method implied in science, he was the founding father of scientific method that changed the shape of philosophy forever. Nevertheless, his ideas regarding human perception and the criticism of ‘innate ideas’ can be challenged as we now live in a world when considerable advancement has been achieved in neurological science and the complex working of the human brain. As far as the implications of Roussos’s ideas are concerned his idea of the innocent human being and the idea of freedom can be challenged because according to evolution human beings are wild animals by nature and are programmed by the civilization to act accordingly. Mill’s idea of Utilitarianism is highly reductive in the understating of human nature because human beings are complex if we see into the real world setting, they can even go against their self-interest let alone the collective interest or collective happiness.
Garvey, James, and Jeremy Stangroom. The Story of Philosophy. , 2012. Internet resource.