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the leading ideas behind the Enlightenment Period (1650-1800)


Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, and John Stuart Mills are some of the leading figures of the Enlightenment (1650-1800) period that emphasized scientific knowledge as opposed to religious dogmas of the time and the idea of the progress of humanity toward a better future. In the following post, I will try to summarize the main ideas that influenced and changed the mindset of the people of that time and the implications of their ideas for modern society and our time.


Essay Concerning Human Knowledge is regarded as his most important work, which analyses the human mind and its perception of knowledge. According to Lock’s famous phrase ‘a tabula rasa, ’ the human mind is like a blank plate, and it gets knowledge through interaction, memory, and experience; there is nothing like ‘innate knowledge,’ and our knowledge is the combination of those ideas that we perceive through experience. This idea of sensory perceptions made John Lock the first empiricist in Western philosophy, which led to our modern conception of the 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 most influential 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 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 the scientific method, which 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 where considerable advancement has been achieved in neurological science and the complex workings 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 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 look into the real-world setting, they can even go against their self-interest, let alone the collective interest or collective happiness.

Works Cited

Garvey, James, and Jeremy Stangroom. The Story of Philosophy. , 2012. Internet resource.



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