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European intellectual movement of the 17th–18th century in which ideas concerning God, reason, nature, and man were blended into a worldview that inspired revolutionary developments in art, philosophy, and politics. Central to Enlightenment thought were the use and celebration of reason. For Enlightenment thinkers, received authority, whether in science or religion, was to be subject to the investigation of unfettered minds. In the sciences and mathematics, the logics of induction and deduction made possible the creation of a sweeping new cosmology. The search for a rational religion led to Deism; the more radical products of the application of reason to religion were skepticism, atheism, and materialism. The Enlightenment produced modern secularized theories of psychology and ethics by men such as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, and it also gave rise to radical political theories. Locke, Jeremy Bentham, J.-J. Rousseau, Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Thomas Jefferson all contributed to an evolving critique of the authoritarian state and to sketching the outline of a higher form of social organization based on natural rights. One of the Enlightenment's enduring legacies is the belief that human history is a record of general progress.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Enlightenment, visit Britannica.com.
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