The Age of Enlightenment was a time of intellectual advancement in the 18th century following the Scientific Revolution– which was a catalyst for the Enlightenment that also questioned thoughts of nature and society. This movement eventually encouraged the French Revolution and the American Revolution along with capitalism and socialism. The great philosophers of the Enlightenment believed that they could advance society and reason through their philosophies. The major goal of Enlightenment thinkers was to give a foundation to philosophy that was independent of any particular tradition, culture, or religion: one that any rational person would accept. Baron de Montesquieu was born on January 19, 1689 in a town near Bordeaux, a city in France. He was born into a noble successful family and studied law at the University of Bordeaux, and with that education became the president of the Parlement of Bordeaux, the province’s law court. His most widely known work, Spirit of the Laws, focused on government and law. Montesquieu also stated that there were three types of government: republican governments (democracy & aristocracy), monarchies, and despotisms (again, dictatorships). Montesquieu discussed the basic principles behind each form of government. The main principle behind democracy is the people as the sovereign and political virtue (the love of the country and its laws), which required “a constant preference of public to private interest.” For an aristocracy, the main principle would be moderation, to retrain from abusing their powers; he suggested there be some laws to limit their power to prevent abuse. The principle behind a monarchy is to govern by “fixed and established” laws. This procedure was also checked by the subordinate nobility and an independent judiciary system, of which he also wrote about. What was to be avoided at all costs was despotism, the arbitrary and tyrannical rule. Most famously in The Spirit of the Laws, he discussed a checks and balances system, incorrectly inspired by the British. (The political system Montesquieu described was not actually a system the British used.) The legislative branch should be given the power to tax to deny the executive branch, and the executive branch should have the power to veto any acts passed in the legislature. He believed there should be two legislative houses to check each other. On the other hand, the judiciary system was to be independent and stick to carrying out justice. (In essence, this is the exact layout of our own American government!) In 1755, Montesquieu in Paris died of a fever. David Hume was born on May 7, 1711 in Edinburgh, Scotland to a good family that was well connected but not wealthy. His father died when he was 2, so he was raised by a single mother who devoted her life to educating her children. He attended the University of Edinburgh at just 11-years-old, where he studied Latin and Greek, read widely in history and literature, ancient and modern philosophy, and also did some mathematics and natural philosophy. In contrast to the religious views he was raised with, Hume rejected the religion and had strong opposition to organized religion in general. At the age of only 23, Hume began writing his major work, A Treatise of Human Nature, which was one of the most influential books of the Enlightenment and is a statement of philosophical empiricism, skepticism, and naturalism. Hume believed that “the science of man is the only solid foundation for the other sciences,” and that human experience is the closest we will ever get to the truth. Hume argued that all of human experience could be divided into two categories: relations of ideas (mathematical and logical propositions) and matters of fact (propositions involving some observations of the world, i.e. “the sun rises in the East”). Hume’s empiricism, which is the theory that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience, and skepticism were mainly concerned with the theory of knowledge, or Epistemology, and the limits of our ability to know things. He freely believed that we could form beliefs about that which extends beyond any possible experience (via customs and imagination) but was skeptical to any claim of knowledge on this. Hume pushed into the ideas of atheism, and believed that there was no evidence that supported the existence of miracles or acts of God. He died in Edinburgh, Scotland on August 25, 1776 of colon cancer. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born on June 28, 1712 in Geneva, Switzerland and was raised and haphazardly educated by his father until the age of 10, as his mother had died when he was only nine days old. Rousseau’s main focus was on reforming the overall community, and he believed that sovereignty would be expressed by the general will of the populace. His world view was that humankind is good by nature but is corrupted by society. Rousseau had little faith in the potential of individuals to use reason as a means of leading a more satisfactory lifestyle. His First Discourse, or what is also known as his Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts and he won this competition with his thesis that “…social development, including of the arts and sciences, is corrosive of both civic virtue and individual moral character.” Rousseau’s First Discourse was primarily important due Rousseau’s using it to show themes that he would further develop in his later works. His first work laid the groundwork for The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, in which the central claim was that humans are basically good by nature but were corrupted by the complex historical events that resulted in present day civil-society. Rousseau’s main work was The Social Contract, which further developed his theories established in his other works. He theorized in this social contract about the best way to establish a political community in the face of the problems of a commercial society. His social contract inspired future political reforms across Europe, but especially in France. He believed that the government should have checks and balances, and he argued in contrast against the idea that monarchs were divinely empowered to legislate. Rousseau died in Ermenonville, France on July 2, 1778 of a stroke. Immanuel Kant was born on April 22, 1724 in the capital of East Prussia, Königsberg (now the city of Kaliningrad in Russia) into a modest family of harness makers. He was not a great fan of religious “soul-searching,” and took to studying classics and philosophy. He taught at the university of the city, the Albertina. His most major work, The Critique of Pure Reason was published in 1781, focusing on metaphysics (the most fundamental questions of philosophy). In its whole, the Critique was a project was to observe how far human reason could reach from a priori knowledge (knowledge that doesn’t depend on experience explain). (Although the nuances of philosophy escape our grasp as just high schoolers,) To put it simply, one of Kant’s concerns was if empiricism (knowledge is derived from sense-experience) was consistent with priori knowledge (knowledge independent of all particular experiences). What was revolutionary about Kant’s Critique was that he stated that the sensible world is not completely separated from the human mind, for the human mind is what constructs those very perceived experiences. Through this explanation, Kant was able to synthesize rationalism and empiricism. Kant died on February 12, 1804 in his city of birth. Cesare Beccaria was born on March 15, 1738 in Milan, Italy to an aristocratic family. He received a Jesuit education and earned his degree at age 20. Soon after, he married a woman names Teresa di Blasco against his parent’s wishes. He had two friends, Pietro and Alessandro Verri, who together called themselves the “academy of fists”. He read the enlightened authors of England and France and wrote essays that his friends would assign for him. Beccaria’s most noted essay, On Crimes and Punishments, was written with the help of his friends. Although this treatise had to do with the criminal justice system, Beccaria had no prior knowledge of the system and, but his friends helped him out again by supplying him with the information. Beccaria believed that human rights should be extended to criminals and that cruel and unusual punishment was inhumane. He argued against torture for admissions of guilt, and called for complete overhaul in an area of jurisprudence. Beccaria feared a political backlash, so when On Crimes and Punishments was published in 1764 it was published anonymously. After being received and accepted by the government, Beccaria published it again under his name. This treatise was publicly praised by Catherine the Great, Maria Theresa, and was quoted by Voltaire. Beccaria died in Milan, Italy on November 28, 1794 of stroke.