The Scientific Culture
Science in ancient and medieval times was largely dominated by the ‘deductive method,’ which began with generally accepted conclusions (which were culturally and theologically accepted as true) and then only applied to particular observable cases. After the Renaissance, and especially during the Enlightenment, this deductive method gave way to the ‘inductive method,’ which was based on observations leading to newer and newer conclusions. This gave rise to new discoveries, and paved the way for the ‘Industrial Revolution.’ This new form of scientific demonstration and knowledge began to have greater prestige among the general population, and scientists such as Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley were as prominent in their day as Michelangelo and Leonardo had been during the Renaissance.
A New Philosophical Beginning
The Philosophy of the Enlightenment began with Descartes’ tremendous decision to reject all previous philosophy as uncertain and make a fresh beginning with the facts that he could be absolutely certain of: namely the fact that he was thinking, and therefore that he himself existed (‘cogito, ergo sum’). His methodology was highly successful and he was the father of a whole new movement that sought to establish a valid epistemology through French and German Rationalism, English Empiricism and finally German Idealism. Hence a new age dawned – the age of ‘Modern Philosophy’.
The Emergence of the Public Sphere
Strangely, one of the most important cultural changes that took place during this period was the emergence of a space in which private people were able to come together as a public. This public sphere included coffeehouses, reading societies, etc. Through the growth of the international book trade and the emergence of mass-produced pamphlets and news bulletins, people in different parts of the world were increasingly reading and discussing the same events, persons and ideas.
The Spread of Democratic Values
The 17th century saw various attempts made by monarchs to establish the principle of the Divine Right of Kings. In the 18th century, this was no longer possible. The bankrupt monarchs had to turn to assemblies and parliaments to raise money to finance their projects. The result was that different groups of people increasingly saw it as their right to place limits on the power of the kings.
(Source: BPY008/Block 1/Page 35)