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Transcript of the enlightenment
Age of Reason
Explorations in Science and Nature
Dramatic developments in
science spurred by Bacon,
Locke and Newton give rise
to a culture of curiosity and
observation of the natural world.
Challenging the old order with
ideas of liberty and
without the shackles
and religious dogmas of Old Europe
Politics and Authority
Colonialism and Slavery
Newton, William Blake, 1795, Tate Britain
Scientific developments lead to questions about our part
in nature and the universe, placing religious beliefs
and God’s existence in doubt.
The Enlightenment placed humankind at the center and
debated the significance of “man” and his rational
empirical views of human understanding and
the role of the senses
came to dominate in the
The 18th century was a century when
rationality and intellectual rigor
a growing interest in empiricism and how it affects our knowledge about self and society.
a radical epistemic break with the past
The ethos of the Enlightenment:
the scientific domination of nature to protect humans from calamity and need
rational and just forms of social organization rather than a state founded on superstition, oppression, and the arbitrary practice of power.
belief in human perfectibility and
incapable of verification
and is seen as hostile to the development of reason and the progress of science
New literary forms such as the periodical essay and the novel emerge and the novelty of criticism and satire make their mark on the literary landscape.
discussion of philosophical questions about human nature and civil society intensifies
belief in Reason and rationality
as the ultimate saviors of humanity.
The eighteenth-century writers and scientists exalted
reason and logic as the new masters of our fate.
Mystery and superstition gave way to empirical knowledge.
The world with its mysteries was finally disenchanted by science and knowledge—
A distinct turn away from divine authority toward individual authority:
Locke looks to the understanding, or the individual’s mind, to ratify the acceptability of ideas rather than to divine or ecclesiastical authority.
The eighteenth-century fascination with cognition, scientific inquiry, and rational argument.
Locke’s theory of government assumed that all
men were born free and then exchanged their
liberty for a safe, civil society headed by a
Literature of the period often represented the changing views of science and nature, exploration, world travel, and empire.
Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night,
God said, Let Newton be, and all was light.
Ordering of the natural world into mathematical laws and observable phenomena is a mark of the Enlightenment and even poetry found science as its proper object.
Newton’s letter on the principles of light and color provides the intellectual context for the later poetic praise.
Following clear empirical methods based in mathematical precision and verifiable results, it is paradigmatic for the age.
The influence of science and reason on poetry was, however, the main target of Jonathan Swift's satire and mockery in the third book of Gulliver’s Travels.
The developing genre of the novel :
Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, regarded as the first novel in English
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels
James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, an example of an early biography as a literary genre
The epistemological revolution of the seventeenth century allowed for the emergence of modernity.
but fear not,
it will be re-enchanted anew when the Romantics take possession of it.
Alexander Pope’s couplet here captures a sense of wonder and respect Newton inspired in the poets of the following generation.
only certain men
namely, white, property-owning men of education were free whereas women and children, labourers and slaves were not included.
But not all men,
The question of proper political authority was key to enlightenment thinkers.
A profound impact on the shaping of the American Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson in 1776:
We hold these truths to be
, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The emerging sense of individualism that is strongly reflected in the context of the Enlightenment
Works focusing on “the noble savage" recall an idealized state of nature and grace prior to civilization, looking for a natural explanation of political organization and legitimacy of power.
O might I here
In solitude live savage, in some glade
Adam in Paradise Lost, Book IX
A literary device allowing writers to invert and point out the flaws of European culture and suggest ways of its improvement.
ghtenment ideas with a strong sense
ere spreading rapidly across Europe and beyond.
s Rousseau —
society should be ruled by the "general will" of the people.
squieu — power should
not be concentrated in the hands of any one individual
but separated among executive, l
islative and judicial branches of government.
se ideas did not only shape political attitudes in
e entire opening of the Declaration of In
The old way of life was now represented by superstition, God, and absolute submission to authority.
The Enlightenment thinkers ushered in a new way of thinking where individuals did not have to accept despair.
s no longer ruled by divine right b
t had an obligation to their
ience and reason were the true saviours
s and progress.
The Nobel Savage
Abiding by the dictates of natural law
Thinking according to natural reason
Understanding creation according to natural religion.
Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, Paul Gauguin, 1897-98, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Humanism, inherited from the Renaissance and reflected in the spirit of the age, also called for the end of slavery.
This is an act so unnatural, a crime so monstrous, a sin so God-defying, that it throws into the shade all other distinctions known among mankind.
William Lloyd Garrison, founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833
A divisive issue in America as new territories were being "added" to the United States, and debate raged about whether they should be slave or free states.
The Enlightenment, in the guise of “the universal ideas of reason, and freedom from superstition, provided a moral basis for colonial domination through capitalist expansion and missionary terrorism in Africa and the Middle East” (Lyotard).
This was the “enlightened” burden of the white man, to civilize the other in the name of Reason.
The age of exploration and discovery preceding the Enlightenment made European powers immensely rich but also brought the scourge of racism and colonial exploitation.
In the eighteenth century, Britain's expansion into an empire was fueled by slavery and the slave trade — a source of profit that belied the national self-image as a haven of liberty.
Colonialism as part of the liberating mission of the West.
Unknown countries and ways of life are discovered but encounters with other peoples are vicious and exploitative, driven solely by profit.
Mixed together from different regions of Africa, without
common language or background, the slaves were
ntified merely by the color of their skin, as if
ctive self-consistency without
nient for the owners of slaves to regard them as less
Rising prosperity at home had, in fact, been built on inhumanity across the seas.
European rule meant slavery for others.
And Europeans avoided guilt by arguing that slavery had uplifted the black population, since it had introduced them to Christianity and civilization.
Colonial rule was increasingly advanced and justified as a mission of enlightenment and improvement.
plet and satire are dominant literary exp
e heroic couplets (Pope, Dryden, Johnson)
But when to mischief mortals bend their will,
How soon they find fit instruments of ill!
Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock, Canto III, 125–126.
Use of highly stylized poetic diction and epigrammatic, concise style
But in poetry one cannot expect the lines to behave according to grammatical norms, so don’t read with such norms in mind.
Sometimes it is difficult simply to identify the subject, verb, and object and make sense of the sentence structure.
Into this wild abyss,
The womb of Nature and perhaps her grave,
Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixt
Confus’dly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th’Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds,
Into this wild abyss
the warie Fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell
and look’d a while,
Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross.
Milton, Paradise Lost, 2. 910-20
The syntax of the lines acts out what the sentence actually describes.
The form of the writing reflects the content of Milton’s passage, giving us an idea of chaos before Satan enters into it.
In terms of prose, satire is the dominant mode of literary expression through 1740s and continues to have a vital presence throughout the century.
The tone of satire is not necessarily a personal expression of hatred or anger, as in Swift’s “Modest Proposal,” but has a public signification
Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show).
dy, hyperbole, understatement, mock-idioms, ficti
al personae, sarcasm, irony, lampoon are some
the satiric devices used in order
to expose or make manifest the reality by distorting it.
Politically perceptive and razor-sharp
Prose style abiding by Lock’s dictum where
language should be appropriate for ideas
would come to characterize the lucid, conversational prose of the Enlightenment.
The general misanthropy in the poem anticipates the fourth book of Gulliver’s Travels.
GT deals explicitly with the idea that beasts are more reasonable than human beings.
Swift's mock elegy:
“Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift”
shock value is the paradox of actually enjoying a friend’s misfortune.
ironic reversal as it allows him to imagine the benefit his misfortune will bring to others.
Gulliver’s Travels is Swift’s best-known work
a prose satire, a fictional travel narrative and a fable, written in first-person narrative mode
using empirical rhetoric and lucid, descriptive sentences
Descriptions of Lilliput, Brobdingnag, and Laputa satirize different aspects of 18th-C English society — its politics, wars and its new science.
The satire also focuses on the human animal in general, challenging our most fundamental and cherished views of human nature.
The figure of the debased Yahoo as an analogue for the human being seen as deeply disquieting.
The fiction includes details that distort reality in a way that calls attention to their meaning.
Swift also relies on the technique of
The value of Reason, cherished above all during the Enlightenment, is owned by horses and vice is embodied in animalistic humans, who are supposed to be rational creatures.
By creating a fictional voice, or persona, Swift removes himself from the work, which enables him to criticize his world.
This technique gives the satirist a great deal of imaginative freedom and license.
“A Modest Proposal” — another satiric prose essay and a mock proposal by Swift, using the arsenal of irony as its weapon, irony and controlled rage.
But it also documents the colonial history of Ireland and the desperation of its inhabitants.
The proposal to sell one-year-old infants as flesh on the market is patently outrageous and taboo, so we can readily see the irony of Swift’s satire.
The assumptions behind the narrator's reckoning of so many
human souls in monetary terms,
particularly within the context of slavery and colonialism that was raging at the time
Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one's own mind without another's guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere aude). "Have the courage to use your own understanding," is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.
Immanuel Kant, “Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (178
1. distortion through verbal pictures
2. an attitude of censure
3. and wit or humor, all intended to
improve humanity or expose vice
“A Satyr against Reason and Mankind,” written by Rochester — satirical verse that uses the technique of paradox or an apparent contradiction that is nonetheless true.
Puts into question the very nature of humanity and its place in the chain of Being at a time when
the world was at its most anthropocentric.
Swift, through his vertiginous ironies,
shows the limits of Reason in the Age of Reason.
By characterizing All the actions of the Houyhnhnms as governed by Reason, Swift highlights its virtues
but also and crucially its limitations.
The moral implications of
trafficking in human flesh
The metaphor that
the English are devouring the Irish
can be taken literally in the colonial context.
Dr Zlatan Filipovic
GU, SPL/Eng Lit
But I had another reason, which made me less forward to enlarge his majesty’s dominions by my discoveries. To say the truth, I had conceived a few scruples with relation to the distributive justice of princes upon those occasions. For instance, a crew of pirates are driven by a storm they know not whither; at length a boy discovers land from the topmast; they go on shore to rob and plunder, they see a harmless people, are entertained with kindness; they give the country a new name; they take formal possession of it for their king; they set up a rotten plank, or a stone, for a memorial; they murder two or three dozen of the natives, bring away a couple more, by force, for a sample; return home, and get their pardon. Here commences a new dominion acquired with a title by divine right. Ships are sent with the first opportunity; the natives driven out or destroyed; their princes tortured to discover their gold; a free license given to all acts of inhumanity and lust, the earth reeking with the blood of its inhabitants: and this execrable crew of butchers, employed in so pious an expedition, is a modern colony, sent to convert and civilize an idolatrous and barbarous people!
Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, Part IV, Ch. 12