"Age of Enlightenment" and "The Enlightenment" refer particularly to the intellectual and philosophical developments of that age (and their impact in moral and social reform), in which Reason was advocated as the primary source and basis of authority. Developing in Germany, France and Britain, the movement spread through much of Europe, including Russia and Scandinavia. The signatories of the American Declaration of Independence, the United States Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen were motivated by "Enlightenment" principles (although the English Bill of Rights predates the era). The era is marked by political aspiration towards governmental consolidation, nation-creation and greater rights for common people, attempting to supplant the arbitrary authority of aristocracy and established churches.
The eighteenth century was an age of optimism, tempered by the realistic recognition of the sad state of the human condition and the need for major reforms. The Enlightenment was less a set of ideas than it was a set of attitudes. At its core was a critical questioning of traditional institutions, customs, and morals. Some classifications of this period also include the late 17th century, which is typically known as the Age of Reason or Age of Rationalism.
There is no consensus on when to date the start of the age of Enlightenment, and some scholars simply use the beginning of the eighteenth century or the middle of the seventeenth century as a default date. Other scholars use the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars (1804–15) as a convenient point in time with which to date the end of the Enlightenment. Still others describe the Enlightenment beginning in Britain's Glorious Revolution of 1688 and ending in the French Revolution of 1789. However others also claim the Enlightenment ended with the death of Voltaire in 1778.
A small, but influential group of philosophers, scholars, and writers promoted after 1685 the cultural movement of the Enlightenment, the critical spirit which sought to apply the reasoning and experience so fruitful in the natural sciences to understanding humans as individuals and in society. This critique of religious traditions and philosophical authority became the most important component of modern European secular (as contrasted to religious) culture. Indeed, Enlightenment political ideals of human rights, the economic philosophies of liberalism, and cultural practices of tolerance have triumphed in spectacular fashion in the twentieth century.
The three Masons were John Lock (English), Voltaire (French) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (French). The philosopher and member of the Royal Society, John Locke, in his 1690s Letters Concerning Toleration, laid the foundations of law which now protect freedom of thought. Locke argued for the separation of religious authority from civil authority, so that a person's religious persuasion could not be held against them in court. This is now considered a fundamental human right. Much of Locke's philosophy influenced and was influenced by Freemasonry and the Royal Society.
The French Freemason and philosopher, Voltaire, espoused Locke's work and Masonic ideas in Europe in the early 1700s. Later, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, would clearly define the aims of the movement.
Degree in History (focus Jewish studies) and Spanish, New Mexico State U. 1990