The fourth unit in our World History course focuses on the transition toward a more scientific mindset in early modern Europe as a result of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.
One of the biggest debates that defined the Scientific Revolution was the debate over whether the universe was geocentric (with the earth at the center of the universe), as was traditionally believed, or heliocentric (with the earth revolving around the sun).
One of the biggest shifts in thinking that occurred in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries is a transition from accepting traditional knowledge on faith to challenging this knowledge and believing only what can be supported by evidence - either by logic (rationalism) or observation (empiricism).
Before the Scientific Revolution, philosophers relied exclusively on Aristotle's deductive reasoning to solve problems and there was no "scientific method" in the sense that we think of it today. Sir Francis Bacon promoted inductive reasoning as a way for natural philosophers (scientists) to pursue truth in the natural world.
One of the key defining features of the Enlightenment was the challenging of traditional religious practices. Philosophes criticized not only a corrupt Church structure, but also the revealed doctrines of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Voltaire and others advocated Deism, which is a belief in a Supreme Being who governs a universe based on natural law. Our class discussions will address enlightenment perspectives on religion - especially that of Voltaire.
Enlightened absolutists attempted to implement enlightened reforms through toleration of religious minorities, reform of governmental and societal institutions, absolute rule, and patronage of the philosophes. Frederick the Great of Prussia, Catherine the Great of Russia, and Joseph II of Austria all tried, to varying degrees, to use their positions of power to aid the progress of the Enlightenment from the top down.