4.1 Contextualizing the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment

3 min readjanuary 21, 2023

Jillian Holbrook

Jillian Holbrook

AP European History 🇪🇺

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Modes of Thought

Humanism, which gave some Europeans a sense of individualism and confidence in their ability to reason during the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation periods, began to branch into other interests beyond the 16th century.
Individualism manifested itself in intellectuals who were interested in sciences, people and places that had recently been discovered by Europeans, and politics. As interest in challenging traditional authorities in these areas intensified and populations expanded in cities, conversations about reform and new advancements became the norm.

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Intellectuals began studying older Classical works of Aristotle and Ptolemy, among others, concerning planetary motion, observations and explanations for natural phenomena, and the human anatomy in regard to medicine. Scientists like Nicholas Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, William Harvey, and others became commonly discussed names during this era as these figures worked to quietly challenge Church doctrine and commonly accepted untruths.
Through the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman works and observations of the natural world, many Europeans' views of their world shifted. Although existing traditions of knowledge and the universe continued, empiricists began questioning unproven beliefs. Observation in nature, mathematics, and logic became ways to formulate facts and theories. However, Church officials worried that reliance on visual proof and fact would relegate faith to a thing of the past.

The Enlightenment

Individualism was one of many facets of the Enlightenment, the intellectual and cultural movement that emerged in Europe in the 18th century. It was characterized by implementing the focus on reason, science, and individualism that were fostered by the Scientific Revolution, and it represented a shift away from traditional ways of thinking about religion, politics, and society. The Enlightenment even had a significant impact on the arts and literature, fostering the emergence of new literary genres, such as novels, and the development of new forms of art and architecture.
Enlightenment thinkers, also known as the "philosophes," believed in the power of human reason and the ability of people to understand and improve the world through the use of reason and science. Through empiricism, skepticism, and rationalism, they advocated for the separation of church and state, religious tolerance, freedom of speech and press, and the abolition of slavery and other forms of oppression. Philosophes also promoted the idea of individual rights and the importance of education and critical thinking.
Essentially, enlightenment thought challenged prevailing social and religious order, government institutions, and the role of faith in society itself.
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Public Venues and the Print Media

Print media such as newspapers and journals provided a platform for the free exchange of ideas and for the publication of articles and essays by Enlightenment thinkers. Consequently, print media allowed enlightenment ideas to reach a wider audience and for concepts to be discussed and debated through discourse in the public sphere.
Moreover, public venues, including salons, coffeehouses, and lecture halls, also played a key role in fostering Enlightenment practices. These venues provided a space for people to gather, exchange ideas, and participate in intellectual discussions. Increased social interaction helped to create a sense of community and shared values among people who were interested in Enlightenment ideas. This sense of community and shared values helped to create a sense of public opinion, which, in turn, helped to influence political decision-making.

Intellectualism and Commoners

Another group of intellectuals concerned themselves not with the sciences but with the daily lives of individuals. Extreme poverty was still common in the countryside and in cities. While cities and towns offered different forms of specialized jobs, many remained farmers with no formal training in any trade and no education.
Due to these circumstances, many found themselves at the mercy of shop owners, landlords, and the monarchy. To break from this, some intellectuals of the time sought a more balanced system of government, where people could have some say in their leadership or laws in place. Others began to introduce small reforms that would adjust the economy in favor of the poor and alleviate the overburdening taxes they were forced to pay.

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🎥 Watch: AP Euro - Scientific Revolution
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