A Time of Change

The enlightenment was a great time of change in both Europe and America. Some of the biggest changes, however, happened in the minds of many and in the writings of many philosophers. These included some of the beliefs of David Hume, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Francois Voltaire. Writers during this time focused on optimism, which is the opinion to do everything for the best (Chaney 119), and the best for these philosophers was to stretch the minds of the ordinary.

David Hume was Scottish and was born on April 26, 1711 and died in 1776. He states that he was not born into a rich family and was born into the Calvinist Presbyterian Church. However, after being influenced by the works of Isaac Newton and John Locke he began to draw back from the Church. He writes in Enquiry, "The idea of God, as meaning an infinitely intelligent, wise and good Being, arises from reflecting on the operations of our own mind, and augmenting, without limit, those qualities of goodness and wisdom." (Pomerleau 214) The questions he brought up against religion were that concrete experiences must lead us and that we must think about the quality of the stories that were handed down to us. He wanted everyone to only believe the actions that one experienced, there has to be proof. He also believed that there were four basic problems to the stories that we hear. First of all, the facts to the stories are never the same to everyone. Second, we stretch the truth to make everything interesting. Third, people who do not understand these stories tend to make things up. Finally, not all of the religions agree. Therefore, the stories conflicted each other leaving a person to not know what to believe. He believes that "Our most holy religion is founded on Faith, not on reason; and it is a sure method of exposing it to put it to such a trial as it is, by no means, fitted to endure." (215)

Hume also believed in the social contract. This is that kings are in power because of luck and citizens should have control over their own power. During Hume's lifetime a representative government was not something that countries thrived on. He also thought that the duties of men were to love children and to pity those that are less fortunate. He also thought that one should respect other's properties and keep our promises. Hume argued that we are born into our family with the knowledge passed on to us, from this point Hume says that government is only an interference in the lives of people. He uses the example of American Tribes where no one needs a government to keep peace within the group (Pomerleau 222).

These are the two main points that Hume tried to make. They are the basis of what got people to think about their lives and decide that what they have now might not be the best thing that their life can accomplish. From his points of view, we can move on to another influential philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Jean Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva in 1712. His first years in his life were very hard because his mother died shortly after birth and he was sent to live with his aunt. However, his life turned around and he married and began his life as a philosopher. Rousseau was involved with the social contract like Hume. His book, however, did not become popular until after the French Revolution because these were the conditions that the revolution was based on (Chambers 669). His ideal government would contain a small state, prevention of overpowering businesses, and equality in rank and fortune (Castell 419). He distrusted the aristocrats because he believed they were drawing away from traditions that were once held very high ("The Enlightenment," http). To him kings are just concerned with themselves and when one dies, another one is needed. None of these people ever take in to consideration the less fortunate. Everyone has to move to the beliefs of one man. Rousseau felt that the government should be in the hands of many, not just one. Ideally, everyone in a society needs to be in agreement with one another. Another belief that Rousseau represented was deism, which is that god created the universe and then allowed it to run according to natural law