Age of Enlightenment

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Oct 21, 2022, 18:14

The Age of Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Reason) was a philosophical and intellectual revolution that began in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. It influenced the world with the idea of putting human happiness and reason at the centre. The Age of Enlightenment put individual liberty and religious tolerance at the forefront.

It encompassed a wide range of beliefs based on the importance of happiness, the pursuit of knowledge through reason and sensory evidence, and goals such as freedom, development, acceptance, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, and religious liberty. Learn more about the ideas prevailing in the Age of Enlightenment here.

Age of Enlightenment Meaning

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Europe witnessed a movement that encouraged ideas of individual thinking, liberty, and freedom. This movement is known as the Age of Enlightenment. Originating in Europe, the movement gradually spread through different parts of the world. The early contributors to the Enlightenment philosophy were Francis Bacon’s empiricism theory and René Descartes’ rationalist theory.

Age Name

Age of Enlightenment

Time Period

17th and 18th Century



Early Contributors

Francis Bacon, René Descartes

Timeline of Enlightenment Period

Before the Age of Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution and the work of Francis Bacon had its roots in a European intellectual and scholastic movement known as Renaissance humanism. Here is the Age of Enlightenment timeline:

  • Historians date the Age of Enlightenment in Europe (with a focus on France) to the late 17th and early 18th centuries or, more broadly, from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to the French Revolution of 1789.
  • It denotes a period in Europe's intellectual history as well as reform projects motivated by a belief in the potential of a better world, which identified specific goals for criticism and action plans.
  • The publishing of René Descartes' Discourse on the Method in 1637, which included his famous aphorism, “Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am)”, is considered by some to mark the start of the Age of Enlightenment.
  • Many historians currently place the closure of the Enlightenment at the turn of the nineteenth century, with Immanuel Kant's death in 1804 as the most recent recommended year.
  • Others consider Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica (1687) to be the end of the Scientific Revolution and the start of the Enlightenment.

Important Events During the Enlightenment





Discovery of Planets made by Galileo.

The idea that Earth and the other planets revolve around the Sun was introduced.


Isaac Newton published Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.

Three basic laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation are introduced.


John Locke completes Two Treatises of Government.

The doctrine of natural rights is discussed.


Montesquieu publishes his book, Persian Letters.

Introduces satirical criticism.


Voltaire publishes Lettres philosophiques.

Speaks against established political and religious institutions.


Encyclopédie (first vol.) is published.

A collective work of philosophers, this was the first compilation of all human knowledge.


Voltaire publishes Candide.

This was the best known satirical novel of the 18th century.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau publishes The Social Contract.

This book challenged the order of the society based on church rules.


Declaration of Independence is approved.

13 North American British colonies are freed from the rule of Great Britain.


Beginning of the French Revolution.

French regime tries to increase taxes and that results in a crisis.


Marquis de Condorcet publishes On the Admission of Women to the Rights of Citizenship.

Advocates for the equality and citizenship of women.


Reign of Terror in France

Mass executions take place in Paris against those who are suspected to be against the French Revolution.

Main Ideas of the Age of Enlightenment

During the Age of Enlightenment, scientists and philosophers of the time shared their ideas at scientific institutes, masonic clubs, literary salons, and coffeehouses, and in printed books, periodicals, and pamphlets. The Enlightenment Period's principles weakened the monarch and the Catholic Church, paving the ground for the revolutionary movements of the 18th and 19th centuries. Here are some of the ideas that were prevalent during this period:

  • Personal freedom and religious tolerance were the core principles of the Enlightenment thinkers in France, as opposed to monarchy and the Church's established dogmas.
  • The focus on the scientific approach and reductionism, as well as the growing questioning of religious dogma, characterized the Age of Enlightenment.
  • Liberal ideology, communism, and neoclassicism are just a few of the 19th-century groups that may trace their philosophical roots back to the Enlightenment Period.

Age of Enlightenment - Important Figures

  • The Philosophers of France, particularly Voltaire and also the political philosopher Montesquieu, were among the most influential writers of the Enlightenment Period.
  • Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were among the Encyclopédie's compilers.
  • Outside of France, significant Enlightenment intellectuals included David Hume and Adam Smith of Scotland, Jeremy Bentham of England, Immanuel Kant of Germany, and Thomas Jefferson of the United States.

Age of Enlightenment Summary

The Age of Enlightenment ignited people’s curiosity about putting certain human values over others. This age was about exploring the self and fighting for freedom and individual expression. It was also about questioning the established institutions and the ideas that they imposed on individuals.

The Enlightenment Period started in the 17th century and lasted till the 18th century in Europe. However, the ideas that emerged in this period paved the way for many other thinkers and theorists of the succeeding centuries.

The Enlightenment Period came to an end as a result of its own indulgences. The concept that human civilization is a record of general development that would continue into the future, which characterized much of Enlightenment philosophy, persisted for the next two hundred years as one of the movement's most enduring legacies.

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FAQs on Age of Enlightenment

Q1. When did the Age of Enlightenment begin?

The Age of Enlightenment began in the seventeenth century and was influenced by advances in scientific knowledge. Scientists and philosophers of the time shared their ideas at Masonic lodges, literary salons, and coffeehouses, and in printed books, periodicals, and pamphlets.

Q2. What were the three main ideas of the Age of Enlightenment?

The use of reasoning, scientific progress, and freedom were the three core ideas of the Age of Enlightenment. The prominent thinkers and theorists of the time worked on these ideas, which was reflected in their published literary works.

Q3. Who were the most influential thinkers during the Age of Enlightenment?

John Locke, Montesquieu, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were among the most influential thinkers during the Age of Enlightenment. Some other important thinkers from the Enlightenment Period were Denis Diderot, Voltaire, and Condorcet.

Q4. What were the main events of the Age of Enlightenment?

Some of the prominent events of the Age of Enlightenment include the Discovery of Planets made by Galileo in 1610, the publishing of Newton’s Natural Philosophy in 1687, the Declaration of Independence approved in 1776, the Beginning of the French Revolution in 1787, etc.