Age of Reason / Age Term Paper

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You can't just issue degrees without having the use of force lurking in the background to make sure those degrees have some "teeth" so to speak. But Rousseau rejected that idea.

Rousseau also rejected the notion that ties between family members were an appropriate model for relationships between the state and its citizens. In using precepts from what Aristotle had written two thousand years earlier (in Aristotle's Politics), Rousseau - who admitted that he owed a profound debt to Aristotle - "was adamant that the authority of man over man in civil society - whether for good or evil - had been and ought to be established by choice and not necessity," Wokler explained.

Justice, in other words, cannot thrive if the government is in a paternal partnership with citizens (the belief that father knows what's best isn't applicable to government in a true democracy); a just society is a society in which all are nearly equal, and have an equal chance to select individuals and policies that exist for the benefit of all, not just the few. Rousseau was a giant in his time, and though he was criticized for changing some of his own philosophies as he went along, and he was a bit of a free spirit. But this world today could use a few men as brilliant as Rousseau, to question how governments (including the United States) can spend billions of dollars on wars that don't seem to accomplish anything, while millions of American citizens are without health insurance, schools are in need of repair and upgrading, and there are still tens of thousands of people in the New Orleans area who are without a decent place to live following the disastrous Hurricane Katrina.

Immanuel Kant: Immanuel Kant, meanwhile, was another giant whose beliefs and philosophies helped shape the Age of Enlightenment. Kant believed that participating in or by initiating any formulation of any thought or idea (or imperative) was actually bringing "an idea of reason closer to intuition...and thereby to feeling" (436). By "an idea of reason" it is probable that Kant is alluding to his Moral Law and by "intuition" he most likely uses the term not in an ethical sense but rather as a way to make immediate recognition of something that is true or clear.

Kant's Universal Law Formulation ("...Act only in accordance with - or according to - that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law...") of the Categorical Imperative (an unconditional command like "Thou shall not kill" or "Don't cheat on your wife") has different interpretations in the scholarly community, but is all about how to make a moral decision. And although in critically analyzing Kant's writings one can deduce that several of his formulations are saying things in a different way in each case, they do seem very similar in philosophy. The whole point of this part of his philosophy is in aiding the individual, the thinking individual, in doing the ground work for a moral decision; this is in effect a way to think through whether a decision one is about to make is indeed a moral decision.

Four steps help break Kant's philosophy (Universal Law) down to workable units. First step: one must formulate a maxim that embraces the real reason for acting a certain way or making a certain decision; second step: one must put that potential act to the test of the Universal Law (would this make sense to be imposed as international / universal statute?); third step: is this maxim possible in a world where the laws of nature rule? Fourth, if knowing it meets the first two steps and one indeed has the willpower to act on this maxim, it may well be morally acceptable.

An example would be: if I deceive my friend somehow in order to obtain a coveted 50-yard-line ticket to a football game, I would have to be willing to present the notion to the world that it is okay for anyone and everyone to use deception to get what they want. Therefore, I must agree that acquiring what one wants in order to bring pleasure is more important on the morality scale than the fact that someone was betrayed or tricked or even swindled in order that the person acquired that pleasurable item (or in this case, ticket). And I don't agree. Honesty is not always the policy that people follow in America (I include politicians in this statement), but if voters and young people hold their leaders to a higher standard, and vote them out if they don't measure up, America might be a better country.

The bottom line of the Universal Law Formulation is that a strategy where a football ticket is obtained through fakery or trickery is not a strategy that any rational person would want adopted universally. If this kind of rule, saying it is all right to basically lie to get something of worth or something that is pleasurable by deception, were adopted across the board around the world, sooner than later people would not believe each other any more. Then the maxim to get the football ticket - or anything - would be self-destructive and self-defeating.

Conclusion: The "Enlightenment" led to the American and French Revolutions:

The philosophical writings and intellectual discoveries of the philosophers from the Age of Reason and the Age of Enlightenment did more than just stir discussions and controversy. They actually helped to start two revolutions.

In fact, many of the ideas that led to the French Revolution were not necessarily French original ideas, according to an article in HighBeam Encyclopedia online. Indeed, France was governed by "privileged groups - the nobility and the clergy - while the productive classes were taxed heavily to pay for foreign wars" and government extravagance. But, the French political leadership was "undermined intellectually by the apostles of the Enlightenment," the article states.

And among those "apostles" was Voltaire (who attacked the Church and "absolutism" with his satire and his poetry), and Montesquieu, a French philosopher who believed that "all political societies...were to be judged by absolute standards of justice and liberty" (Hampson, 10). Both Voltaire and Montesquieu had been impressed with England's "limited monarchy, rule of law, and division of powers."

Voltaire, along with Rousseau, had a substantial influence on the social rebellion against the French aristocratic powers; Rousseau's "dogma of popular sovereignty" was an attack on French government tradition, and also led to the French Revolution. Rousseau was basically a "moralist," and as such, HighBeam writers continue, "a political theorist." Rousseau had as his social aim, as was noted earlier in this paper, "...freedom, which again does not involve a retreat to primitivism but perfect submission of the individual to what he termed the general will" (or, another way of saying general will is "what rational people would choose for the common good.")

The only reason society gives government its power, Rousseau argued, is by way of helping the greater society "achieve liberty and well-being as a group." That power, Rousseau claimed (and the French people were influenced by his Enlightenment-based thinking) "cannot be transferred and resides ultimately with society as a whole, with the people, who can withdraw it when necessary" (which the Americans did in their revolution and the French people did in their revolution). And Rousseau's philosophy of freedom and how government should be operating with the will of the people made a big impression on American writers and thinkers and political leaders like Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson and others who helped write the Declaration of Independence.

Works Cited

Aldridge, A. Owen. Voltaire and the Century of Light. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975.

Hampson, Norman. Will & Circumstance: Montesquieu, Rousseau and the French Revolution.

London: Duckworth, 1983.

HighBeam Encyclopedia "Origins of the Revolution / Rousseau." (2005). Retrieved 29 Nov, 2006, at

Rousseau, Jean Jacques. A Discourse on a Subject Proposed by the Academy of Dijon:

What is the Origin of Inequality Among Men, and is it Authorised by Natural Law? (1754). Retrieved 1 Dec. 2006, at

Rousseau, Jean Jacques. The Social Contract. (1763) Retrieved 30 Nov. 2006 at

Sensat, Julius. "Three Formulations of the CI." University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (2001): Retrieved 29 Nov. 2006 at

Wokler, Robert. Rousseau. New York: Oxford University Press,…

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