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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Is The Age of Enlightenment Real?

Which historian or philosopher began the trend of calling the 18th century the Age of Enlightenment? What is the name of the book and essay in which the phrase "Age of Enlightenment" was used for the first time to refer to the 18th century? What was the level of enlightenment of the intellectuals who popularized and propagandized the 18th century as the Age of Enlightenment?

According to the Wikipedia, "the term "Enlightenment" emerged in English in the later part of the 19th century, with particular reference to French philosophy, as the equivalent of the French term Lumières (used first by Dubos in 1733 and already well established by 1751).” The term “Lumières” became Aufklärung (aufklären = to illuminate; sich aufklären = to clear up) in the hands of German philosophers.

Immanuel Kant’s 1784 essay, "Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?" ("Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?”), offers a philosophical account of what it meant for a society to be enlightened.  The essay caught the imagination of Kant's contemporaries and continues to be influential till this day. But Kant has not said in his essay that the 18th century is the Age of Enlightenment. The chronological and geographical boundaries of the Age of Enlightenment was decided by the English scholars in the late nineteenth century.

There is no evidence to show that European scholars of the 18th century were more enlightened than the scholars in Ancient Greece, Renaissance and other periods of European history. So why do they call this period the Age of Enlightenment?

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