In general sense, the Enlightenment can be said to have exerted tremendous impact on the modern thought. The core ideas of the Enlightenment were rationality, tolerance, and freedom, and those ideas were effectively elaborated in order to reform the political and social institutions of that time. As a matter of fact, the Enlightenment actually succeeded in establishing the grounds for the formation of the modern thought as such, particularly in regard to such areas as government, religion, economics, education, crime and punishment, and social equality.
As far as government is concerned, the Enlightenment gave rise to various theories which neglected the absolutist rule and the political theology that supported it. Basically, most of the political theories of the Enlightenment were based on a radical idea which proposed that the state had been once established on the basis of the social contract between the people and thus the very existence of the state was founded solely on people’s consent. Evidently, the social contract perspective on the issue of the origin of the state and political power on the whole totally excluded the possibility of any divine intervention in the matter of the emergence and the historical development of the state. In fact, the introduction of such a perspective completely revolutionized the popular political culture that had been continuously reproduced by the dominant discourse, and some crucial features of that perspective were especially convincingly presented by such philosophers as Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. Respectively, the concepts of the constitutional government, the division of the braches of power, and the correspondence of state laws to general will were developed and discussed, and eventually this legacy of the Enlightenment became a significant part of modern political thought and practice.
One of the important implications of the Enlightenment was the substantial reconstruction of the previously untouchable sphere of religion. Basically, the Enlightenment produced the first systematic assault on Christian doctrines, which was grounded on the acknowledgement of the intellectual supremacy of rational logic over the religious dogmas which typically had no prospects for verification. The intellectual critique of Christianity had been conducted from several influential camps. Primarily, the skeptics battled against religious superstitions and the conventional assumption that God is responsible for the course of people’s lives. Then, the freethinkers declared that most of the religious statements do not fulfill the demands of the reason and thus they have to be abolished. Finally, the deists proposed the idea that after the creation of the world God no longer had any considerable relation to its further development. Generally speaking, the aforementioned insights altogether significantly reduced the power of the church and its impact on the society.
In terms of economic thought, the Enlightenment assured the introduction of the scientific approach to the management of the economic processes. The private property was regarded as one of the most fundamental premises of the individual freedom, and the defense of the individual right to have one’s private property secured and unattachable by other individuals was seen as highly relevant at that stage of the development of the economic thought. In order to defend the private property in a proper way, the traditional control over its management from the side of the state had to be minimized and ultimately restricted solely to the matters of the resolvement of property conflicts between individuals. In all other cases, the state had to stay passive, and it actually appeared to be the core underpinning of the famous Smith’s principle of laissez-faire that presupposed the complete emancipation of the economic market and the capability of any individual to manage own property in a way that would be most conducive to the successful pursuit of the private interest.
The Enlightenment managed to induce the substantial increase of public concern about genuine education. Following the Locke’s concept of tabula rasa, people came to understand that any person could develop his or her innate talents to the presumably unlimited extent, and that understanding led to the emergence of the strong interest in getting the qualified education. Ultimately, the Enlightenment provoked the unprecedented increase in the number of schools as well as the average level of literacy which had been extremely low before.
The crime and punishment system also changed significantly. Basically, that change was actually oriented towards the introduction of the approach which would be founded on the principles of humanity in regard to people who had been accused of committing the crime. Previously, the conditions of the imprisonment were generally unbearable, and the prisoners were not likely to survive until the end of the term of their imprisonment. Besides, the tortures were still commonplace. Ultimately, the Enlightenment formed more humane framework for the crime and punishment system and assured that even the violators of the law would retain the right to defend their personal dignity.
Another important area that was significantly influenced by the Enlightenment was the social equality. During previous centuries, the social equality was tremendously low, and complex social hierarchies seemed to be virtually untouchable (Perry et al., 2008). However, the new intellectual approach based on the appraisal of human fundamental rights and on the principles of humanity eventually allowed to slightly improve the social mobility and provide an average person with much more substantial level of personal freedom.
In conclusion, it needs to be stated that the Enlightenment can be regarded as an extremely important era in the human history. And it is precisely the era of the Enlightenment that accounted for many essential features of the modern thought and the contemporary world in general.