The Enlightenment was an age that stressed reason rather thanstressing authority. In Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, he states thathe wished to live without committing any fault at any time; that he wouldconquer all that neither natural inclination, custom or company might leadhim into. Habit took the advantage of inattention. Inclination was toostrong for reason. He concluded that our interest was not sufficient toprevent our slipping, and that the contrary habits must be broken and goodones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on asteady uniform rectitude of conduct.
(385-386) The authority was verypowerful during this time but with many people stressing reason instead ofauthority, it gradually lost its power. The Enlightenment was a shift from “otherworldly” to “this worldly”point of view. The Enlightenment was an interest in scientific inquiry. Itwas an age of great optimism. It was the belief in human and socialperfectibility; that humankind’s inherent tendency was to become betterhuman beings.
It was an era of self-confidence, where personal effort canlead to reform. That one must analyze and deal with all social problems. Deism was an important factor of the Enlightenment. According toWebster’s dictionary, deism is a movement or system of thought advocatingnatural religion, emphasizing morality, and in the 18th century denying theinterference of the Creator with the laws of the universe. BenjaminFranklin was a deist. One characteristic of Deism is that Man, thoughpersonal, is part of the clockwork of the universe.
Man has intelligence, asense of morality, and a capacity for community and creativity. These,however, are not grounded in God’s character. They have a sort ofautonomous nature. Franklin wrote that he was never without some religiousprinciples, that he never doubted the existence of the deity, that he madethe world, or governed it.
However there were people of that age that wereanti-deism. (384) For example Philip Freneau wrote in his poem called Onthe Universality and other Attributes of the God of Nature, that he livesin all, and never strayed. A moment from the works he made. (565) This wascompletely out of the concepts of the 18th century characteristics ofEnlightenment writings.
It was completely anti-deism. Thomas Paine was also a deist during the Enlightenment. He believed inone God, and hoped for happiness beyond his life. He thought that it wasnecessary to the happiness of man to be mentally faithful to himself.
(502)This coincides with a certain characteristic of Enlightenment. Life shouldbe devoted to the pursuit of one’s happiness. Another characteristic of theEnlightenment is that emphasis was placed on the group rather than theindividual. Thomas Paine believed in the equality of man. (502) He did notbelieve in the creed that was professed by the Jewish, Roman, Greek,Turkish, and Protestant church. He believed that his own mind was his ownchurch.
He believed that every national church or religion has establisheditself by pretending some special mission from God and communicated tocertain individuals. (502-503) This was a rejection of the supernaturalsuperstitions and miracles. His papers Common Sense and The American Crisiswere not widely accepted. I believe that these two works were influentialin the age of Enlightenment.
Common Sense helped create the national moodthat inspired The Declaration of Independence. His Common Sense paperstated many different things about society and about the government. Ibelieved that his statement that those who are in a community, if they havea common interest, will mutually and naturally support each other and thisdepends on the strength of the government and those who are governed bythat government says it all. The origin and the rise of the government wasa mode that was necessary by the inability of the moral virtue to governthe world.
The design and end of government is freedom and security. (495)This follows the deist characteristic that ethics is limited to generalrevelation because the universe is normal and it reveals what is right.Paine roused colonists with the first sentence of his .