Modern Philosophy: Enlightenment

Modern Philosophy: The Enlightenment

Dr. C. George Boeree


The 1600’s were among the most exciting times for philosophy since ancient Athens.  Although the power of religion was still immense, we begin to see pockets of tolerance in different places and at different times, where a great mind could really fly.  England was fairly tolerant, if only because of its diversity.  Holland was the best place to be. A small country fighting off attacks, military and economic, from every side, needed all the support it could get, whatever your religion, denomination, or even heresy.

The central issues were the same as those of the ancient Greeks:  What is the world made of?  How do we know anything for certain?  What is the difference between good and evil?  But they are now informed with centuries of science, literature, history, multicultural experiences, and, of course, written philosophy.  Perhaps we have to admit that the modern philosophers are only elaborating on the ancient Greeks, but what elaboration!  Was Rembrandt only doodling?

I will approach this era philosopher-by-philosopher, showing, I hope, the “battles” between materialism (e.g. Hobbes) and idealism (Berkeley), between empiricism (Locke) and rationalism (Spinoza), and between faith (Leibniz) and atheism (Bayle).


Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1678)

Thomas Hobbes was born on April 5, 1588.  His father, an Anglican clergyman, left the family when Thomas was still young.  Fortunately, his older brother did well for himself, and sent Thomas to Oxford.  He served for a while as secretary to Francis Bacon. Travelling around Europe, he paid a visit to Galileo.  He spent eleven years in Paris, and was tutor there to the