Important figures of the Enlightenment  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Important figures of the Enlightenment
  • Thomas Abbt (1738–1766) German. would later be called nationalism in Vom Tode für's Vaterland (On dying for one's nation).
  • Jean le Rond d'Alembert (1717–1783) French. Mathematician and physicist, one of the editors of Encyclopédie.
  • Balthasar Bekker (1634–1698) Dutch, a key figure in the Early Enlightenment. In his book De Philosophia Cartesiana (1668) Bekker argued that theology and philosophy each had their separate terrain and that Nature can no more be explained from Scripture than can theological truth be deduced from Nature.
  • Pierre Bayle (1647–1706) French. Literary critic known for Nouvelles de la république des lettres and Dictionnaire historique et critique, and one of the earliest influences on the Enlightenment thinkers to advocate tolerance between the difference religious beliefs.
  • Cesare Beccaria Italian. Criminal law reformer, best known for his treatise On Crimes and Punishments (1764).
  • George Berkeley Irish. Philosopher and mathematician famous for developing the theory of subjective idealism.
  • Justus Henning Boehmer (1674–1749), German ecclesiastical jurist, one of the first reformer of the church law and the civil law which was basis for further reforms and maintained until the 20th century.
  • Simón Bolívar (1783–1830)Venezuelan. Political leader who played a key role in Latin America's successful struggle for independence from Spain
  • James Boswell (1740–1795) Scottish. Biographer of Samuel Johnson, helped established the norms for writing biography in general.
  • G.L. Buffon (1707–1788) French. Author of L'Histoire Naturelle who considered natural selection and the similarities between humans and apes.
  • Edmund Burke (1729–1797) Irish. Parliamentarian and political philosopher, best known for pragmatism, considered important to both liberal and conservative thinking.
  • James Burnett Lord Monboddo (1714–1799) Scottish. Philosopher, jurist, pre-evolutionary thinker and contributor to linguistic evolution. See Scottish Enlightenment
  • Dimitrie Cantemir (1673–1723) Romanian. Philosopher, historian, composer, musicologist, linguist, ethnographer, and geographer. He was a member of the Royal Academy of Berlin. His most important works were History of the Growth and Decay of the Ottoman Empire and Descriptio Moldavie.
  • Marquis de Condorcet (1743–1794) French. Philosopher, mathematician, and early political scientist who devised the concept of a Condorcet method.
  • Ekaterina Dashkova (1743-1810) Russian. Director of the Imperial Academy of Arts and Sciences (known now as the Russian Academy of Sciences).
  • José Celestino Mutis (1755–1808), Spanish botanist and mathematician, lead the first botanic expeditions to South America, and built a major collection of plants.
  • Denis Diderot (1713–1784) French. Founder of the Encyclopédie, speculated on free will and attachment to material objects, contributed to the theory of literature.
  • Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) American. Statesman, scientist, political philosopher, pragmatic deist, author. As a philosopher known for his writings on nationality, economic matters, aphorisms published in Poor Richard's Almanac and polemics in favour of American Independence. Involved with writing the United States Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of 1787.
  • French Encyclopédistes
  • Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle
  • Joseph-Alexandre-Victor Hupay de Fuveau,(1746–1818), writer and philosopher who had used for the first time in 1785 the word "communism" in a doctrinal sense.
  • Edward Gibbon (1737–1794) English. Historian best known for his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is closely identified with Enlightenment values, progressing from Sturm und Drang and participating with Schiller in the movement of Weimar Classicism.
  • Olympe de Gouges
  • Joseph Haydn
  • Helvétius
  • Johann Gottfried von Herder German. Theologian and linguist. Proposed that language determines thought, introduced concepts of ethnic study and nationalism, influential on later Romantic thinkers. Early supporter of democracy and republican self rule.
  • Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) English philosopher, who wrote Leviathan, a key text in political philosophy.
  • Baron d'Holbach (1723–1789) French. Author, encyclopaedist and Europe's first outspoken atheist. Roused much controversy over his criticism of religion as a whole in his work The System of Nature.
  • Robert Hooke (1635–1703) English, probably the leading experimenter of his age, Curator of Experiments for the Royal Society. Performed the work which quantified such concepts as Boyle's Law and the inverse-square nature of gravitation, father of the science of microscopy.
  • David Hume (1711–1776) Scottish. Historian, philosopher and economist. Best known for his empiricism and scientific scepticism, advanced doctrines of naturalism and material causes. Influenced Kant and Adam Smith.
  • Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) American. Statesman, political philosopher, educator, deist. As a philosopher best known for the United States Declaration of Independence (1776) and his interpretation of the United States Constitution (1787) which he pursued as president. Argued for natural rights as the basis of all states, argued that violation of these rights negates the contract which bind a people to their rulers and that therefore there is an inherent "Right to Revolution."
  • Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos (1744–1811), Main figure of the Spanish Enlightenment. Preeminent statesman.
  • Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) German. Philosopher and physicist. Established critical philosophy on a systematic basis, proposed a material theory for the origin of the solar system, wrote on ethics and morals. Prescribed a politics of Enlightenment in What is Enlightenment? (1784). Influenced by Hume and Isaac Newton. Important figure in German Idealism, and important to the work of Fichte and Hegel.
  • Hugo Kołłątaj (1750–1812) Polish. He was active in the Commission for National Education and the Society for Elementary Textbooks, and reformed the Kraków Academy, of which he was rector in 1783–86. He co-authored the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth's Constitution of May 3, 1791, and founded the Assembly of Friends of the Government Constitution to assist in the document's implementation.
  • Ignacy Krasicki (1735–1801): Polish. Leading poet of the Polish Enlightenment, hailed by contemporaries as "the Prince of Poets." After the 1764 election of Stanisław August Poniatowski as King of Poland, Krasicki became the new King's confidant and chaplain. He participated in the King's famous "Thursday dinners" and co-founded the Monitor, the preeminent periodical of the Polish Enlightenment sponsored by the King. He is remembered especially for his Fables and Parables.
  • Antoine Lavoisier
  • Gottfried Leibniz Inventor of Calculus as we know it today and wrote Protogea, amongst other scientific and philosophical works.
  • Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781) German. Dramatist, critic, political philosopher. Created theatre in the German language, began reappraisal of Shakespeare to being a central figure, and the importance of classical dramatic norms as being crucial to good dramatic writing, theorized that the centre of political and cultural life is the middle class.
  • Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of Binomial nomenclature.
  • John Locke (1632–1704) English Philosopher. Important empiricist who expanded and extended the work of Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes. Seminal thinker in the realm of the relationship between the state and the individual, the contractual basis of the state and the rule of law. Argued for personal liberty emphasizing the rights of property, its this emphasis the American constitution owes much to. Among those of whom his writings influenced were Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American revolutionaries. This influence is reflected in the American Declaration of Independence.
  • Mikhail Lomonosov Russian Polymath, scientist and writer, who made important contributions to literature, education, and science.
  • James Madison (1751–1836) American. Statesman and political philosopher. Played a key role in the writing of the United States Constitution and providing a theoretical justification for it in his contributions to The Federalist Papers.
  • Sebastião de Melo, Marquis of Pombal (1699–1782) Portuguese statesman notable for his swift and competent leadership in the aftermath of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. He also implemented sweeping economic policies to regulate commercial activity and standardize quality throughout the country. The term Pombaline is used to describe not only his tenure, but also the architectural style which formed after the great earthquake.
  • Benito Jerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro (1676–1764) Spanish, was the most prominent promoter of the critical empiricist attitude at the dawn of the Spanish Enlightenment. See also the Spanish Martín Sarmiento.
  • Montesquieu (1689–1755) French political thinker. He is famous for his articulation of the theory of separation of powers, taken for granted in modern discussions of government and implemented in many constitutions all over the world.
  • Leandro Fernández de Moratín (1760–1828) Spanish. Dramatist and translator, support of republicanism and free thinking. Transitional figure to Romanticism.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Nikolay Novikov (1744–1818) Russian. Philanthropist and journalist who sought to raise the culture of Russian readers and publicly argued with the Empress. See Russian Enlightenment for other prominent figures.
  • Dositej Obradović (1742–1811) Serbian. Writer, philosopher and linguist and one of the most influential proponents of Serbian national and cultural Renaissance.
  • Thomas Paine (1737–1809) English. Pamphleteer, Deist, and polemicist, most famous for Common Sense attacking England's domination of the colonies in America. The pamphlet was key in fomenting the American Revolution. Also wrote The Age of Reason which remains one of the most persuasive critiques of the Bible ever written, his writings (mainly Age of Reason and Rights of Man) made Americans study their religion, their behaviors, and the ruling hierarchy. His work "The Rights of Man" was written in defense of the French Revolution and is the classic example of the Enlightenment arguments in favor of classical liberalism.
  • Francois Quesney (1694–1774) French economist of the Physiocratic school. He also practiced surgery.
  • Thomas Reid (1710–1796) Scottish. Presbyterian minister and Philosopher. Contributed greatly to the idea of Common-Sense philosophy and was Hume's most famous contemporary critic. Best known for his An Inquiry Into The Human Mind. Heavily influenced William James.
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) Swiss political philosopher. Argued that the basis of morality was conscience, rather than reason, as most other philosophers argued. He wrote Du Contrat Social, in which Rousseau claims that citizens of a state must take part in creating a 'social contract' laying out the state's ground rules in order to found an ideal society in which they are free from arbitrary power. His rejection of reason in favor of the "Noble Savage" and his idealizing of ages past make him truly fit more into the romantic philosophical school, which was a reaction against the enlightenment. He largely rejected the individualism inherent in classical liberalism, arguing that the general will overrides the will of the individual.
  • Mikhailo Shcherbatov
  • Adam Smith (1723–1790) Scottish economist and philosopher. He wrote The Wealth of Nations, in which he argued that wealth was not money in itself, but wealth was derived from the added value in manufactured items produced by both invested capital and labour. He is sometimes considered to be the founding father of the laissez-faire economic theory, but in fact argues for some degree of government control in order to maintain equity. Just prior to this he wrote Theory of Moral Sentiments, explaining how it is humans function and interact through what he calls sympathy, setting up important context for The Wealth of Nations.
  • Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) Dutch, philosopher who is considered to have laid the groundwork for the 18th-century Enlightenment.
  • Stanisław August Poniatowski (1732–98), the last king of independent Poland, a leading light of the Enlightenment in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and co-author of one of the world's first modern constitutions, the Constitution of May 3, 1791.
  • Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) Natural philosopher and theologian whose search for the operation of the soul in the body led him to construct a detailed metaphysical model for spiritual-natural causation.
  • Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)
  • François-Marie Arouet (pen name Voltaire) (1694–1778) French Enlightenment writer, essayist, deist and philosopher. He wrote several books, the most famous of which is Dictionnaire Philosophique, in which he argued that organized religion is pernicious. He was the Enlightenment's most vigorous antireligious polemicist, as well as being a highly well known advocate of intellectual freedom.
  • Adam Weishaupt (1748–1830) German who founded the Order of the Illuminati.
  • John Wilkes
  • Christian Wolff (1679–1754) German
  • Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) British writer, philosopher, and feminist.




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