Unit VIII Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment


Isaac Newton was born

January 4, 1643

Isaac Newton was very prominent during the time of the Scientific Revolution and he came up with many ideas that last today. He is considered to be one of the most brilliant men of all time for the amount of new concepts he came up with that still stand today. His book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) which talks about his new theories on physics is considered to be one of the most influential books of all time. Newton was known for his works in the fields of mathematics, physics, optics, and mechanics. Newton influenced many of his fellow scientists during the scientific revolution. His most famous discovery was the theory that white light was the combinations of all the colors of light. His work was important to the advancement of society during his time.

Jean Antoine Watteau paints La Surprise

1684 - 1721

After the death of Louis XIV, the French court moved from Versailles back to their old Parisian mansions, redecorating their homes using softer designs and more modest materials than that of the King’s grand baroque style. Instead of surrounding themselves with precious metals and rich colors, the French aristocracy now lived in intimate interiors made with stucco adornments, boiserie, and mirrored glass. This new style is characterized by its asymmetry, graceful curves, elegance, and the delightful new paintings of daily life and courtly love, which decorated the walls within these spaces. Jean Antoine Watteau was regarded as the father of this new style of painting. He and other artists that drew rococo art focused on scenes of everyday life in the European society. This appreciation of life in general reflected an era of elite wealth, power, and enjoyment of life in its pure state.

Voltaire was born

November 21, 1694

This is an important event because Voltaire was one of the most if not the most important person during the time of the enlightenment. Voltaire was the forerunner of the Enlightenment and he was one of the main people/things, along with Diderot’s Encyclopédie, that ensured its success. Voltaire influenced many leaders, like Catherine II, to become enlightened absolutists during his life and he advocated for some many new ideas. Voltaire influenced the French government as well with some of his works such as Candide and The Age of Louis XIV. Also, Voltaire kind of popularizes deism and leads many other philosophes to join it. As well as influencing Europeans he also influenced the U.S.’s Bill of Rights as many of his ideas showed up in it. Voltaire is considered to be one of the greatest Enlightenment writers and his works influenced many important people and pieces of law all from around the globe.

Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin was born

June 26, 1699

Madame Geoffrin was an important figure during the time of the Enlightenment. First of all, she was one of the few women during her time that was educated and there was an increase in educated women from any other time period. She was respected by many philosophes during the time period but also scorned at by some like, Rousseau. She was also very important as she was the owners of one of the Paris salons. These salons were major factor that spurred the Enlightenment as it is where many philosophes met together and talked about ideas. It was in these conversations that many radical ideas formed and caused some revolutions later on. She also was part of the making and supportive of Diderot’s Encyclopédie which was essential to the success of the Enlightenment.

Frederick the Great takes power in Prussia

January 24, 1712

Frederick the Great taking power was an important moment because he brought lots of prosperity to Prussia during his reign. Also, Frederick II was one of the Enlightened rulers during the time period and his knowledge helped him manage Prussia very well. As he was an enlightened ruler he was very lenient which is one of the reasons why Prussia flourished under his rule. Frederick was able to gain the trust of the nobles as well as the elite during his reign which greatly helped him stay in power. One key thing Frederick did to help Prussia rise in power was that he made everybody serve in the military for a short span and then sent them back to be farmers. This meant that at any time Frederick II could put together a large well trained army and his plan allowed plenty of food to be produced for the country. This was one example of what a country could achieve with an enlightened ruler.

Diderot publishes the Encyclopédie


This is an important event because the Encyclopédie was a very important book or set of books during the time of the Enlightenment. Written by Diderot, it contained all of the up to date knowledge in many fields of science and information on anything happening during that time. These set of books were very important in the success of the Enlightenment and it educated many people during the time period. As well as educating the noble and wealthy, it also educated the poor as small villages used to have one copy of the Encyclopédie because of how much information one book contained. Also, the Encyclopédie as it was the basis of many discussions in Paris salons where enlightened people came to speak about new ideas. The books of the Encyclopédie were like the basis of the Enlightenment.

Seven Years War Occurs

1756 - 1763

The war resulted from the continued rivalry between France and England and Prussia and Austria. While the two western countries focused on resolving the issue of colonial territory disputes, the war between Prussia and Austria was Austria’s attempt to limit the growth of Prussia’ power in the continent. The Anglo-Prussian alliance emerges victorious, and the balance of power that the European states have balanced thus far was broken. While both England and Prussia emerged victorious after the war, England continued to grow militarily and economically, but Frederick the Great of Prussia was not able to maintain the former military might without serfdom, because the casualties from the war were too heavy. Rousseau actually states that Frederick II’s failure to recover Prussia’s former glory serves as a proof that enlightened absolutism does not respect the citizens’ surrender of freedom in joining the society. Frederick the Great does not show any hesitation in raising military, serving as a proof that he did not seek a complete enlightened absolutist form of a government.

Rousseau published The Social Contract


The publishing of the The Social Contract is a very important event because it described how a society is without any guidelines and rules and how it should be ruled. This was important because many people argued over the ideas in this work. Also, his work lead to other people publishing works with differing ideas. Also, his ideas were similar to Thomas Locke and they were very influential during the time period. His main theory was that all men were born equal so no man has the right to rule over others with consent and agreement from those he wishes to rule over. The Social Contract, like Voltaire, also played a part in the formation of the U.S. The ideas in this book about how the government should work and how people should be chosen to rule were incorporated in the U.S. The effects The Social Contract were enormous on many governments.

Beccaria publishes On Crimes and Punishment


An Italian philosopher that studied law in school, Beccaria could not tolerate the injustices happening within the city of Milan. He saw many flaws with the criminal justice system in general, especially the death penalty. With the help of two of his friends, Beccaria wrote his book, denouncing the ineffectiveness of the punishments given to the criminals. Two of his main arguments are that, 1. Society does not have the right to take people’s lives and 2. The system only served to punish the person who committed crimes, Beccaria’s work was translated into many different languages for its unbelievable text, and it was incorporated into the legal code of countries like Britain and France. Before this, church rulings were unquestionable and very few commoners would bother to question the rulers. However, with the increased emergence in the number of philosophers, Beccaria was advocating for more rational code of law in the country.

Adam Smith published “Wealth of Nations”


Regarded as a fundamental work of classical economics, “Wealth of Nations” discussed economics at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and other topics important in economics such as the division of labour, productivity, and free markets. An example of a viewpoint that he presented was that regulations on commerce are ill-founded and counter-productive. The prevailing view was that gold and silver was wealth, and that countries should boost exports and resist imports in order to maximize this metal wealth. Smith’s radical insight was that a nation’s wealth is really the stream of goods and services that it creates (Gross National Product). The way to maximise this stream of goods and services was to but to liberate the country’s productive capacity as much as possible. Adam Smith’s revolutionary thoughts were incorporated in instituting a new state of economy, starting with states like Great Britain and the U.S., and modernized the economic system of the world.