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Session 4: The Enlightenment Thinkers

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Session 4: The Enlightenment Thinkers

  • Copies of or excerpts from Two Treatises on Government, Spirit of the Laws, and The Social Contract

  • Copies of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution

  • Web sites such as the following:

“John Locke.” http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/philosophers/locke.html

“Montesquieu: The Spirit of the Laws, 1748.” http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/montesquieu-spirit.html

“The European Enlightenment: Jean-Jacques Rousseau.” http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/ENLIGHT/ROUSSEAU.HTM

Instructional Activities

1. Review the following beliefs of Enlightenment thinkers:

  • All the world runs by natural laws, such as the law of supply and demand in economics.

  • The scientific method is used to find these natural laws.

  • All people can be educated.

  • Sovereignty rests with the people.

  • Government should ensure separation of church and state.

  • Government is whatever the people want; a contract is made whereby government protects natural rights of life, liberty, and property.

2. To ensure that students know John Locke’s role in influencing Enlightenment thinkers, explain that Locke believed in the “contract theory of government” and held that sovereignty rests with the people. He opposed absolutism. Refer to his book, Two Treatises on Government for excerpts that support these basic concepts.

3. Discuss other Enlightenment thinkers, including the following:

  • Montesquieu: He wrote Spirit of the Laws in which he called for separation of powers as a feature of the best form of government.

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau: He wrote The Social Contract in which he discussed majority rule and the belief that government is a contract between rulers and the people.

  • Voltaire: He stated that religious toleration should triumph over religious fanaticism, and he believed in separation of church and state.

4. Have students find statements in the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution that were influenced by the Enlightenment thinkers. The Constitutional Society provides free copies of these documents on the Web at http://www.constitution.org/cs_found.htm.

Session 5: The Enlightenment and the French Revolution


  • Picture of the Bastille

  • Web sites such as the following:

“The French Revolution.” http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/modsbook13.html

“John Locke.” http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/philosophers/locke.html

“Montesquieu: The Spirit of the Laws, 1748.” http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/montesquieu-spirit.html

“Toussaint L’Ouverture.” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part3/3h326.html

Instructional Activities

1. Discuss with the class how ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers influenced the French Revolution. Responses may include that many philosophers, such as Locke and Montesquieu, opposed the absolutist type of government that France had. Montesquieu called for separation of powers, which restricted absolutism.

2. Discuss with the students the role of the fall of the Bastille and the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution. Discussion should include the following information:

  • The Bastille was a political prison for individuals who opposed the absolutism of the monarchy, and its fall was a symbolic beginning of the revolution.

  • Bastille Day, July 14th, is similar to July 4th in the United States.

  • The Reign of Terror was an attempt to equalize every person and create a republic.

  • Because all people were considered equal under the law, noble titles were eliminated and all people were called citizens.

3. Display a picture of the Bastille, and ask students to write a paragraph describing their observations.

4. Ask students to suggest possible outcomes of the French Revolution. Responses should include the following:

  • The execution of Louis XVI

  • War with neighboring countries, who feared this revolution would spread to them

  • The rise of Napoleon as a strong figure who could bring order out of chaos.

5. Assign a teacher-selected reading or other reinforcement activity.

Session 6: The Impact of the Enlightenment on the Arts and Technology


  • Internet and/or print resources on the works of writers Voltaire and Cervantes, composers Bach and Mozart, and painters Reynolds and Delacroix

  • Internet and/or print resources on inventions and new technology of the time

  • Web sites such as the following:

“Johann Sebastian Bach.” http://w3.rz-berlin.mpg.de/cmp/bachjs.html

Cervantes Project. http://www.csdl.tamu.edu/cervantes/V2/CPI/index.html

“Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.” http://w3.rz-berlin.mpg.de/cmp/mozart.html

Instructional Activities

1. Explain how the Enlightenment affected the arts. Include the fact that Enlightenment leaders believed in order and balance, and this transferred to the arts of the period. Explain that Enlightenment leaders believed in toleration, a philosophy that was apparent in literature of the time, such as Voltaire’s Candide.

2. Discuss the achievements of representative Enlightenment-era composers, artists, philosophers, and writers of these three centuries.

  • Johann Sebastian Bach: Baroque composer

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Classical composer

  • Sir Joshua Reynolds: Painter

  • Voltaire: Philosopher

  • Miguel de Cervantes: Writer (novelist)

Ask students how the work of each of the above reflected Enlightenment beliefs. For example, Cervantes’s Don Quixote reflected a search for balance. A writing assignment could be a brief paper on how Cervantes’s writings reflected a search for order and balance. In the area of music, students could write on how the structures of the compositions of Bach or Mozart were models of order and balance. In the area of visual art, students might examine the art of Reynolds and how it typifies the “Grand Style” in painting, which depended on idealization of the imperfect as it strove to portray ideal order, balance, and proportion.

3. Discuss the impact of the Age of Reason. Include information on the impact the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment had on inventions and new technology. Information should include the following:

  • Improvements in ship design

  • New designs for farm tools

  • Invention of all-weather roads

4. Ask students to explain the impact of the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Reason on trade and commerce. Responses should emphasize that better roads improved trade.

5. Display some art works by Eugène Delacroix, pointing out that he was an artist who led the transition to the Romantic School of the nineteenth century. Point to examples that support the fact that rather than order and balance, Delacroix’s goals were to portray his dramatic, often exotic, content with an expressive passion that placed an emphasis on color and movement. These were also goals of the Romantic painters who followed after Delacroix.

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