New ideas in 18th century Europe –

The birth of a new social class, technological advances, religious crises, progress scientists, it is the century in which it is not necessary to resort to religion to explain what surrounds us, scientifically based thought. The new ideas based on knowledge against ignorance and superstition resulted in a period of revolutions culminating in the French Revolution, the American War of Independence and the Spanish-American Revolution. This item we have called New ideas in eighteenth-century Europeaims to explain what the new ideas of the eighteenth century were, why this change of thought and what consequences it had.

New ideas in 18th century Europe | Historic context

A new intellectual movement It was born in the middle of the 17th century, extending throughout the 18th century and ending, in some cases, at the beginning of the 19th century. This new movement received the name of Enlightenment or Age of Enlightenment and with it history enters a new era or historical age, the contemporary age.

This period was called Enlightenment, referring to the light of knowledge and reason facing the darkness and darkness in which humanity was lost. It is the faith in the progress of man outside of superstitions and religion. , the illumination of the reason why he also received the title of Century of the lights.

The enlightened man was convinced that the only way to combat ignorance, tyranny and superstition is through knowledge. The Enlightenment movement did not focus only on an ideological exposition, but also moved the social, economic, cultural and political foundations.

The new ideas and thoughts quickly soaked into the bourgeoisie and in a part of the aristocracy of the moment. new media, meetings or gatherings organized in the houses of the wealthiest people and even of the old aristocracy where politicians, thinkers, writers or scientists exposed their ideas and were debated, they made this enlightened movement quickly spread not only throughout Europe but also throughout the new continent.

New ideas in 18th century Europe | Characteristic

The cultural situation in the eighteenth century was that of a population with more than 70% Europeans who could neither read nor write, that is, illiterate. In this environment, both the intellectuals and the most representative social groups realized that the importance of reason if explained through the laws of naturesimple laws that could improve all aspects of human life.

The science

It goes back to the fundamental principles, to the methodical doubt of Descartes or in the physical laws that caused a true revolution in the scientific world of Newton, simple laws that could be applied universally both for the government and for society.

The need to learn and teach It is the predominant tone of the enlightened man of the eighteenth century. The industrial revolution, the steam engine, the appearance of the periodic press, was what catapulted these new ideologies throughout the planet.

Diderot and D’Alembert, two fundamental characters when publishing between 1751 and 1765, the masterpiece of this period in the dissemination of knowledge, the Encyclop√©die raison√©e des Sciences et des Arts. This work was fundamental because it left aside the principles that until now had governed the world, religion, and gave knowledge a secular and materialistic character, which were also the principles by which the French bourgeoisie of the 18th century moved.

The encyclopedia was soon completed with another essential work the Dictionnaire Philosophique, of Voltaire. These works advocated progress, where men and women can dominate the world without the need for divine intervention.

With these ideas outside the divine will, the fundamental principle of absolutist monarchies, they collapsed. God did not grant power to anyone, man is born free and must remain so. A new political current is born, reformism against absolutism, a current that would soon fail, as was revealed when the French Revolution broke out, giving rise to a new much stronger current, the Liberalism.

Religion and Social Classes

The Enlightenment movement openly criticized the intolerance of religion and religious traditions. The enlightened man did not conceive the figure of a punishing God like the one represented by the Bible, a religion based on fear first of God and then of his hierarchy.

The bourgeoisie, increasingly distant from religion with much more materialistic approaches with secular values, crossed social borders, the new working classes joined in discontent with a system totally established by the noble and clerical classes, an unequal economic, political and social system. that ended with the French Revolution.

New ideas in 18th century Europe | New ideas

The new ideas that develop throughout the Century of the lights in Europe they will be:

  • anthropocentrism
  • Rationalism
  • Hypercriticism and Reformism
  • Pragmatism
  • Imitation
  • Idealism
  • Universalism


Exaltation of the human being, is the moment in which faith in God is transferred to man. There is full confidence in what man is capable of doing and that progress depends directly on the human being. The man becomes optimistic, he believes he is capable of everything and traces of the darkness that the middle ages had provided, making man a subject, sad and without vision of the future.

A secular culture appears and for the first time God begins to lose power. Societies such as Deism, Freemasonry, Nihilism, Agnosticism and Libertinism appear as the scandalous novels of the Marquis de Sade.


An ideological movement based in reason and experience. The human being must get rid of the passions and feelings, so that it is the reason that marks the way of life. Anything that is not balanced or harmonic is considered monstrous.

Hypercriticism and Reformism

The appearance of the Encyclopedia causes all previous approaches and knowledge to be reconsidered. It departs from knowledge all superstition that in great majority came given by religion. Purify the past to build the future.

Literally, satire and fable are used in theaters to show the defects of society and thus be able to improve it. Literature will now serve to educate instead of entertain as was usual until now, the fables provided the patterns of behavior to follow, comedy or satire it ridicules the morality of the human being in order to improve it.

is created the history Concept, Now the historical events would not be considered as isolated events but as a consequence of previous events, historical continuity appears.

Scientifically, advances based on experimentation and empiricism, everything must be proven. The first scientific societies appeared, such as the Royal Society, creation of public libraries, museums, etc. In medicine, vaccines appear and the importance of hygiene as a prevention system is discovered.

Rousseau and Montesquieu advocate for separation of powers to achieve a fairer justice. The citizen’s right appears to elect their own rulers, replacing them when his government does not conform to what is requested by the people. The word Constitution appears in absolutist countries.

In terms of technology, the steam engine appears, as we have already mentioned, the voltaic battery, the gas lamp, the thermometer, etc.


Following the formulas of Epicurus, its greatest representative was Bentham. Ideas based on the usefulness of things, everything must have a useful purpose to spend time on it. The useful purpose of literature is to teach, where styles such as the novel were useless. Appear learning novels, essays.


A new current that essentially reject originality, everything classic must be imitated, the imitation of the Greco-Roman authors, they are the model for all the arts, sculpture, painting or architecture. It returns to academicism where creativity is punished. Good taste is extolled and the imperfect, dark, decadent is abhorred.


Rejection of the vulgar and exaltation of good taste. It is characterized by careful language free from profanity and insults. purity is sought forgetting or leaving aside the dark side of society, topics in bad taste are ignored as if they did not exist, for example there is no talk of murders, suicides, there are no criticisms or topics such as tyrannicide are discussed, the mixture of social classes.


This current advocates cultural relativity, true knowledge comes from merge the different traditions. They are interested in everything exotic, travel books. Man’s need to explore and seek in each tradition the human trait that characterizes him.

Everything is considered french as fashion or role model, speaking French becomes a mark of distinction. French culture and art began to influence much of Europe as it was in Spain, Russia or Germany. The language begins to adopt French terms. This new universalism will be in charge of devising forms of collective government, what would be called utopias which would trigger the French Revolution.

You may also like:

we look forward to overstorythat this article has been of your interest, however we have selected some links from our page, based on your choice.

New ideas in 18th century Europe | Image gallery