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On the Enlightenments (plural)

Summary

Nick Spencer explains that not all Enlightenments were created equal.

Summary

Nick Spencer explains that not all Enlightenments were created equal.

Transcript

You’ve got to remember that the Enlightenment is not one single phenomenon. And there are different ways of parsing it. Some people talk of a French or a British or a Scottish or an American Enlightenment; some people talk about a radical Enlightenment or a moderate Enlightenment – so different Enlightenments have different dynamics to them, and draw from Christianity in different ways.

The British Enlightenment has a greater Christian flavour to it than, say, what you might call the radical or sometimes called the French Enlightenment. And in the British Enlightenment sense, it drew very heavily on the Scientific Revolution of the mid-17th century and on what you might call the political revolution at the end of the 17th century, and particularly in the figure of John Locke.

And through these scientific moves – transformations – and the political shift at the end of the 17th century, we get a distinctive British Enlightenment which pays attention to what we now call science, and democratic accountability (although that’s a slightly anachronistic term), which then goes on to influence the world. And both the political philosophy of Locke and the Scientific Revolution that we associate with figures like Hooke and Newton and Bacon both are in some way rooted in the Christian worldview they shared.