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A brief overview of the Enlightenment Era
The Age of Enlightenment is a term used to describe the development of Western philosophy, literature and art in the 17-18th centuries. The rapid progress of humanities in that period was close-knit with economic and technological developments across the whole Europe and North America, in particular, the invention of the internal combustion engine, formation of the new economic class known as bourgeoisie, or self-made people who enriched financially not on the basis of the noble origin, but merely as a result on the entrepreneurial talent; in parallel with the improvement of the populations’ well-being, Western economies were optimized and rationalized (wsu.edu, 2009). At the same time, rationalism dominated contemporary philosophy and literature, so the Age of Enlightenment was marked with the formulation of moral theories, principles of governance and human rights and freedoms, according to which Europe and North America have been living till the present day (wsu.edu, 2009). The present paper is intended to discuss the philosophical perspectives of David Hume and Immanuel Kant.
Life and legacy of David Hume
David Hume (1711-1776) was a Scottish thinker and philosopher. As a descendant of the Scottish bourgeoisie, the family of advocate Joseph Home (Hume in English pronunciation) and Katherine Lady Falconer, he received a great education, being enrolled to the University of Edinburgh at the age of twelve for extraordinary abilities and academic performance. Hume never married and dedicated his whole life to history and philosophy studies, which finally turned into a sex-volume “History of England”, famous for its unusual psychological direction “A Treatise of Human Nature” and more than ten books and essays on moral theory (Stanford Encyclopedia, 2009). In fact, Hume was one of the first psychologists of morality, his doctrine of human motivation in ethical decisions, a cornerstone of the contemporary moral theory, stated that individuals could not be driven by reason alone in their moral acts and that passions played an important role, even though this idea was not popular at the time of rationalism. Thus, as opposed to the other Enlightenment philosophers, who labeled human emotions as “passions” and viewed them as useless, Hume proved that emotions were a constructive part of human mental activity, which allowed people to reach consent and establish societal mores and values like the value of life, health or private property (Stanford Encyclopedia, 2009; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2009). Hume was also famous for formulating the importance of a person’s understanding of “moral necessity” and free will, as this condition, he believed, allowed humans to comply with moral principles and act righteously in each life situation.
Life and contribution of Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), a German (Prussian) philosopher, was brought up in a simple family of craftsmen and traders. Since the early years, he showed a considerable aptitude to study and thus was accepted to the University of Konigsberg at the age of 16 (Philosophy Pages, 2009). He was interested in a number of sciences including physics, mathematics and philosophy, but received fame and recognition for his well-known works on moral theory and modes of reasoning entitled “Critique of Pure Reason”, “Critique of Practical Reason” and “Metaphysics of Morals”. He is [particularly famous for his Categorical Imperative which states that humans should not be viewed as a means but rather as a goal, or as perfect creatures and rational beings (Philosophy Pages, 2009). Kant also developed a unique concept of goodwill, according to which the goodwill, or human intrinsic motivation for acting righteously, was good in itself, regardless of the results it brought. Therefore, Kant held that a virtuous person was a person who wished good to others and tried to do something for the common well-being out of this good will.
I believe that both Hume and Kant focused on the positive sides of human personality, so their works would seem inspiring and empowering to any reader. Their view on morality is not distracted from reality, but close-knit to human emotions (like in Hume’s works) and human volition and determination (like in Kantian doctrine). I also believe that the relationship between emotions and morality established by Hume is logical, as immoral acts hurt both physically and emotionally, causing psychological suffering, so it is plausible that moral laws were formulated by societies on the basis of emotions which certain action or deviance brought about. I also accept the Kantian prescription to avoid approaching others as tools and instruments, because if followed by all members of the society, this principle will allow everyone to feel respected and treated properly.