Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society

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Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, guarantees a schedule of individual rights based on the liberal ideal. Republican values include civic patriotism, virtuous citizenship and property-based personality. Developed during late antiquity and early renaissance, classic republicanism differed from early liberalism insofar as rights were not thought to be granted by God in a pre-social state of nature, but were the products of living in political society. On the classical republican view of liberty, citizens exercise freedom within the context of existing social relations, historical associations and traditional communities, not as autonomous individuals set apart from their social and political ties.

The Jeffersonian ideal of the yeoman farmer, which had its roots in the similar Roman ideal, represented the eighteenth-century American as both a hard-working agrarian and as a citizen-soldier devoted to the republic.

When elected to the highest office of the land, George Washington famously demurred when offered a royal title, preferring instead the more republican title of President. Though scholarly debate persists over the relative importance of liberalism and republicanism during the American Revolution and Founding see Recent Work section , the view that republican ideas were a formative influence on American Enlightenment thinking has gained widespread acceptance.

Though the Enlightenment is more often associated with liberalism and republicanism, an undeniable strain of conservatism emerged in the last stage of the Enlightenment, mainly as a reaction to the excesses of the French Revolution. Though it is argued that Burkean conservatism was a reaction to the Enlightenment or anti-Enlightenment , conservatives were also operating within the framework of Enlightenment ideas.

Some Enlightenment claims about human nature are turned back upon themselves and shown to break down when applied more generally to human culture. For instance, Enlightenment faith in universal declarations of human rights do more harm than good when they contravene the conventions and traditions of specific nations, regions and localities.


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Similar to the classical republicans, Burke believed that human personality was the product of living in a political society, not a set of natural rights that predetermined our social and political relations. Conservatives attacked the notion of a social contract prominent in the work of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau as a mythical construction that overlooked the plurality of groups and perspectives in society, a fact which made brokering compromises inevitable and universal consent impossible.

Burke only insisted on a tempered version, not a wholesale rejection of Enlightenment values. Conservatism featured strongly in American Enlightenment thinking. While Burke was critical of the French Revolution, he supported the American Revolution for disposing of English colonial misrule while creatively readapting British traditions and institutions to the American temperament.

American Enlightenment thinkers such as James Madison and John Adams held views that echoed and in some cases anticipated Burkean conservatism, leading them to criticize the rise of revolutionary France and the popular pro-French Jacobin clubs during and after the French Revolution. Toleration or tolerant pluralism was also a major theme in American Enlightenment thought. It reflected their belief that hatred or fear of other races and creeds interfered with economic trade, extinguished freedom of thought and expression, eroded the basis for friendship among nations and led to persecution and war.

Tiring of religious wars particularly as the 16 th century French wars of religion and the 17 th century Thirty Years War , European Enlightenment thinkers imagined an age in which enlightened reason not religious dogmatism governed relations between diverse peoples with loyalties to different faiths.

The Protestant Reformation and the Treaty of Westphalia significantly weakened the Catholic Papacy, empowered secular political institutions and provided the conditions for independent nation-states to flourish. American thinkers inherited this principle of tolerant pluralism from their European Enlightenment forebearers. Inspired by the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers John Knox and George Buchanan, American Calvinists created open, friendly and tolerant institutions such as the secular public school and democratically organized religion which became the Presbyterian Church.

In it, Locke argued that government is ill-equipped to judge the rightness or wrongness of opposing religious doctrines, faith could not be coerced and if attempted the result would be greater religious and political discord. So, civil government ought to protect liberty of conscience, the right to worship as one chooses or not to worship at all and refrain from establishing an official state-sanctioned church. The Enlightenment enthusiasm for scientific discovery was directly related to the growth of deism and skepticism about received religious doctrine.

In pre-revolutionary America, scientists or natural philosophers belonged to the Royal Society until , when Benjamin Franklin helped create and then served as the first president of the American Philosophical Society. Franklin became one of the most famous American scientists during the Enlightenment period because of his many practical inventions and his theoretical work on the properties of electricity.

What follows are brief accounts of how four significant thinkers contributed to the eighteenth-century American Enlightenment: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Adams. Benjamin Franklin, the author, printer, scientist and statesman who led America through a tumultuous period of colonial politics, a revolutionary war and its momentous, though no less precarious, founding as a nation. In his Autobiography , he extolled the virtues of thrift, industry and money-making or acquisitiveness. Not only did Franklin advise his fellow citizens to create and join these associations, but he also founded and participated in many himself.

Franklin was a staunch defender of federalism, a critic of narrow parochialism, a visionary leader in world politics and a strong advocate of religious liberty. A Virginian statesman, scientist and diplomat, Jefferson is probably best known for drafting the Declaration of Independence. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.

Constitution, a man of letters, a politician, a scientist and a diplomat who left an enduring legacy on American philosophical thought. As a tireless advocate for the ratification of the Constitution, Madison advanced his most groundbreaking ideas in his jointly authoring The Federalist Papers with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton. Indeed, two of his most enduring ideas—the large republic thesis and the argument for separation-of-powers and checks-and-balances—are contained there. In the tenth Federalist paper, Madison explains the problem of factions, namely, that the development of groups with shared interests advocates or interest groups is inevitable and dangerous to republican government.

If we try to vanquish factions, then we will in turn destroy the liberty upon which their existence and activities are founded. John Adams was also a founder, statesman, diplomat and eventual President who contributed to American Enlightenment thought. Turgot , and Discourses on Davila Once introduced, elections ceased in the North American colonies, British subjects felt enslaved and revolution became inevitable. In the Defense , Adams offers an uncompromising defense of republicanism. Revealing the Enlightenment theme of conservatism, Adams criticized the notion of unrestricted popular rule or pure democracy in the Discourses.

Since humans are always desirous of increasing their personal power and reputation, all the while making invidious comparisons, government must be designed to constrain the effects of these passionate tendencies. Invocations of universal freedom draw their inspiration from Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and Thomas Jefferson, but come into conflict with contemporary liberal appeals to multiculturalism and pluralism.

Each of these Enlightenment thinkers sought to ground the legitimacy of the state on a theory of rational-moral political order reflecting universal truths about human nature—for instance, that humans are carriers of inalienable rights Locke , autonomous agents Kant , or fundamentally equal creations Jefferson. According to these critics, Enlightenment liberalism, rather than offering a neutral framework, discloses a full-blooded doctrine that competes with alternative views of truth, the good life, and human nature.


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  • However, as previously noted, evidence of Burkean conservatism offers an alternative to the strong universalism that these recent commentators criticize in American Enlightenment thought. If human societies are to achieve genuine moral progress, parochialism, dogma and prejudice ought to give way to science and reason in efforts to solve pressing problems. Until the publication of J.

    Gordon Wood and Bernard Bailyn contend that republicanism was dominant and liberalism recessive in American Enlightenment thought. Isaac Kramnick still defends the orthodox position that American Enlightenment thinking was exclusively Lockean and liberal, thus explaining the strongly individualistic character of modern American culture. Shane J. Ralston Email: sjr21 psu.

    American Enlightenment Thought

    American Enlightenment Thought Although there is no consensus about the exact span of time that corresponds to the American Enlightenment, it is safe to say that it occurred during the eighteenth century among thinkers in British North America and the early United States and was inspired by the ideas of the British and French Enlightenments. Enlightenment Age Thinking The pre- and post-revolutionary era in American history generated propitious conditions for Enlightenment thought to thrive on an order comparable to that witnessed in the European Enlightenments.

    Moderate and Radical Besides identifying dominant themes running throughout the Enlightenment period, some historians, such as Henry May and Jonathan Israel, understand Enlightenment thought as divisible into two broad categories, each reflecting the content and intensity of ideas prevalent at the time. Chronology American Enlightenment thought can also be appreciated chronologically, or in terms of three temporal stages in the development of Enlightenment Age thinking. Deism European Enlightenment thinkers conceived tradition, custom and prejudice Vorurteil as barriers to gaining true knowledge of the universal laws of nature.

    Liberalism Another idea central to American Enlightenment thinking is liberalism, that is, the notion that humans have natural rights and that government authority is not absolute, but based on the will and consent of the governed.

    Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society | Buddhism | Good citizen, Citizen, Books

    Conservatism Though the Enlightenment is more often associated with liberalism and republicanism, an undeniable strain of conservatism emerged in the last stage of the Enlightenment, mainly as a reaction to the excesses of the French Revolution. Toleration Toleration or tolerant pluralism was also a major theme in American Enlightenment thought. Scientific Progress The Enlightenment enthusiasm for scientific discovery was directly related to the growth of deism and skepticism about received religious doctrine.

    Franklin Benjamin Franklin, the author, printer, scientist and statesman who led America through a tumultuous period of colonial politics, a revolutionary war and its momentous, though no less precarious, founding as a nation. Jefferson A Virginian statesman, scientist and diplomat, Jefferson is probably best known for drafting the Declaration of Independence. Adams John Adams was also a founder, statesman, diplomat and eventual President who contributed to American Enlightenment thought. John Magnus Michelsen - - Asian Philosophy 5 1 — The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh.

    'Righteous citizens create enlightened society'

    The Ethics of Buddhism. Tachibana - - Curzon Press. Towards a Phenomenology of Morals. Kenneth I. Jon M. Shepard , Jon Shepard , James C. Stephens - - Business Ethics Quarterly 5 3 Joel J. Kupperman - - Journal of Religious Ethics - Xingyun - - Weatherhill. Greed is Not Good! Howard Munro ed. James M. Jacobs - - International Philosophical Quarterly 47 4 Robert Aitken - - North Point Press.

    Downloads Sorry, there are not enough data points to plot this chart. Sign in to use this feature. This article has no associated abstract. Buddhism in Philosophy of Religion categorize this paper. Applied ethics.

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