acquired the practical function of asking critical questions about existing institutions and demanding that the unreasonable ones, those contrary to human nature, be changed. All social obstacles to human perfectibility were to be progressively eliminated. (Zeitlin, p.2).
At the beginning of An Essay Concerning Human UnderstandingLocke says that since his purpose is “to enquire into theOriginal, Certainty and Extant of human knowledge, together with thegrounds and degrees of Belief, Opinion and Assent” he is goingto begin with ideas—the materials out of which knowledge isconstructed. His first task is to “enquire into the Original ofthese Ideas…and the ways whereby the Understanding comes to befurnished with them” (I. 1. 3. p. 44). The role of Book I of theEssay is to make the case that being innate is not a way inwhich the understanding is furnished with principles and ideas. Locketreats innateness as an empirical hypothesis and argues that there isno good evidence to support it.
Romanticism and the Counter Enlightenment – Open Liberalism
Baruch Spinoza also greatly contributes to the development ofEnlightenment political philosophy in its early years. Themetaphysical doctrines of the Ethics (1677) lay thegroundwork for his influence on the age. Spinoza’s argumentsagainst Cartesian dualism and in favor of substance monism, the claimin particular that there can only be one substance, God or nature, wastaken to have radical implications in the domains of politics, ethicsand religion throughout the period. Spinoza’s employment ofphilosophical reason leads to the denial of the existence of atranscendent, creator, providential, law-giving God; this establishesthe opposition between the teachings of philosophy, on the one hand,and the traditional orienting practical beliefs (moral, religious,political) of the people, on the other hand, an opposition that is oneimportant aspect of the culture of the Enlightenment. In his mainpolitical work, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1677),Spinoza, building on his rationalist naturalism, opposes superstition,argues for toleration and the subordination of religion to the state,and pronounces in favor of qualified democracy. Liberalism is perhapsthe most characteristic political philosophy of the Enlightenment, andSpinoza, in this text primarily, is one of its originators.
Political Philosophy: Methodology
In this era dedicated to human progress, the advancement of thenatural sciences is regarded as the main exemplification of, and fuelfor, such progress. Isaac Newton’s epochal accomplishment in hisPrincipia Mathematica (1687), which, very briefly described,consists in the comprehension of a diversity of physical phenomena– in particular the motions of heavenly bodies, together withthe motions of sublunary bodies – in few relatively simple,universally applicable, mathematical laws, was a great stimulus to theintellectual activity of the eighteenth century and served as a modeland inspiration for the researches of a number of Enlightenmentthinkers. Newton’s system strongly encourages the Enlightenmentconception of nature as an orderly domain governed by strictmathematical-dynamical laws and the conception of ourselvesas capable of knowing those laws and of plumbing the secrets of naturethrough the exercise of our unaided faculties. – The conceptionof nature, and of how we know it, changes significantly with the riseof modern science. It belongs centrally to the agenda of Enlightenmentphilosophy to contribute to the new knowledge of nature, and toprovide a metaphysical framework within which to place and interpretthis new knowledge.