Ch. 16: Enlightenment Thinkers: John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Adam Smith

by Nicole Steck ~ February 5th, 2010. Filed under: Chapter 16: The Age of Enlightenment: Rationalism and its Uses.

Nicole Steck

Some of the key thinkers of the Enlightenment included physician-philosopher John Locke, German philosopher Immanuel Kant, and noted economist and professor Adam Smith.

John Locke, a prominent physician and philosopher in Britain during the Enlightenment, is the father of many important concepts still widely known and followed today, including the theory of tabula rasa, or “blank sheet(slate),” which postulates that children are born without preconceived notions of the world, and that their views and beliefs are shaped by their experiences. He was also a vital political player at the time, contributing to the development of theories which are reflected in the Declaration of Independence, including liberal theory.

Immanuel Kant was another Enlightenment-era thinker, and is considered “one of the most influential philosophers in the history of Western philosophy.” Kant, a German philosopher and author of The Critique of Pure Reason, rejected both the notion of tabula rasa and the notion of full knowledge at conception, arguing instead for reason. Kant also famously asked, “what can we know?,” and posited that the answer is clear: we, as human beings, can know about the finite facts of the natural world, particularly science and mathematics.

Adam Smith was a professor and the author of The Wealth of Nations, a vital treatise on economics. Smith is also known for his argument that “sympathy and self-interest [are not] antithetical; they [are] complementary.” Smith used that ideology to promote the idea that the economy continues successfully due to the self-interested work of individuals, which added together benefit society. Smith’s ideas were radical in a time when the idea of self-interest was scandalous and sinful, and his groundbreaking work paved the way for modern economic structures and heirarchies.

These men were only some of the many thinkers and philosophes who shaped the Enlightenment, and the world as we know it today.

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