The Age of Reason

The elevation of rationality

The eighteenth century is frequently referred to as ‘The Age of Reason'. It was marked by confidence in the powers of the human mind to discover the secrets of the universe. Human beings felt capable of discovering the workings of the world, from the human body to the solar system, by the application of science and rationality. The world was open to scientific enquiry. It could be measured, analysed and exploited.

Earlier ages had been marked by a belief that, since God was the creator of all things and could not be fully comprehensible to human minds, human understanding and reason could not reliably grasp the whole ‘truth'. People would expect the world to involve an element of mystery. However, this perception shifted in the Age of Reason to a belief that human reason could be the ultimate judge of truth.

Confidence in human analysis

Samuel JohnsonThe eighteenth century saw an increasing confidence that human beings could gather together all information about the world and put it into an organised form. This meant that this was the century when the first dictionaries and encyclopaedias were compiled. It was believed that dictionaries could tie down the origin and meaning of words, whilst language could be standardised by establishing the rules of grammar. Consequently, Samuel Johnson is perhaps better known for his dictionary than for his other literary output.

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