American Philosophers - 18th Century - Age of Enlightenment

Age of Enlightenment

While the early 18th century American philosophical tradition was decidedly marked by religious themes, the latter half saw a reliance on reason and science, and, in step with the thought of the Age of Enlightenment, a belief in the perfectibility of human beings, laissez-faire economics, and a general focus on political matters.

Four of the Founding Fathers, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison, wrote extensively on political issues. In continuing with the chief concerns of the Puritans in the 17th century, the Founding Fathers debated the interrelationship between God, the state, and the individual. Resulting from this were the United States Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, ratified in 1776 and 1788, respectively.

The Constitution sets forth a federated republican form of government that is marked by a balance of powers accompanied by a checks and balances system between the three branches of government: a judicial branch, an executive branch led by the President, and a legislative branch composed of a bicameral legislature where the House of Representatives is the lower house and the Senate is the upper house.

While the Declaration of Independence does contain within it references to the Creator, the Founding Fathers were decidedly not exclusively theistic, some openly professing personal concepts of deism, as was characteristic of other European Enlightenment thinkers, such as Maximilien Robespierre, François-Marie Arouet (better known by his pen name, Voltaire), and Rousseau. The most notably and self-consciously Christian of the Founding Fathers was John Adams. However, the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli, signed by John Adams, states that "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion".

Thomas Paine, the intellectual, pamphleteer, and revolutionary who wrote Common Sense and Rights of Man was an influential Enlightenment thinker and American Founding Father. Common Sense, which has been described as “the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era" provides justification for the American revolution and independence from the British Crown.

Read more about this topic:  American Philosophers, 18th Century

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