HISTORY FORUM: The Age of Enlightment in France and Europe.


HISTORY FORUM: The Age of Enlightment in France and Europe.
by Darius Kadivar

The Age of Enlightenment (or simply the Enlightenment) is a term used to describe a time in Western philosophy and cultural life, centered upon the eighteenth century, in which reason was advocated as the primary source and legitimacy for authority.

Part of a 16 hour documentary available at the Open University Website :

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Part IV:

Part V:

Women of the Enlightenment:

The term "Enlightenment" came into use in English during the mid-nineteenth century,with particular reference to French philosophy, as the equivalent of a term then in use by German writers, Zeitalter der Aufklärung, signifying generally the philosophical outlook of the eighteenth century. However, the German term Aufklärung was not merely applied retrospectively; it was already the common term by 1784, when Immanuel Kant published the influential essay "Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?"

Developing simultaneously in Germany, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, the movement was buoyed by Atlantic Revolutions, especially the success of the American Revolution in breaking free of the British Empire. Most of Europe was caught up, including the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Russia and Scandinavia, along with Latin America and instigating the Haitian Revolution. The signatories of the American Declaration of Independence, the United States Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and the Polish-Lithuanian Constitution of May 3, 1791, were motivated by Enlightenment principles.

The terminology "Enlightenment" or "Age of Enlightenment" does not represent a single movement or school of thought, for these philosophies were often mutually contradictory or divergent. The Enlightenment was less a set of ideas than it was a set of values. At its core was a critical questioning of traditional institutions, customs, and morals. Thus, there was still a considerable degree of similarity between competing philosophies. Also, some philosophical schools of the period could not be considered part of the Enlightenment at all. Some classifications of this period also include the late seventeenth century, which is typically known as the Age of Reason or Age of Rationalism.

There is little consensus on when to date the start of the age of Enlightenment and some scholars simply use the beginning of the eighteenth century or the middle of the seventeenth century as a default date.If taken back to the mid-1600s, the Enlightenment would trace its origins to Descartes' Discourse on the Method, published in 1637. Others define the Enlightenment as beginning in Britain's Glorious Revolution of 1688 or with the publication of Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica which first appeared in 1687. As to its end, some scholars use the French Revolution of 1789 or the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars (1804–15) as a convenient point in time with which to date the end of the Enlightenment.

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Related blog:

HISTORY FORUM: Nader Naderpour on Iran's Constitutional Revolution and European Rennaissance (1996)


more from Darius Kadivar
Hoshang Targol

With all due respect

by Hoshang Targol on

All this emphasis on " autochthounous" thought by Nuri Azal ( as much love and respect I have for all Azalis) is dangerouesly close to what Fardid was preaching for almost 30 years in Iran ( Gharbe-Zadegi, ...), and we saw the results: it was nothing short of an all around intellectual paralysis ( with the notable exception of Shamloo, Mostafa Rahimi, et al) when it came to dealing  with Khomeini and his most backward culture.


Below is Daruish Ashuri's critique of Fardid, and affirmation of liberating potential of Western Enlightment, cheers

فلسفه در
ميانِ ما
از احمدِ
فرديد و




Bernie Schadek


by Bernie Schadek on

We have a Divine nature in us, All of us.  I studied and studied, and landed upon the most effective method: Anapanasati, it is meditation focusing on breath as taught by The Buddha.

The ONLY place I've found the right teachings and readable, is in a book called "The Road to Awakening".  it's only 10 bucks, and around 50 or 60 pages. Way more useful than other texts I have bought.  I recommend it here it is:




Darius jan-i-kabir-i-'aziz

by Nur-i-Azal on

It is a bummer we live so far away otherwise I'd suggest starting up a study circle and reading these Enlightenment philosophes and discussing/criticizing their ideas in relation to Iran amongst a group of interested people, kind of like the intellectual salons in Europe during that period.

As far as the Constitutional Revolution goes (and you should look at Janet Afary's great book here): there is a native angle to the ideas of that interesting era that is sometimes overlooked.  Janet Afary for the first time highlighted it in her study. The real effective godfathers of the Constitutional Revolution were Shaykh Ahmad Ruhi and Mirza Agha Khan Kirmani. Granted they were already dead when the actual Revolution got underway, but it was their ideas more than European Enlightenment philosophers that initiated that thing. I don't know how much you're aware of the background of these two, but both were sons in law of Mirza Yahya Nuri Subh-i-Azal and many of their ideas expressed in the pamphlets they wrote that inspired the early Constitutionalists are actually Babi political ideas.

You might want to look at this treatise by Subh-i-Azal on politics and leadership in Persian (which was a response to French diplomat ALM Nicolas) because there are ideas in it in primitive form that echo the Constitutional ones.

Thanks for the link.



Darius Kadivar

Thank You Nur-i-Azal Jaan for your enlightening feedbacks

by Darius Kadivar on

Wow I am impressed by your proficiency in this subject.

I don't disagree with some of your assessments and like all ideas, I suppose the Enlighted Philosophers ideas are not without flaws and to take everything they said as absolute truths would be wrong like for all things.

I do think however to their credit that they were for their times proposing something new in the history of ideas which was seen as a Rennaissance of the Human Spirit which for centuries was conditioned by religious inhibitions and absolutism. Paraadoxically they were also were very much inspired by the Ancient Greeks like Plato as well as the Athens Golden Age of Pericles.

As a matter of fact listen to Nader Naderpour's speech in this relation which shows many similarities between the Iranian Constitutionalists and the ideals of the European Rennaissance particularly in their quest to separate Religion and Politics which paradoxically was also supported by religious figureheads of the time.

As for Milani here is an interesting interview he gave on the subject of Modernity in Iran which addresses your question :

Abbas Milani: Modernity in Iran

Thanks for your feedbacks also will try and look into them if I stop at my local library.




Dariush jan-i-kabir-i-gerami

by Nur-i-Azal on

I watched the first part of the documentary, not the whole thing. But I spent my entire undergraduate philosophy degree reading through all of the Enlightement philosophers (French, German and English) cutting my teeth on heavy doses of Voltaire, Diderot, Grotius, Rousseau, Montesquieu (whom I like the most out of all of them), Locke, Hobbes, Hume, Immanuel Kant, etc. The more I read of these guys, the less I liked them, which pushed me back to re-reading and engaging with Plato and the Ancient Greeks (together with our own poets and thinkers) rather than these guys. When I discovered Martin Heidegger, who is generally anti-Platonist, and then Henry Corbin (a Platonic Heideggerian Iranophile) my suspicions about the Enlightenment philosophical project were thoroughly confirmed; namely, that these guys were completely out to lunch on the bigger, more important questions, and that much of the concrete ideological problems in Western modernity are firmly rooted in these thinkers and their ideas. Interestingly enough, and from completely different premises, Nietzsche  and then the European existentialist philosophers (Camus, Sartre, etc) as well as the contemporary structuralist and postmodernist thinkers like Foucault and Derrida also reached the same conclusions -- but for different reasons.

Now the question of human liberty and freedom is not necessarily connected, or rather invented, by the Enlightenment philosophes and their ideas. Both Plato and Aristotle deal with it (read the latters Politics, for example), and many after them as well. The problem with European Enlightenment thinking, which is a problem initiated much earlier on by Descartes and then repeated by everyone else after him, is that the question of freedom and liberty has been completely divorced from the more central question of ontology (being, existence). When ontology is divorced from the question of freedom, then you have not really resolved the existential question of freedom at all, but created a problem instead,  leaving the issue  suspended within the conundrum of authencity whose lack of a resolution in European philosophical thinking thus far has led to either nihilism or instrumentalist scientific positivism (which  itself has led to the complete ecological devastation of our planet). And this is where the existentialists where quite correct in their pointed criticisms of the Enlightenment philosophes. Of course they didn't resolve it themselves either, but their criticisms were nevertheless spot-on.

As for Abbas Milani: I loved his biography of Hoveyda, and the few academic articles he's penned which I've read show a sound, thorough and meticulous academic mind. I'd like to see any recent academic writings of his tracing the Western notion of human rights back to Ancient Iran. I think a case can be made. In fact one could make such a case from within some of the Zoroastrian scriptures as well, especially where the Mazdaean cosmology insists on a sort of voluntarism in the kosmic fight between the forces of good and evil and where Ohrmazd is technically not All-Knowing and Omnipotent, needing righteous humans to fight in the struggle with Him. Given the elaborate Zoroastrian system of ethics that emerges from such a cosmology, it isn't a stretch to root an argument about the genesis of human rights as being located in Iran. But I'd like to see the scholarship. 

That aside, if you are interested in philosophy and the question of freedom and human consciousness, there is a German-Swiss philosopher I invite you to look into: Jean Gebser.


Darius Kadivar

Nur-i-Azal Jaan did you bother watching the documentary ? ;0)

by Darius Kadivar on

I don't think that the Shah no more than a French or American President or anyother person in Power is qualified to speak for the individual or citizen so to speak simply because they hold power and the people don't.

Whether that power is invested on them by the people's choice or not is another debate.

But when it comes to people's rights, The question of Freedom of Thought becomes a central issue that cannot be dismissed purely on nationalistic grounds.

In Democracies the Elected Parliment becomes or at least has that mission to defend the People's rights and make sure that the Laws voted are not merely legal but Just !

That is what distinguishes Genuine Constitutional Monarchies or Democratic Republics from dictatorial systems of government whatever shape they may have.

The Constitutional Movement in Iran was inspired by Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu and to a lesser degree Rousseau and that led them to question Absolutism of their Kings and demanding a Constitution and a Parlimentary democracy.

HISTORY FORUM: Nader Naderpour on Iran's Constitutional Revolution and European Rennaissance (1996)  

What they got was the Parliment and Constitution but it was never applied and the last Shah cannot be blamed alone for that matter.

We are not forced to accept everything in the ideas expressed . But we cannot dismiss them without studying them and weigning the pros and cons.

The documentary as a matter of fact criticizes some of the collateral damages that were a consenquence of some of the prejudices or patronizing attitudes due to misinterpreting some of the ideas expressed by the Enlightment philosophers.

Rousseau's interpretation of the "Good Savage" was in particular one of the stereotypes that comforted the European Colonialists in their own cultural and racial superiority.

But to reduce the importance of the Enlightment in the history of Europe and Humanity to merely colonial superiority is wrong.

The Shah was a Nationalist and Iran had suffered from British political meddling in IRan for centuries but he was also a victime of believing in conspiracy theories as absolute truths.

I think to some degree he was not entirely wrong in his assessments regarding foreign powers meddling but that was also in the context of the Cold War Paranoia and insecurities of the time.

In our Time and Age we should not be afraid of new ideas nor dismiss them merely on grounds that they are "Western".

If it can be of a comfort to you, Eminent Iranian Historian Abbas Milani believes as a matter of fact that the universal values that have been expressed by Western Philosophers in regard to Human Rights and Democracy are also deeply rooted in Persian Literature and philosophy and that therefore we do not necessarily need to copy and paste the Western Models identically for that matter.

But nothing should stop us from being inspired by these progressive ideas without the obsession of re inventng the Wheel each time only because they are deemed as Western.

The Key Question is whether they express a universal concept which remains true regardless of where we come from, what is our cultural or racial background or social class.

Human Rights for instance cannot be ambiguous. Either we believe in them or we don't ? Same thing for Democracy.

My humble Opinion,


PS: Also I don't always agree with all the conclusions in the different documentaries I post. I simply believe that they offer Food for Thought and can lead to a better understanding of these different concepts or events that have shaped Human Societies. Everyone can then draw their own conclusions.


Dariush jan

by Nur-i-Azal on

The European Enlightenment also spawned the Revolutionary Terror of France and instrumentalized man's view of Nature as its conqueror and manipulator. These are very un-Iranian notions. Three and a half hundred years later look where the Enlightenment has gotten European civilization. Also Western philosophers since Kant have severly criticized the French Enlightenment's limited notions of the supremacy of reason because their very notions of reason are structurally limited and thoroughly tautological, even racist.

We don't need to follow this European model. I once talked to an individual who is quite close to Farah Pahlavi. Farah actually said to this individual that the Shah was not overly impressed with Western European notions of the Enlightenment, and while he was modernizing, his vision was of a uniquely Iranian cultural transformation that validated the best of all eras of our culture rather than negated it as the European Enlightenment tried to do in its own context. This individual said that Farah told them that the Shah did not see modernization and cultural integrity as mutually incompatible, and also believed that there was a uniquely Iranian notion of 'Reason' that was more nuanced and augmented than that of the European philosophes of 17th/18th century France.

We need Suhravardi as a role model, as Farah pointed out to this person as well, not Voltaire. 


Darius Kadivar

Your Welcome by Mehrban Jaan

by Darius Kadivar on

Glad you enjoyed this documentary.

Warm Regards,



What a delightful idea

by Mehrban on

to wake up to.  Reason!   Thank you DK jaan.  I visited Sans Sousi last summer as a part of a trip to Berlin.