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Monday, February 22, 2010

Philosophes: Economics, Politics, and Education


The philosophes, the French word for "Philosopher", were a combination of statesman, politicians, scientists, professors, and social reformers, to name a few. These men shared a common view, and that was the ability to take philosophy and use it in a way that changes the outlook of a nation or the traditions and customs using a more direct approach.

All aspects of these social changes were meant to make the human race kinder, and ultimately happier. However, this form of self expression was still under censorship by the state, so many of these philosophes found ways around this by using pseudonyms to publish books and even moving to other countries to spread their reforms.


Montesquieu was greatly inspired by the English government and was also influenced by John Locke’s three division of the government. Montesquieu used this approach to distinguish three governments including republics, monarchy, and despotism. The most lasting contribution to politics by Montesquieu was the checks and balances created by the separation of powers. This system, which implemented England’s system, included executive, judicial, and legislative powers. This system allowed for increased freedom and security of state. The work of Montesquieu was then translated in English so that the men that followed could implement the principles into the Constitution, which they were.

Adam Smith and the Physiocrats

When Adam Smith and the Physiocrats brought about new economic laws, it completely changed society. Wealth could be increased with more agricultural production, so to put it simply, it was the only productive means of increasing state revenues. Consequently, with the establishment of laissez-faire, merchants were allowed to pursue their own economic self interests. This was the start of the small business. As a result, Adam Smith and the Psysiocrats were able to establish the foundation known as economic liberalism.

Education was also on the forefront when philosophes started to frequent salons during the seventeenth century. The spread of new ideas to the literaty elite through publications and books was crucial to the increasing desire to educate oneself. Salons were run by women, and depending on their presence in society, they were able to welcome the greatest minds of their time including Voltaire, Hume, and Montesquieu. The salons promoted conversation and social relationships between various classes. Additionally, with the assistance of philosophe reformers, new schools were designed to provide a broader education.

The German Realshule offered languages, geography, and bookkeeping to boys looking to pursue a career in business, and girls were taught religion and domestic skills. At the end of the 18th century, education also included physics, math, and astronomy.

Philosophes ultimately changed the worldview of politics, education, and economics. They laid a foundation based on secularism and rationalism, therefore thoughts on the society as a whole was widely open to interpretation.


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