Essential Enlightenment Chapter Description
The Essential Enlightenment is packed with rich descriptions that keep the Enlightened philosophers interesting for a teenage audience. Each philosophe has a biographical sketch and how the historical period in which they lived affected their writings. The chapter also addresses how the writer’s ideas have shaped not only European governments, but also world history. It’s just the right amount of information for a survey of the Enlightenment to introduce these ideas to middle and high school students. Not too much info, but rich details that will keep your students interested.
This chapter also comes with reading comprehension questions that can be used for homework or to generate a class discussion on the reading. The comprehension questions have an answer key included.
Here’s a brief excerpt from the chapter:
Jeremy Bentham 1748-1832
Jeremy Bentham was an economic and political philosopher in the 19th century who lived during both the French Revolution, the Napoleonic age, and the first industrial revolution. He enrolled as a student at Oxford university at age 12. After graduating, he worked as a lawyer and heard decisions on the “Queen’s Bench.” He was dissatisfied with the types of decisions he heard being made at court and came to the conclusion that the government only works to preserve the “status quo” (the way things are). His dissatisfaction with government drives him to begin his work as a philosopher so that the can devise and articulate a new goal for government.
Bentham also writes during an age with increasing income inequality and working class exploitation under an intensifying industrial system. The sufferings of the working poor in combination with a government system that works to preserve the interests of the powerful monied classes shapes Bentham’s philosophies in important ways. Bentham is concerned about people’s happiness. In his book, Plan of Parliamentary Reform, he argues that governments shouldn’t just work to preserve the status quo, but rather to improve the lot of their populations. Parliament’s guiding principle should be to create the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
When applying the principle, “greatest good for the greatest number” to the political questions of the day, Bentham has some very liberal answers. On the question of whether women should be allowed to vote, Bentham says yes, they should. It would make 50% of the population happier if they had the vote, so it should be allowed. This was quite radical thinking for his 19th century audience. Please note that women don’t get the right to vote in European nations until the 20th century (at least not on national issues, though in England women can vote for the school board by the middle of the 19th century). On the question of free speech Bentham says yes, giving the population free speech will make more people happier. On the question of colonial holdings, Bentham’s happiness principle leads him to write that the colonies should be released. Again, it would make the millions of colonials better off and happier to have their freedom ...