Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

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Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by FaxModem1 » 2018-09-08 07:26am

Simple enough question, why did the Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, etc. happen in Europe, and not elsewhere previously?

Tangentially, what are the ingredients needed in a society to institute the Renaissance/Enlightenment?
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Re: Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by Esquire » 2018-09-08 10:17am

Because Mongols, basically. China and/or the Middle East would have beaten Europe at least to the Enlightenment if huge chunks of them weren't burned to the ground in the late Middle Ages. That's the slightly flippant posting-from-phone version, anyway.
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Re: Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by LaCroix » 2018-09-08 02:20pm

Actually, the Arabs were well ahead Europe in terms of the Enlightenment at the turn of the millenium, and pretty much just needed a slight boost in the right direction. But then the crusades happened as an answer to their continued expansion.... While Europe received a cultural boost from the Arab regions they conquered, Islam kind of took a wrong turn in reaction to the Christians suddenly getting the military upper hand. They had pretty much recovered from this and pulling further ahead, again, when the Spanish Reconquista threw them into a Jihad mindset, again...

And then, the Mongols happened. And since those pretty much stopped at the Karpathians, the Europeans had less of a problems with them, and finally overtook the Muslim lands, who never really recovered from the devastation in time before the Europeans came at them, again and again, but now with constantly improving technology, while they had become stagnant...
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Re: Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by Surlethe » 2018-09-08 03:05pm

I am not a historian, so of course take this with a grain of salt. Seems to me that we should seek to understand the Enlightenment in the context of early modern Europe: certainly the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth century and economic disruption beginning to be caused by the resources of American colonies, and probably also various cultural changes (e.g. how masculinity, femininity, etc were displayed and communicated).

So here are some guesses for starting points for research and analysis. From the lens of religion, for example, we might understand the Enlightenment as an extension of the Reformation's reaction against the authority of the Church, and also a reaction against the horror of religious war. From the perspective of economic disruption, we might understand the Enlightenment as stemming from social rewards accruing to risk-takers and entrepreneurs. From the perspective of cultural changes, there might be changes in how cultural expressions of status were communicated, perhaps masculinity came to be represented by emotional reserve and intellectual flourishes?

I would push back against framing the Enlightenment as a "leveling up" or a necessary step in some "progression" of societies. Real life isn't a game of Civilization; cultural change is contingent and chaotic.

Again, I am certainly not a historian (though I do spend time with historians :) ); this is surely a topic that historians have written extensively about.
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Re: Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by madd0ct0r » 2018-09-08 04:15pm

Every decade, every area at peace and with surplus resources rolls a d20. The natural 20s get to advance.
In other words, be careful about back fitting justifications onto events.
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Re: Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by FaxModem1 » 2018-09-10 01:21am

Surlethe wrote:
2018-09-08 03:05pm
I would push back against framing the Enlightenment as a "leveling up" or a necessary step in some "progression" of societies. Real life isn't a game of Civilization; cultural change is contingent and chaotic.

Again, I am certainly not a historian (though I do spend time with historians :) ); this is surely a topic that historians have written extensively about.
Do you think the Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution would have come about without the Enlightenment? If so, how and why?
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Re: Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by madd0ct0r » 2018-09-10 10:33am

FaxModem1 wrote:
2018-09-10 01:21am
Surlethe wrote:
2018-09-08 03:05pm
I would push back against framing the Enlightenment as a "leveling up" or a necessary step in some "progression" of societies. Real life isn't a game of Civilization; cultural change is contingent and chaotic.

Again, I am certainly not a historian (though I do spend time with historians :) ); this is surely a topic that historians have written extensively about.
Do you think the Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution would have come about without the Enlightenment? If so, how and why?
The Scientific revolution nearly happened in the Ionian Enlightment until the slave society led to a seperation of 'abstract thinkers' and a rejection of empirical experiementation for pure philosophy. That would have dodged hanging around for a few thousand years waiting for a second enlightment.

Could the industrial revolution have occured in a non-scientific society?
Possibly. Even today a huge amount of engineering is driven by money and practical rules of thumb. Given we didn't have a working model of soil behaviour until Terzaghi in 1967 (that's 19-67, for emphasis), we got a very very long way on learning from experienece in non-controlled enviroments and supersititions.
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Re: Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by Coop D'etat » 2018-09-10 06:31pm

FaxModem1 wrote:
2018-09-08 07:26am
Simple enough question, why did the Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, etc. happen in Europe, and not elsewhere previously?

Tangentially, what are the ingredients needed in a society to institute the Renaissance/Enlightenment?
I think you need to think about your question a little bit more. The Renaissance and the Enlightenment for example are very much not the same thing.

The Renaissance is a period of 15th-16th century Western Europe. Despite its reputation from proponents of a vulgar Whiggish view of history, its doubtful if it marked a period of any particularly great intellectual fecunity or tolerant humanism compared to the later medieval period, or the period after the Renaissance. This is the period where witch hunting and Inquistions become a big deal, not as commonly assumed, the Middle Ages. From a world historical perspective, the really important thing that happens around then is W. Europe develops something of a lead in ocean-going ship technology and is an excellent geographic position to exploit this technology by crossing the Atlantic and begin interacting with the Americas as well as establish long-range trade routes with the rest of Eurasia. The other notable exception for Europe in this period is the rest of the major regions of Eurasia collalese into "gunpowder empires," but the biggest effort to do so in W. Europe under the Hapsburgs fails and Europe remains politically fragmented into medium to small sized states.

The Enlightment on the other hand, refers to the intellectual culture of the 17th-18th centuries. Its commonly understood to an intellectual follow up to the great success the early Scientific Revolution had at understanding the physical world which inspired intellectuals to attempt to apply reason to examine everything else. Political Liberalism as a school of thought generally begins from here.

Economic and technological divergence doesn't really get big until the Industrial Revolution, which is a 19th century thing.


In general, it sounds like you are asking what caused what some people are now calling the "Great Divergence" between Europe and the rest of the world. That's a big, nebolous an difficult question that many people have theories on, but no one has a definative answer to and nobody here is going to be able to more than provide their own pet theory. I am extremely skeptical that anything as pat an explaination as "the Mongols sacked Baghdad" is the real reason why. I'm also skeptical that the Ionian Greeks were all that close to Scientific and Industrial Revolution, in particular, the necessary technological base to for industrialisation to start paying off in economic terms wasn't availible to them.

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Re: Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by Elheru Aran » 2018-09-10 07:03pm

The Ionians could've made some fun toys but they weren't tuned into extrapolating theory into practice. I mean, they literally invented the word 'sophistry' meaning to use fallacious or nonsensical arguments-- as long as it sounded good, they considered it a valid debating tactic! Now if the Ionian philosophers had been around more during the Roman era, the Romans might have seized upon some of their notions-- much more practical people generally, and great engineers.

Anyway. Yeah. The Renaissance wasn't *that* much far removed from the Middle Ages, and a great deal of that is just how fuzzy historic boundaries can get. The use of catch-phrases to define eras of history tends to make us think there were distinct transitions, and well, no. Elizabeth I's England was not hugely different from Henry VIII's. On the other hand, some monarchs simply reigned long enough that they were able to effect fundamental changes in their kingdom over their reign-- Louis XIV being an excellent example, taking France from the nigh-feudal kingdom of Louis XIII to the autocratic, centralized and slightly toothless monarchy of XV. But he's possibly something of an exception, that formed a model for that transition across Europe, though some areas took longer to consolidate than others, notably the German states.

Honestly Louis XIV's influence on European history was pretty disproportionate, thanks to a very long reign and building France to a world power.

How the hell did I get to Louis XIV? Anyway. A lot of stuff went on, and there's a LOT of dots that never get connected in most people's minds. Caravaggio, famous artist, right? Fought the French (I think it was) when they besieged Rome. Where's that in art class?

Mostly as Coop says, yeah, the Renaissance is a different animal from the Enlightenment, and while they overlap somewhat, the Enlightenment isn't a historic period as much as it was a scientific and intellectual movement, the latter made possible to a large degree by the final decades or so of the Renaissance where nations consolidated under stronger monarchs and international communications were somewhat improved via easier travel between countries, thus facilitating the easy exchange of ideas.
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Re: Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by madd0ct0r » 2018-09-10 07:11pm

minor point - I never suggested the greeks were close to industrialisation, just that the early thinkers were skirting the edge of verification by experiment: http://lukemuehlhauser.com/pre-socratic ... roduction/
As you note, they'd need a different drive/motivation to develop ideas beyond verified curios. A mercantile market for things like electroplated sheeps wool perhaps :)

As for the tech base for industrialisiation, in an old RAR i ran here about industrialisation without fossil fuels plenty of people highlighted the first factories were water wheel driven, or mass production innovations like the circular kiln . httpshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoffmann_kiln or that sri lankan forge that ran on monsoon winds. http://www.nature.com/articles/379060a0

I apprciate literally zero of those apply to greece, but that's because they were developments of the resources and markets they were in. The Archimedes screw was a gift to Egypt, not steep sloped greek mountains after all :)
But yeah, I'm not trying to suggest the greeks were close to industrialisation.
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Re: Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by Coop D'etat » 2018-09-10 07:27pm

I'd posit that the later Industrial Revolution is tied to why the earlier Enlightenment was considered a big deal. Rational empiricism as a mode of thought derived considerable prestige from its ability to deliver the goods in tangible returns even prior to the full blown Industrial revolution in terms of advancing technology. This gives the intellectual class a strong reason to prefer it as a method over other alternatives. By contrast, there probably wasn't nearly the reason to favour scientific reasoning over other systems of thought in the Hellenic world.

I'm suggesting that industrialisation is tied to continued scientific advancement because it makes it culturally self-sustaining rather than dependant on a particular cultural efloresence that fades in a few generations.

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Re: Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by Coop D'etat » 2018-09-10 08:53pm

Incidently, there is a great deal of literature discussion this subject, under the terms "Great Divergence" or "European Miracle" if you want to read up on it.

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Re: Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by FaxModem1 » 2018-09-13 09:26pm

Coop D'etat wrote:
2018-09-10 08:53pm
Incidently, there is a great deal of literature discussion this subject, under the terms "Great Divergence" or "European Miracle" if you want to read up on it.
Any recommended reading?
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Re: Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by Zor » 2018-09-14 12:17pm

Introduction of New World Crops played a major role in it. More productive agriculture meant more people, more people in cities and more people who got educated.

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Re: Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by Jub » 2018-09-14 12:44pm

One of the reasons I've seen cited is that Europe had more separation of powers between kings, the church, merchants, and city-states and this interplay ensured that no single entity could entirely control progress. It also helped keep Europe more politically fragmented which lead to great competition between states and as we've seen throughout history competition breeds innovation.

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Re: Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by Surlethe » 2018-09-15 01:16am

FaxModem1 wrote:Do you think the Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution would have come about without the Enlightenment? If so, how and why?
I am sure I don't have any opinions I'm really confident in.

I think it's likely an industrial revolution would have occurred in some form or another with the depopulation and subsequent colonization of the Americas. Accompanying it, I think some form of exponential scientific advancement would have occurred. But without an Enlightenment I am not convinced that industrial revolution and growth of scientific knowledge would bear much resemblance to the phenomena we call "Industrial Revolution" and "Scientific Revolution."
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Re: Why did the Enlightenment happen in Europe?

Post by Surlethe » 2018-09-15 01:21am

FaxModem1 wrote:
2018-09-13 09:26pm
Coop D'etat wrote:
2018-09-10 08:53pm
Incidently, there is a great deal of literature discussion this subject, under the terms "Great Divergence" or "European Miracle" if you want to read up on it.
Any recommended reading?
The Great Divergence by K. Pomeranz. Compares Europe, India, and China in the mid eighteenth century at multiple levels of aggregation to establish that in most economically relevant indices (e.g. fertility, household size, economic freedom, entrepreneurship, technical advancement) the major centers of Eurasian civilization were comparable; if anything, China was measurably slightly more "advanced" than the others. Based on this method of comparison, Pomeranz advances the hypothesis that the great divergence can be accounted for by: easily accessible coal deposits; and resources extracted from the Americas.

The way I conceptualize it is that American resources provided a "spark" necessary to push out of the population trap (where economic expansion is entirely allocated to supporting increased population) and spur investment in technical growth.
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