Enlightenment vs Industrial Revolution

1095 words | 4 page(s)

The Age of Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, produced some of the greatest thinkers in the world. Their works changed the history of the modern world. They challenged the notion of aristocracy and demanded that all men be treated with the same freedoms. They also explored new scientific principles, setting the stage for the modern age of science. Sir Isaac Newton represented the beginnings of the new age of science. At this time in history, the world’s people believed the universe was controlled by God pulling magic strings. Rationality and reason did not occur to many of the thinkers of the previous centuries. Sir Isaac Newton challenged the superstitions of his age with scientific and mathematical concepts. Through these concepts, he revolutionized the world and allowed greater mechanical invention. Through the principles of invention devised by Newton, the Industrial Revolution startled with world with its outputs and new concepts. Newton’s impact on science transformed the world. He helped set off the Enlightenment with his rationality, brilliance and scientific thought. His mathematical concepts helped pave the way for technological development over the next two centuries.

Newton’s work on mathematics offered new enlightenment to the world. His work Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, or Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, is a three-book work published in 1687. This work contains the well-known Newton laws of motion. The concept that a body in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force is a highly quoted physical attribute. A body at rest will also remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. Newton’s laws of motion represent the foundation of classical mechanics and are still frequently discussed today. He also examined the laws of attraction in science. Newton begins his work by discussing that all bodies have mass and that gravity exists as a mutual force (Newton xv-xvi). In his work, Newton also developed various mathematical methodologies now considered part of calculus. Calculus studies the mathematics behind the concept of change. It is a major aspect of modern mathematics. Through his mathematics, Newton was able to estimate the mass of celestial bodies. He also proved that the universe is run by the principles of mathematics, not a god pulling strings. Movement within the solar system could be predicted by mathematics. While previously, numbers were thought to have magical properties, numbers now ran the universe. His work changed the progression of science, allowing the necessary advancements for the Industrial Revolution to occur.

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Since its publication, Newton’s Principia has been considered one of the greatest works ever produced. “Viewed retrospectively, no work was more seminal in the development of modern physics and astronomy than Newton’s Principia” (Smith). His work led to a new theory of science and mechanics. At the time of its publication, some philosophers significantly disagreed with his theories and findings. However, other philosophers, such as Immanuel Kant were greatly influenced by it. Newton explained that the world and the universe were rational and should be examined from this point of view. This belief allowed other philosophers of the Enlightenment to continue his though pattern that the universe, the world and the people should be led by reason, not superstition or ancient customs (McMullin). Through reason, individuals began to question why aristocracy governed. These thinkers led to the French Revolution and the American Revolution. These believers also would allow the Industrial Revolution to occur. The Industrial Revolution required science to support its modern methods of production and the technological devices developed during an astonishingly short period of history.

Newton’s work greatly impacted the Enlightenment. Newton’s work cemented the importance of formal science within the concept of learning. Because of this, individual philosophers and thinkers recognized the value of learning science to help improve the discovery of knowledge. “The fundamental assumption of the Enlightenment, then, was that the growth of useful knowledge would sooner or later open the doors of prosperity. The belief was that the expansion of useful knowledge would solve technological problems” (Mokyr 6-7). Newton’s work ushered in the modern scientific world.

One of the most important inventions of the Industrial Revolution, and indeed all history, is the steam engine. Steam engines conduct work through the use of steam. Steam engines are still widely used today to make electricity. The invention of the steam engine occurred over a period of time, with successive inventors improving upon the work of their predecessors. James Watt is widely considered to be the inventor who offered the greatest improvements in it. He succeeded in this in 1765.

However, one of the inventors of the steam engine was Sir Isaac Newton. In 1680, Newton discussed and proved that steam has an elastic force capable of producing movement. This led to Watt’s continuation of his work in the next century. The steam engine became a dominant force within the British Industrial Revolution. Watt’s perfection of the steam engine occurred at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Historians have debated if the Industrial Revolution occurred because of the steam engine or if the steam engine occurred as a result of the Revolution. However, it is widely accepted that while “the world was becoming an industrialized place before the advent of steam power, [it] would never have progressed so quickly without it” (Whipps). The steam engine allowed the massive power requirements for the Industrial Revolution, as well as the ability to transport people and products with increasing speed.

The thinkers of the Enlightenment and their work created the necessary conditions for the later development of technology that fueled the Industrial Revolution. Sir Isaac Newton was, by far, the greatest thinker, inventor, scientist, mathematician and philosopher of the Enlightenment. His work is still praised and practiced today, centuries after his death. This alone speaks to his accomplishments.

  • McMullin, Ernan. The Impact of Newton’s Principia on the Philosophy of Science. PCNL Library. 1999. 1 June 2013. http://www.paricenter.com/library/papers/mullin02.php
  • Mokyr, Joel. “The European Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and Modern Economic Growth.” Speech at European University. 27 March 2007. 1 June 2013. http://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu/~jmokyr/Florence-Weber.PDF
  • Newton, Sir Isaac. Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. 1687. Trans. Andrew Motte. Etext. 1 June 2013. http://books.google.com/books?id=exwAAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=newt on+principia+mathematica&hl=en&sa=X&ei=bxGuUbDiG9Wj4APj24BQ&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=massive&f=false
  • Smith, George. “Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Winter 2008. 1 June 2013. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2008/entries/newton-principia/
  • Whipps, Heather. “How the Steam Engine Changed the World.” Live Science 2006. 1 June 2013.

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