The Enlightenment is a historically important event for scientific progress. It was ushered in by the collective transformative forces of path-breaking scientific discoveries in the preceding century. Most of these scientific discoveries dispelled long-held religious views of the world. This proved controversial at the time and provoked sharp censure from religious authorities. Yet the force of truth and reason is too strong to be contained by threat of punishment. This inevitability gave rise to the Enlightenment – one of the pivotal moments in the cultural ascent of our species. As Immanuel Kant famously described, Enlightenment is humankind’s “release from its self-imposed immaturity”. (Withers, 2007) Enlightenment is therefore an act of breaking shackles of authority and substituting it with independent inquiry. Since the Enlightenment attitude toward science encouraged skepticism over tradition and superstition, it immediately attracted the wrath of the powers that be.
The Enlightenment not only opened new avenues for existing scientific disciples, but it also created new directions in science. The formal study of psychology is a byproduct of the principles of academic rigor that were enshrined in the Enlightenment movement. In fact the Enlightenment established autonomous disciplines of psychology, economics, anthropology, sociology, etc. These were erstwhile studied under broader classifications of humanities or philosophy. The new disciplines, including psychology, were aided by new models for probabilistic reasoning. John Locke’s propositions on epistemology and Condillac’s commentaries on them were instrumental to the fledgling research on psychology. Claude-Adrien Helvétius’ De L’ésprit (1758) is another founding text of modern psychology. It integrates Locke’s work on sensory perception and processing to that of Condillac. The body of work that emerged in modern Psychology’s infant years has had deep impact on the political thought of the time. (Withers, 2007)
Jolley, N. (1999). Locke: His Philosophical Thought. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Stirling, J. (2002). Introducing Neuropsychology. New York: Psychology Press.
Withers, C. W. (2007). Placing the Enlightenment: Thinking Geographically about the Age of Reason. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.