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John Locke

A major forerunner of the Enlightenment. The author of "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding," he argued the validity of tabula rasa.

Tabula rasa

Locke's theory that all humans enter the world as blank page.

Issac Newton

A scientist, a physicist, a writer, and a major forerunner of the Enlightenment. His formed the law of universal gravitation. Also, he encouraged Europeans to approach the study of nature directly and to avoid metaphysics and supernaturalism.


Also known as Francois Marie Arouet, he was by far the most influential of the philosophes. In addition to writing works such as "Letters on the English," "Candide," and "Elements of the Philosophy of Newton," he attacked war and religious persecution. Chief rival was Rousseau.

Letters on the English

Written by Voltaire, this book praised the virtues of the English and indirectly criticized the abuses of French society.


In this, Voltaire's most famous satire, Voltaire attacked war, religious persecution, and what he regarded as unwarranted optimism about the human condition.

Treatise on Tolerance

Written by Voltaire, this hounded the authorities for a new investigation of the case of Jean Calas


A lawyer, noble of the robe, and a member of the provincial parlement, he was a brilliant philosophe who wrote "The Persian Letters" and "Spirit of the Laws."

The Persian Letters

Written by Montesquieu, this satirized contemporary institutions using letters purportedly written by two Persians visiting Europe. The letters described how European behavior contrasted with Persian life.

Spirit of the Laws

Written by Montesquieu, this work deemed the British constitution as the wisest model for regulating the power of government.


Along with Jean le Rond d'Albert, he authored the "Encyclopedia."


Easily the most radical of the philosophes, this man frequently clashed with Voltaire. He authored "Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences," "Discourse on the Origin of Inequality," and "The Social Contract." All of his works were radical and highly critical interpretations of society.

Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences

Written by Rousseau, this contented that the process of civilization and enlightenment had corrupted human nature.

Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

Written by Rousseau, this blamed much of the evil in the world on the uneven distribution of property.

The Social Contract

Written by Rousseau, this clashed with Locke's ideas on individualism. Rousseau contended that society is more important that its individual members

Adam Smith

The author of "The Wealth of Nations" and is often considered the father of capitalism.

The Wealth of Nations

Written by Smith, this advocated that a free market economy would be more beneficial to society. Smith's theories went hand-in-hand with individualism.


Authored by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Almbert, this was a collective plea for freedom of expression. It contained the most advanced ideas of the time on religion, government, and philosophy. Important articles and illustrations were included, making it a major source of knowledge.


The religion of many philosophes. It was predicated on the notion that God was rational and therefore nature was too. It was empirical, tolerant, reasonable, and encouraged a virtous living.


A Scottish philosopher, he argued against the existence of miracles and, by implication, against the belief in Christianity. Authored "Inquiry into Human Nature."

Inquiry into Human Nature

Written by David Hume, this argued that no empirical evidence supported the existence of miracles central to much of Christianity.

Jean Calas

Roman Catholic political authorities in Toulouse ordered his execution for supposedly murdering his soon to prevent him from converted to Roman Catholicism. After his death, Voltaire published his "Treatise on Tolerance" in defense of this man.

Gotthold Lessing

A German playwright and critic. He wrote "Nathan the Wise."

Nathan the Wise

Written by Gotthold Lessing, this was a plea for religious toleration.

Cesare Beccaria

An Italian philosophe. He published "On Crimes and Punishment." He attacked torture and capital punishment.

On Crimes and Punishment

Written by Cesare Beccaria, this applied critical analysis to the problem of making punishments both effective and just.


A group of economic reformers who believed it was the role of government to protect property and to permit its owners to use it freely. They were led by Francois Quesnay and Pierre Dupont de Nemours.

Marie Therese Geoffrin

This woman ran a salon which was one of the most important gathering spots for Enlightenment writers. She was instrumental in helping the philosophes.

Claudine de Tencin

A woman who helped the philosophes gain access to useful and social political contacts. She promoted Montesquieu's "Spirit of Laws."

Mary Wollstonecraft

A female critic of Rousseau and author of "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman." She criticized Rousseau and others who upheld traditional roles for women.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Mary Wollstonecraft's masterpiece. It criticized the views of Rousseau on women's roles in society.

Enlightened Absolutism

A form of government predicated reforms in absolutist states. These reformers often agreed with the views of the philosophes. Voltaire was a major advocate of this system.

Frederick II

A correspondent of the philosophes. He sought the recovery and consolidation of Prussia. He transformed Prussia into an efficient military and economic power.

Joseph II

The rational leader of Austria. He attempted to impose rational policies on the Habsburg Empire. He also urged religious toleration and confiscated church lands. His attempts to tax the nobility stirred up a revolt.

Catherine II

Leader of Russia who became very familiar with Enlightenment thought. Good friends with Diderot and Voltaire. She tried to enact major reforms but she never intended to abandon absolutism. She assured nobles of their rights and by the end of her reign had imposed press censorship.

Charter of the Nobility

With this, Catherine the Great legally defined noble rights and privleges in exchange for the assurance that the nobility would serve the state voluntarily.

Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainardji

This treaty gave Russia a direct outlet to the Blak Sea, free navigation rights in its waters, and more free access through the Bosporus. Crimea became an independent state and was latter annexed by Catherine. This ended the Ottoman-Russian conflict.

Partition of Poland

As a result of several Eastern European military conflicts, the map of Europe had to be withdrawn, three times to be exact. This reorganization of territory was at the expense of a nation which was ultimately erased from the map of Europe.

Pugachev's Rebellion

Emelyan Pugachev promised the serfs land of their own and freedom from their lords, initiating a peasant revolt, the largest of the 18th century.

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