How Enlightened was the Enlightenment

Ref: C2225484

The Enlightenment (or Age of reason) in 18th century Europe promoted freedom of rational thought, and scientific progress. It saw itself as leaving behind the ‘dark’ authoritarian Middle Ages. It is often seen as creating the basis of our present-day liberal, secular and democratic societies. Yet it has also been criticised on various grounds, such as: Did The Enlightenment go too far in rejecting religion? Did the emphasis on science remove our sensitivity to nature, leading to ecological destruction? Did the idea of ‘individual rights’ destroy our sense of community and promote excessive individualism and selfishness? Was it really democratic – or was it elitist? What of the rights of women? What about the existence of slavery? The course will introduce key thinkers of the period, and we will discuss the above criticisms, with a view to drawing up a balance sheet of the positive and negative aspects of The Enlightenment and its impact on our way of thinking today.

Course aim

To explore the main features of the18th century European Enlightenment, its positive and negative aspects, and its influence on us today.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • No skills or experience needed

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Summarise the key ideas of a number of Enlightenment thinkers such as Kant, Rousseau, Adam Smith
  • Identify the values and ideals that were fundamental to the Enlightenment, such as progress, science, reason, individual freedom.
  • Discuss the impact of science and technology on society during the 18th century
  • Evaluate the contribution of Enlightenment ideas to modern Europe.

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning
  • You may be asked to undertake additional work in your own time to support your learning
  • Extracts from key thinkers will occasionally be given to students for them to read in their own time.

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • A range of informal activities will be used by the tutor to see what you are learning which may include quizzes, question and answer, small projects and discussion
  • You will have opportunities to discuss your progress with your tutor
  • As this is a course that deals primarily with ideas and beliefs the emphasis will be on a mix of lecture and discussion. Progress of learners will be informally assessed by evidence of increasing confidence in paticipating in discussion.

What else do I need to know?

  • Nothing else is needed
  • All materials will be provided
  • It would be helpful if you had access to the internet (Mobile phone, tablet or computer at home or through a library etc.)

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading or pre course work is required
  • The tutor's website: has detailed notes for learners to use to follow up classes or to prepare before hand.

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course

Download full course information sheet

How Enlightened was the Enlightenment


As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you book. Please could we ask that you check the list below to ensure you meet our basic criteria:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • You have a valid email address so that you can receive confirmation of your booking
  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2018
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

Not sure or have further questions? Contact

Visa Credit payments supported by RBS WorldPay Visa Debit payments supported by RBS WorldPay Visa Electron payments supported by RBS WorldPay Mastercard payments supported by RBS WorldPay Maestro payments supported by RBS WorldPay JCB payments supported by RBS WorldPay Solo payments supported by RBS WorldPay
RBS WorldPay Payments Processing