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Enlightened Philosophers (John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Jean Jacques Rousseau)

Category Rousseau, Voltaire
Essay type Research
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John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Jean Jacques Rousseau were all enlightenment philosophers. Each of these men had a particular view of government, society, and its citizens and they were all passionate about their works. Locke (1632- 1704) was an English philosopher, his ideas had a great impact on the development of political philosophy and he is widely regarded as one of the most influential enlightenment thinkers. Montesquieu (1689- 1755) believed that all things were made up of laws that never changed. His most famous work, The Spirit of Laws, outlined his ideas on how government would work best.

Voltaire (1694- 1778) was a poet, an essayist, playwright, historian, and above all, a critic of society. He was a great crusader for liberty and was twice imprisoned for his writings. Rousseau (1712-1778) generally recycled older enlightenment ideas but is well known for his passionate rhetoric, which enflamed a generation and beyond. John Locke’s view of government was that it was good to have one. The people may put their trust in the government so that in turn, the government may trust the people and protect their rights. The reason why men choose and give power to lawmakers is that there may be made, and rules set, as guards and fences… The people are right in trying to put the laws in the hands of the government which will protect their rights. (Excerpt from Locke's Two Treatises with Government) ”. Within the government, there were societies. Lock felt that the people needed/ wanted a government to protect their rights. They don’t, however, want to be victims of power abuse by the government. “The reason why men enter into society is to preserve their property. Two Treatises with Government) ”. Every society is made up of citizens; he believed that People (lawmakers) will inevitably abuse their power at some point. When this happens, people should have the right to break free from the government. “When lawmakers abuse absolute power and try to take away and destroy the property of the people… The people are then freed from any further obedience to lawmakers… (Two Treatises with Government) ”. If Locke were alive during the Renaissance period, his views may have shifted.

Lock may have been less bold about his reasons “why men enter into a society”. The renaissance was a time of peace and prosperity. Humanism, self awareness, art, and science were a big deal and his view of people and their “state in nature” may have changed because people were thinking differently during those times. During the Protestant Reformation, times were also different and his opinion may have altered again. Locke may have not cared about the people as much because he was too busy criticizing the government/ churches.

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The Protestant Reformation was a time where people were very critical of the churches because they abused their power which is one of Locke's philosophies; people want to be protected by the government, not abused. During the Scientific Revolution, however, people were big on science and the people; not so much the churches/ government so Locke's view may have changed again. He probably would feel the same way about the government but less harsh about the people. As times change, so do peoples’ opinions. Baron de Montesquieu believed in a government slightly different than Locke's.

Montesquieu still believed in a central government but he thought that laws should be specific to different parts of the world where as different law may have to be enforced in different places. In his most famous work, The Spirit of Laws, Montesquieu says “Laws…should be adapted for the people for whom they are framed…they should be relative to the climate of each country, to the quality of its soil…” Montesquieu’s view of society, however, differed very much from Locke's. Montesquieu felt that people become intoxicated on power when they have enough of it and they couldn’t handle having more than the person next to them. Political liberty can only be found in moderate governments when there is no abuse of power. (The Spirit of Laws) ” Montesquieu feels the same way about individual citizens as he does about the general society. People always abuse their powers. No matter how small the amount they have, they will push their credibility to the edge. “Constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it and carry it as far as it will go. (The Spirit of Laws) ”. As the renaissance came around, Montesquieu would definitely not have had such a bad opinion of man.

As previously mentioned, the renaissance was a time for prosperity and there was a focus on humanism. Montesquieu believed that men will abuse any power that they are given but during the renaissance, people were much different. As for the Protestant Reformation, Montesquieu would probably feel the same way as his original philosophy. Nobody liked each other during the Protestant Reformation but the liked the government/ churches even less. There’s no doubt that people would abuse their power and the government should be split in 3 sections.

However, during the Scientific Revolution, Montesquieu would feel the same about the people and probably would view the government the same way. During the Scientific Revolution, people were recovering from the Protestant Reformation but it was the abuse of power that put them there in the first place and they needed a stable government. Jean Jacques Rousseau was similar to Locke in his belief of a government. Rousseau believes that government is necessary for stability but only to an extent. If the king/ government should go against the people, they have a right to demand their freedom. No one - not even a king - has the right to go against the community as a whole. If a ruler was tyrannical and went against the will of the people the social contract is broken and the people had a right to demand their freedom (The Social Contract)”. Rousseau’s view of society was also good in that he did not criticize anything; he merely made the observation that in a society, people all have to abide by all the same rules because this keeps them at bay. “The essence of the social contract can be stated simply: each individual surrenders all his rights to the community (The Social Contract). Rousseau’s view of citizens basically adds onto his view of how they react in society. He believes that people want to live amongst each other in peace; they want to be protected and live by certain guidelines to ensure prosperity. During the Protestant Reformation, Rousseau’s ideas would have changed drastically. People were definitely not living in peace and the government/churches were what got them into a mess in the first place. During the Protestant Reformation people were basically at war with the church and anyone who disagreed with their opinion.

During the Scientific Revolution, people need a stable government because of what happened during the Protestant Reformation. However, people also wanted to live in peace with the government and their neighbors and whoever else. Rousseau would have felt the same about the government and about how people were living their lives during the Scientific Revolution as he would have from his original philosophy. Voltaire does not seem to care much for the government, “He was a great crusader for liberty and was twice imprisoned for his writings. His view of society was that people should be accepting and understanding of each other; when people do not accept each other and their ways of thinking, nothing good will come of it. “Tolerance has never brought about civil war. Intolerance has covered the earth with destruction (A Treatise on Toleration). ” When it comes to individuals, Voltaire is lighter with his words; he doesn’t penalize them for his distaste in the government. Voltaire believed that people should have certain unalienable rights that cannot be revoked unless they are causing some sort of a public disturbance. Each person must be permitted to believe and to think that which he rightly believes in. Each person should be able to speak freely as long as it does not disturb the public order. Each person must be able to freely practice any religion which he believes in… (A Treatise on Toleration). ” Voltaire would have the same feelings about the government and about the people during the Protestant Reformation. It was a time when nobody liked the government/ churches and the people wanted their rights because they were losing faith in religion.

During the Scientific Revolution people wanted their rights because they weren’t big on religion anymore, so, Voltaire probably would have felt the same way as his original writings. In conclusion, each philosopher had their own ideas and ways of thinking about the government, different societies, and its citizens. Each man may have also been influenced differently by the Renaissance, Protestant Reformation, or the Scientific Revolution. These enlightenment philosophers have left their mark on history and will always be remembered as influential figures.

Enlightened Philosophers (John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Jean Jacques Rousseau) essay

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