Despite the confidence in and enthusiasm for human reason in theEnlightenment – it is sometimes called “the Age ofReason” – the rise of empiricism, both in the practice ofscience and in the theory of knowledge, is characteristic of theperiod. The enthusiasm for reason in the Enlightenment is primarilynot for the faculty of reason as an independent source of knowledge,which is embattled in the period, but rather for the human cognitivefaculties generally; the Age of Reason contrasts with an age ofreligious faith, not with an age of sense experience. Though the greatseventeenth century rationalist metaphysical systems of Descartes,Spinoza and Leibniz exert tremendous influence on philosophy in theEnlightenment; moreover, and though the eighteenth-centuryEnlightenment has a rationalist strain (perhaps best exemplified bythe system of Christian Wolff), nevertheless, that theEncyclopedia of Diderot and D’Alembert is dedicated tothree empiricists (Francis Bacon, John Locke and Isaac Newton),signals the ascendency of empiricism in the period.


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