Rationalism & Revolution Honors English 3
Rationalism • The belief that human beings can arrive at truth by using reason, rather than by relying on the authority of the past, religious faith, or on intuition. • God created the universe, but does not interfere in it’s workings. • The world operates according to God’s rules, and through the use of reason, people can discover those rules. • People are basically good and perfectible. • Since God wants people to be happy, they worship God best by helping other people. • Human history is marked by progress towards a more perfect existence.
Smallpox Plague • In 1721, a ship from the West Indies landed in Boston Harbor carrying sugar, molasses, and smallpox. • In a strange twist of events, Cotton Mather was integral in the usage of science to bring about the end of the epidemic. • He, like any good Puritan, called for people to “look upon sin and the cause of sickness,” but also looked to a method developed by a Turkish Muslim physician called inoculation. • He inoculated nearly 300 people and only 6 died. Of the almost 6,000 others who contracted the disease 850 died. • This shows the dual thinking in the early American character: Even a devout Puritan could also be a practical scientist.
Puritan vs. Rationalist Thought Puritan Rationalist Believed they had a national mission to create American character, and through the use of reason, establish a Democratic Utopia. History progressed through acts of individual and national self-assertion. Wrote political pamphlets, travel writing, and even fiction in a more ornate writing style. Effect was to grow patriotism, instill pride, create common agreement about issues, and show differences between Americans and Europeans. Believed that God is a creator that does not interfere and that reason leads to the truth in life. • Believed they were on an errand into the wilderness, to create a city upon a hill and a Christian Utopia • Wrote sermons, diaries, personal narratives, and captivity narratives in a plain style. • The effect was instructive and meant to reinforce the authority of God. • God is the central aspect of the writing and the bible provides direct connection for their own lives.
Rationalism in Play • Rationalism is based on logic and scientific reasoning, but they were not what we consider to be traditional scientists. • Rationalism developed out of the need to solve problems efficiently. • It lead to questioning EVERYTHING, including the value of traditions that had been practiced because they were tradition. • It also shifted the view of religion. • Many founding fathers believed in God but not in the way Puritans did. • Many of the founding fathers and leading rationalists were Deists. • They believed God created the world and left it alone to work. • The common metaphor was that of a clockmaker who created the world and then wound it up and let it wind back down. • Scientific investigation didn’t contradict religion, but instead was allowing them to better understand what God had created.