The Age of Reason, science, logic, and progress emerges in early modern Europe. According to Francis Bacon, it was the printing press — along with gunpowder and the compass — that changed the world forever. The printing press allowed old superstitions to be challenged and new ideas to be introduced.
This is the time when Benjamin Franklin — scientist and printer — begins his fight against water pollution. It’s an era when Franklin’s friend, George Baker, uses scientific detective work to track down the source of the notorious Devonshire Colic. It’s a time when James Lind identifies the causes of scurvy in the British Navy. It’s a time when John Howard argues that diseases in the slums and prisons also affect the rich, and that it in the pragmatic interests of the rich to care for the poor.
The Enlightenment begins with a philosophy that values reason above faith and direct inquiry more than revealed wisdom. Science takes its place alongside scripture, rather than beneath it, in contemporary estimation.
More people realize that there could be “other kinds of glory than that of victory in battle,” as Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) said. They begin to work for reform, and for other people, rather than conquest. Bernardo Ramazzini is one example in his study and caring for victims of occupational disease.
The Enlightenment era merges into the Industrial Revolution between the late 1700s and early 1800s. On the cusp of this rapid change, Rev. Thomas Malthus famously predicts that food and resources will run out as populations explode. Yet, around the same time, James Watt’s improvements to the steam engine set the stage for the Industrial Revolution, which creates social havoc even as it expands the capacity to provide for larger populations than Malthus ever imagined.
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