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The Enlightenment: Adolescence of Modern Western SOciety

itsud1021 1 / -  
Jun 25, 2006   #1
This is the title of a short essay I have written as part of a five part series in order focus a thesis topic. This is for a Western Civilizations independent study with a focus on the Enlightenment. I am only taking it to fill a general Education requirement for the state, so I am trying to incorporate my background in psychology.

I was wondering if someone could take a look at this particular essay if I submit it and give me some feedback before i meet with my advisor next week to discuss it.

The Enlightenment; Adolescence of Modern Western Society

In psychology adolescence is defined as the period of human life after childhood (usually understood as beginning with the onset of puberty) and before adulthood and is characterized by emotional instability. It is a time of life focused on physical, cognitive, and emotional change. The study of adolescence has defined several characteristics, which, to me, seem to be parallel of the inquisitory nature of human behavior during the enlightenment.

Puberty is a sure indicator that adolescence has arrived although it may begin in a cognitive capacity before physically noticeable. Physical changes and events in Europe needed to occur to allow for the Enlightenment to develop as discussed earlier. Along these lines I would then define the industrial revolution as the pubertal or physical changes necessary for the progression of human development to attain adolescence or Enlightenment. For example physical changes during puberty such as hormone levels changing creates emotional instability, a defining characteristic of adolescence. Just as technological advances or changes during the industrial revolution plowed a pathway for Enlightenment thinkers to question authority through widely read literature.

The ability to question itself is representative of both adolescence and the Enlightenment, more importantly the ability and practice of questioning authority. For instance a teenager questioning their parents authority of whether or not they should be allowed to stay out later than they were formerly allowed to in terms of development can be compared to those during the enlightenment who questioned governmental authority. For instance Voltaire's comments on the treatment in the Calas case which through logical reasoning Voltaire spoke out against the abuse of unchecked power by the government, which was used to inhumanely punish Calas with lack of regard to court procedure.

The enabler of such questioning is cognitive development use of logical reasoning to understand the world around them in determining where they fit into it. This is a characteristic of adolescence due to cognitive development and increase brain functioning. The use of logical reasoning is also exemplified in the enlightenment through writings and academic endeavor. It is in adolescence where people are first able to "think outside the box" and think hypothetically. Adolescents use what they know or have observed to make a deductive conclusion. This happens in academic situations in the classroom, but also within their own social lives. Say they have a dispute with a close friend, it is during adolescence where for the first time they are able look at the situation as an outside observer, objectively (it does not mean they will). This way of thinking is almost a direct reflection of the scientific method, which defined the way scholars during the enlightenment, approached the study of humanity. As a result of thinking and reasoning logically to determine where they fit amongst what they observe around them, adolescents begins the process of identity formation.

The Enlightenment, in my opinion is just that, a formation of identity for Europe and modern Western society form the rest of the world. Through experiences a person slowly defines their identity becoming more autonomous in the process. Europe had these experiences intrinsically on the continent and within countries, but experienced the rest of the world through traveling, conquering and colonizing, taking an active part rather than merely observing. This is also usually the case in adolescence. To fully experience their musical talent lets say, an adolescent can't merely watch the school band play, but must actively participate in order to determine and asses their own experience as part of their identity, who they "are".

In my eyes this sort of active participation in events, even colonization, was a necessary part of development for the Western World in order to attain the identity achieved today. I say this not necessarily in favor of westernization. Along with identity, adolescence is a time where the definition of an individual moral code is struggled with in development before it is achieved. Influence of moral development has many different venues. Early on in life a person experiences core moral influences from their family, much like the early moral influences of the church as family on pre-modern Europe. As the individual attends school and becomes more autonomous, the organization and formation of social support networks moves away from support from the family structure and shifts more toward school and peer influence. As Europe became more autonomous and began to think and question for themselves, a similar shift occurred from influence of societal moral influence, moving away from the church towards scientific reasoning. This was autonomy of society also known as the beginning of the separation of church and state, which supposedly has pull in the current democratic society of the United States. This separation is by no means denouncing religious belief just as the child now more influenced by peers does not mean that there is no moral guidance form their parents.

Without going into too much detail, there are a few theories that seem to describe the comparison of adolescence and the Enlightenment. Erik Erikson characterized adolescent as time of identity v. role confusion. This means that the basic issue for adolescents is the formation of identity. Anna Freud described "storm and stress" as an essential part of adolescence. In these ways I find a direct reflection of the progression of human development on a larger scale during the Enlightenment and on a more microscopic level a progression of human development as it is observed in adolescence for our society. I do wonder if it is a direct effect of the way of thinking during the Enlightenment Era though that the formation of adolescence, and the study of it was developed? If not developed in theory would it have existed silently without acknowledgement?

EF_Team4 - / 13  
Jun 25, 2006   #2

I am happy to provide you with some feedback!

The primary suggestion I can make is to proofread closely for grammar and word usage. You have some run-on sentences (notably the first one), some misuse of words (for example, also in the first paragraph, "seem to be parallel of the inquisitory nature" -- should be "parallel TO"), and some ambiguous statements (also in the first paragraph, "The study of adolescence has defined several characteristics" -- characteristics of what?)...

I would strongly urge you to read this out loud, preferably to another person, but not necessarily. I believe you will hear places that don't make sense. I can mostly stretch to understand what you mean, but frankly, there are places where I cannot. For example: "The enabler of such questioning is cognitive development use of logical reasoning to understand the world around them in determining where they fit into it." I truly don't understand this sentence -- and I have advanced degrees in both psychology and English!

So -- I believe you are trying to say some really interesting things, but your language is getting in the way. Read it out loud -- proofread it -- ask a friend or colleague for help -- and you should be able to polish this up just fine.


Miriam, EssayForum.com

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