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craftsman's art and music's measure
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the pursuit of happiness

During the eighteenth century, intellectual elites imagined the possibility of happiness, not only for themselves but for everyone.

Benevolence or bienfaisance, was a new word created for a principle that was believed to animate both the Deity and each individual person. Philosophers suggested that tides were designed to make it easier for ships to enter ports. The harmony of Nature was a sign of the benevolence of the Deity. Being happy and promoting the happiness of others was a social virtue.

Edinburgh became the "Athens of Great Britain" between 1745 and 1789. Benjamin Franklin recalled his visit to Edinburgh in 1759 as "the densest happiness" he had ever experienced. Voltaire wrote in 1762, "today it is from Scotland that we get rules of taste in all the arts, from epic poetry to gardening." In part, this transformation emerged from the decision that religious divisions as reflected in royal rivalries, did more harm than good, and that the future lay with the new learning rather than the old politics. The project to build Edinburgh New Town by public subscription also contributed to this happiness. Edinburgh New Town is considered to be a masterpiece of city planning and together with the Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

Two characteristics of the enlightenment were:

  • A sense of emerging from the darkness of a past constrained by passive acceptance of authority, precedent and tradition. Men and women of the enlightenment saw great virtue in thinking for themselves.
  • An essential element was tolerance, the belief that intellectual discourse could take place with a degree of freedom and mutual respect between scholars and the govenors of those societies, where they were citizens.

There was a belief that reason would enable people to break out of the inertia of old ideas. There was optimism for a future that could be both materially progressive and grounded in coherent moral values.

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