Important Ideas of the 19th Century
In the 19th century, man has seen some of the most revolutionary ideas in human history. These ideas have not only shaped the way we live our lives, but they have completely changed the way we view ourselves and the world around us. Significant new ideas have come by way of science,philosophy and religion, psychology, and sociology. There were simply too many important ideas during the 19th century to go over all of them so here we will just look over some of the ones of greatest significance.
Perhaps the most significant idea of the 19th century was that of Charles Darwin. His Theory of Evolution had major implications on the scientific thinking, religious thinking, and social thinking of the 19th century. His theory postulated that all life we see today can be traced back to a common ancestor. With this came the idea that even humans had descended from some ape-like being. Prior to the introduction of this theory, the widely accepted belief was that God had created humans directly approximately 6,000 years ago. The Theory of Evolution not only challenged the origin of man, but also the age of the earth as well.
The 19th century also saw a tremendous explosion in population. This was due in large part to scientific breakthroughs which led to a significantly better understanding of the causes of diseases and how to prevent their occurrence. One man responsible for some of these ideas was Louis Pasteur. He is most widely recognized for inventing the process which stops milk from causing sickness, called pasteurization. He also developed the first vaccine for rabies and was responsible for experiments which helped to rid the world of spontaneous generation theories. His work aided to the overall healthiness of the human race as well as started a tree of scientific knowledge which branched out and started many of the fields of science that exist today.
Incredible ideas in the discipline of mathematics also arose in the 19th century. However, few mathematicians of the time have achieved as much as Carl Friedrich Gauss. Surely anyone will admit that he was one of the finest mathematician of the 19th century, but many will also say that he was one of the brightest mathematician of any time period, including today. His work in mathematics and science created a foundation upon which many advancements across several fields of study could flourish from. Many people who do not study mathematics may not have heard of Gauss or any of his accomplishments, but nonetheless without the applications that sprouted from the work of Gauss, our technology would probably not be where it is at today.
Philosophical and Religious Ideas
Georg Hegel, a German philosopher, was responsible for introducing a significant alternative way to view the course of human history. He saw it as a dialectical, in other words, history progressed through a series of contradictions followed by solutions to those contradictions. Hegel believed the new synthesis of two opposing theories was a certain path that the world would take, a path he thought of as the Absolute. His work in philosophy was significant in its own right, but it also was a major influence on other prominent thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries.
One philosopher whom Hegel’s work had an impact on, was the work of political economist and German philosopher Karl Marx. Although he is most widely known because his ideas provided the foundation of modern communism, it seems to me that people generally do not know much the actual ideas of Marx. Similar to Hegel’s philosophical view of history, Marx saw a dialectic struggle between social classes. The upper classes take advantage of the hard working lower classes who then revolt and this process continues. Marx believed that capitalism would eventually destroy itself due to the exploitation of the lower class by the upper class, and that true progress could not be made by the human race until it abolishes classes and gives up its obsession with material things. The philosophical views of Marx greatly influenced many areas of philosophy including: political, historical, ethics, epistemology, and aesthetics.
The British philosopher John Stewart Mill also contributed to some of the most revolutionary ideas of the 19th century. His friend Jeremy Bentham developed the theory of Utilitarianism, and Mill strongly advocated his form of Utilitarianism. This theory postulated that the moral worth of something you do is solely determined by the amount of pleasure or happiness it brings to everyone. This theory had tremendous influence on political thought. Mill is also thought of as the first male feminist because of his beliefs towards women’s rights.
Other Significant Ideas of the 19th Century
Possibly the most famous name of psychology is that of Sigmund Freud. He was born in the mid 19th century and was the founder of the psychoanalysis.One of the most significant ideas that Freud contributed to us was the idea of the unconscious. He believed that within the unconscious, sexual drives motivated us and our actions could sometimes be explained by these drives. By no means are Freud’s ideas widely accepted by all the highly respected psychologists, but his approach and methods inspired new directions which psychologists and scientists could take to find an answer to how the human mind works.
Every century is filled with excellent ideas that have changed the way human beings carry on with their lives. The 19th century is no exception. In fact, one can argue that the 19th century can be characterized as a time when some of the brightest and most influential people lived and did the work which inspired the future. The very future which is our present.