The Age Of Reason by Thomas Paine: Summary & Philosophy

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  • 0:01 Who Was Thomas Paine?
  • 1:05 Earlier Works
  • 1:39 The Age of Reason
  • 2:38 In Paine's Own Words
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we'll learn about Thomas Paine's influential pamphlet, 'The Age of Reason.' We'll explore who Thomas Paine was, what kind of views he advanced in this text, and how his thinking fits within a broad historical context.

Who Was Thomas Paine?

Let's start by talking about Thomas Paine. Who was he? Thomas Paine was an extremely influential political theorist and author who's rise to prominence came during the American Revolution. Paine was born in England in 1737 but immigrated to America in 1774. He was imprisoned in France at the end of the 18th century for speaking against the guillotine. Paine returned to America in 1802, where he died, impoverished, in 1809 in New York.

Thomas Paine is considered by many to be a controversial philosopher who espoused classical liberalism and the ideas of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was the intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that emphasized human reason, skepticism, and scientific objectivity. Paine was critical of traditional Christianity. He saw it as corrupt and rooted in superstition. His pamphlet 'The Age of Reason', published in the late 1790s, was an intellectual attack on the Christian religion.

Earlier Works

Paine is probably best known for another pamphlet he wrote entitled 'Common Sense', which was published in 1776. In this writing, Paine argued that one would only need to appeal to a man's common sense to prove that America should be independent and free from British rule. The pamphlet was enormously influential. In fact, it is widely believed that this work helped sway public opinion toward the American independence movement. Because of his many critical writings, Paine was often described as a propagandist. He wrote other short treatises, such as 'The American Crisis' and 'Rights of Man.'

'The Age of Reason'

So what was 'The Age of Reason' about? Why is it important to American history? Officially, the pamphlet was entitled 'The Age of Reason: Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology,' but it has generally just been called 'The Age of Reason.' As noted, the pamphlet was an attack on classical Christianity. Paine, who was a deist, argued that the Bible consisted of mythology and had value as a piece of literature, but was not divinely inspired.

Deism is a system of though that believes there can be a supernatural supreme being but rejects the belief that this being interferes or interacts with human life. Paine argued against what classical Christians call 'special revelation,' which is God revealing himself through miraculous or supernatural means. Instead, Paine argued that God could only be understood or known through human reason. 'The Age of Reason' also attacked the institution of the Church, which Paine felt had too much political power and was often corrupt.

In Paine's Own Words

Perhaps the best way to understand Paine's view may be to look at the personal creed he wrote near the beginning of 'The Age of Reason.' This creed was meant to be a parody of the recited Christian creeds, such as the Apostle's Creed. It reads:

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