The great majority of women of the Renaissance was not educated and was not considered intellectually equal to men. There were some exceptions of course, but, as such, women did not play any important role in the intellectual life of the Renaissance. This has changed during the Enlightenment. Some of the eighteenth century intellectuals, such as Diderot, expressed more positive views of women. Moreover, women themselves begun to emerge as important intellectual thinkers, questioning their rights and proposing ways to improve their situation. M. Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was regarded by many as the founder of modern European feminism. Another important difference from the Renaissance concerning women, was their role in the spread of new ideas of the Enlightenment. Of course, here we are talking again about the women of the elite or wealthy upper class. By organizing salons, women such as Madame Geoffrin (1699-1777) or Marquise du Duffand (1697-1780) brought together writers and artists with aristocrats, government officials and other members of literate elite. These women could affect political decisions and influence literary and artistic tastes.
Completely different to the Renaissance was the emergence in the eighteenth century of a “science of man” or social sciences. Social sciences were based on the philosophers believes that certain human actions were governed by natural laws. One of the pioneers of a social science such as psychology was Scottish philosopher D. Hume (1711-1776). Other famous philosophers such as A. Smith (1723-1790) and F. Quesnay (1694-1774) were viewed as founders of the modern economics. They rejected mercantilist concepts by arguing the economic primacy of agriculture. They also advocated the doctrine of laissez-faire, which rejected the states intervention in the economic activity and called for letting the natural forces of demand and supply to work freely. In his famous “Wealth o Nations” Smith presents his major ideas on the origins of wealth and functions of government in the economy, thus laying down the foundations of the nineteenth century economic liberalism.
As we could observe from the analysis above, the Renaissance and Enlightenment indeed had a lot of differences, but they also had a lot of similarities. And this could not be otherwise, because all of the achievements and discoveries of the Renaissance became the building blocks of the Enlightenment progress. Just as human beings are prone to progress, they are also prone to traditions. That is why many of the Renaissance values continued into the Enlightenment. Each period in history marks human society in some way and even in our days we still hear the echo of previous centuries and still find some similarities between our time and those far-away centuries.