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Kant’s Requirements For Enlightenment

November 9, 2010
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The question of Enlightenment has been a century long topic that really has no answer. It has forever been ambiguous with many individuals poking at the subject to determine, their, interpretation on what it means to be “Enlightened.” This open ended question is not specific to one way of thinking, a particular religion, or any certain lifestyle. It has been a question spaced throughout time and has not been specific to any religion or culture. Instead, theories of enlightenment have come from all areas of study and all kind of different backgrounds. Kant tackled this question of enlightenment by defining it as, “man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity” (pg 522), and says the only thing needed to obtain enlightenment is freedom.
“Nothing is required for this enlightenment, however, except freedom; and the freedom in question is the least harmful of all, namely, the freedom to use reason publicly in all matters” (pg 523).
Through Kant’s stance that freedom is the only necessity for enlightenment he maintains that one ought to think autonomously. Kant believes people must be free of the dictation of people around them. There should be no external dictation upon an individual if they seek enlightenment. Kant explains the outside forces and how they dictate enlightenment by taking away the freedom of a person. Kant says, “But on all sides I hear: Do not argue! … Do not argue, believe!” (pg 523). Kant explores the possibilities that people always have everyone around them in their ears trying to tell them how to behave or what to feel and how to act. The only way a person can search for enlightenment is without such pressures to conform or feel how others think they should.
The main message I get from Kant’s argument for the requirements to obtain enlightenment is autonomy. A person must be able to think on their own and go about seeking enlightenment through their own struggles to be able to come out with any sense of enlightenment. No person can be told what to do, how to act, or what to believe in and fully sense enlightenment, for they have been dependent on others to do this work for them. This all ties into Kant’s motto for enlightenment: “Have courage to use your own understanding!” (Pg 522). Kant would want all to think for themselves and have the courage to embark on their own journey to enlightenment.

3 Comments
  1. adamhollenberg permalink
    November 9, 2010 11:12 PM

    The one problem that I have with Kant’s approach is that one cannot just say to a person living under a culture without freedom that he is now free. The culture has to stew, and with the writing of people such as Locke and Rousseau, the enlightenment had been a long time coming in Europe once it came.

  2. Sara Mitchell permalink
    November 9, 2010 11:17 PM

    Great post. I agree with the main message you got from Kant’s argument. I was intrigued while reading Kant’s piece because I have never really thought about what enlightenment actually is. It has always been an abstract thought for me. I also found it interesting how freedom is the only thing required in reaching enlightenment and the influence and pressure of others inhibits freedom.

  3. hummberto permalink
    November 10, 2010 5:28 PM

    What I like about Kant is that he brings Socrates’ ideas into the 1700’s. Socrates was milleniums ahead of his age and Kant verifies this. Even now, we still can’t live up to the ideal of living purely on our own accord. To think how we think and not care about guidance from others. But Kant provides a solution to this.
    Kant has created two concepts, public and private reason, which allow us to stay enlightened in a world that offers guidance and authority. Public reason is what you use when you use reason as a scholar before the world. In other words, your own reasoning. Private reason is when you assume a prior authority. When you must obey someone above you. There is a time and place for each and are opposites. However, they aren’t mutually exclusive as you can be doing both at any time.
    I like this distinction because it allows us to put a conservative look on a very liberal idea. We still have to follow authority in certain circumstances, such as in a civil post. But on our own time, we can think how we think and be free to have our own, unauthorized ideas. Respecting authority is a conservative idea, whereas being free and thinking with full liberty is a liberal one.
    So, I agree that your analysis of Kant can end with what he believes enlightenment is. However, I feel the true gem of Kant is that he has applied a concept, first brought up by Socrates, into modern society.

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