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My Own Conception of Enlightenment

November 9, 2010

“Enlightenment is a man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understandings without guidance from another” (522). Although I do think Kant’s idea on the individualist assertion on the means to achieve enlightenment does have substantial merit, I think that it is a bit limiting. Of course, there will never be any further intellectual developments in the world if everyone simply relies on the knowledge of those that preceded them. However, I do think that previous understandings can often by the basis for new, enlightened thinking. Surely, there is a trend in humanity that is addressed in this writing and also that of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who in his essay “Circles”, explains that humans are often more comfortable and content sticking to the discoveries of others and conforming to the general knowledge, pushing it no further. But, I believe that one doesn’t necessarily have to be allowing himself to be manipulated by the thinking of other individuals to learn something from it. I also have a problem with when Kant says, ” Thus an appointed teacher’s use of his own reason for the sake of the congregation is merely private, because, however large the congregation is, this use is only domestic; in this regard, as a priest, he is not free and cannot be such because he is acting under the instructions from someone else” (523). So what if a job may have basic criteria and comes from a higher order? I don’t see why the nature of a teacher’s work restricts the freedom of thought behind what he or she says, they could just as easily make such statements to the public in a different setting. I think that Kant’s conception of enlightenment denounces the merits of being instructed by someone with more expertise in a topic than oneself may have; instead, I think true enlightenment is not required to be an entirely new postulate, but simply the ability to conceive understand, and click with the meaning in things observed by the senses even if the initial discovery may have derived from someone else. I believe that it is just as worthily entitled enlightenment when for example, one finally conceptually understands a math problem when they had been struggling with it during a class; just as much growth is evident when one truly learns from a book or from another.

One Comment
  1. mattwax permalink
    November 9, 2010 7:42 PM

    I don’t think Kant “denounces the merits of being instructed by someone” but rather she denounces relying solely or too heavily upon the guidance and thoughts of others. Obviously one needs to learn from others, for humans are not inately privy to any form of knowledge. Kant is simply saying that once a person is well learned, they should start to think for themselves and question why things are they way they are, rather than continuing to rely upon external sources for direction.

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