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Is Kant’s Enlightenment Actually Beneficial?

November 13, 2010
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Kant states that enlightenment is essentially thinking for yourself and using reason to make decisions instead of just following an authoritative figure.  What is the point of being enlightened though? Would making your own decisions actually make you happy?  According to Hannah More’s writing, Village Politics, enlightenment does not neccessarily bring happiness.  Having total freedom, including freedom of thought, can cause chaos and disorganization.  Just like in the French Revolution, people revolted against the authorites (i.e. King Louis) because they thought they were enlightened and wanted freedom.  Thousands of people were killed during the French Revolution and this was a very dangerous time to be living in France.  Human’s have a natural want of security and predictability, and authorities clearly provide that.  They tell you what you can and can’t do. Enlightenment can cause debate and arguments, which can lead to nothing getting done at all.  So, is Kant’s idea of enlightenment beneficial to society?

5 Comments
  1. dbwein permalink
    November 14, 2010 11:43 AM

    In answer to the question above, I think it is exceedingly beneficial for society for people to be enlightened – to be able to make decisions through their own reason and not through other peoples ideas of what are right and wrong. First of all, in theory, if no one in the general population was ‘enlightened’ than the government would be able to basically brainwash everyone into doing whatever the heads of state thought they should do. There would be no need to have free speech, because everyone would just except whatever the authority at the time proclaimed was right or wrong. I think that in society we all need a bit of wiggle room, to really think about what we are being told to do and whether or not we agree with it. I think that is how a healthy society forms. It IS okay to disagree with people, as long as you have true reason to back up your argument.

  2. shan428 permalink
    November 14, 2010 8:43 PM

    I definitely agree with the previous comment to this blog post. I believe that the idea of enlightenment is not only beneficial, but absolutely necessary. I agree with Kant and believe in the importance to question what sets of beliefs and rules guide and dictate our lifestyles. Society is created based on a set of rules and norms that are ever changing and created by the dominant power, but can be reformed and improved by those who question them. We don’t necessarily have to make our own decisions to be happy, but being able to question the reason behind decisions is what can make us enlightened. No one is saying that total freedom is the ultimate goal, but the freedom of reason is what we need to enforce.

    Responding to Hannah More’s idea of enlightenment not necessarily bringing happiness, as Kant believed, we do not have to change laws and create disturbances, but the freedom to question and reason why we live how we live is what matters and makes enlightenment so vital. Argue, but obey, as Kant expressed, because change is necessary especially when a “great deal is still lacking in order for men as a whole to be” (524). If we do not at least question the reason the notions behind what dictates our actions, then what is stopping the political power from giving us no control and eradicating all rights from us? If we had rules that forbade us from making our own decisions on where we are allowed to live, what we can believe in, who we can love, how we can express our emotions, we would not be living. We are more than machines, as Kant tells us, and therefore should not just obey without a slight change in emotion or reaction. Sometimes, in order to even sustain security and a sense of authority, we need to change the ruling that governs us.
    While enlightenment can cause debates and arguments that may lead to temporary chaos and disorganization, it can also drive important and necessary action that leads us to progress and equality. The French Revolution was a period of radical, social and political change where the fall of absolute monarchy resulted in a transformation of new ideas, beliefs and freedoms. These people were able to break out of the rules and take down the leadership that was confining them from living a life worth living. The French people were influenced by the success of the American Revolution, so are you saying we should never have questioned why we had taxation without representation?

    Would you never question why you could not do certain actions? If you are to never even contemplate the reason behind such laws, then I believe you truly are, as Kant says, immature and lazy. We must take advantage of our thoughts and minds by debating the reasons behind our rules. We must utilize thinking for ourselves and be confident in the rules that are necessary to form order and provide safety, and this is what makes enlightenment beneficial to society.

  3. spriel permalink
    November 15, 2010 11:38 AM

    I completely agree with the previous comments. If we were not enlightened, we would be robots to the government. We would have no means by which to question the laws and actions of the government, which could lead us into accepting laws and acting in ways that would (if we were enlightened enough to know) stray far from our individual beliefs. We need to be enlightened in order to take a stance and represent our country. While there will inevitably be disagreement and arguments and chaos may surely follow, these contradictions allow the citizens to have a voice in the government and to allow our country to continue to be democratic.

  4. Floyd Simmons permalink
    November 15, 2010 8:42 PM

    I agree with Kant’s idea of Enlightenment. I believe that there are some benefits of Kant’s Enlightenment and some that can result in a negative outcome. Questioning the government’s rules and regulations because of inequalities may seem like a legitimate reason but may also result in an unexpected reaction from that individuals government. Im unsure of my position on the subject but it would have to depend on the circumstances. This is interesting enough to relate to Socrates and his belief that a good life is the search of an individuals own truth. Stating this, i would like to pose a question. How is Kant’s idea of Enlightenment seen as different from Socrates search of truth?

  5. jaclburr permalink
    November 17, 2010 7:08 PM

    There are always extremes of any opinion or idea. Yes, danger can result from people too obsessed with defying rules and limitations, but enlightenment is nevertheless crucial to humanity. Without it, we would be a static population, and with it, we are dynamic. Sure, negatives will result at times, but overall it is still two steps forward and one step back.

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