The Courage To Think
Immanuel Kant’s essay “What is Enlightenment?” was written in 1784 and addressed issues that transcend time such as people’s inability to think for themselves due not to their lack of intellect, but lack of courage. Kant’s essay also discussed the causes of a lack of enlightenment and the preconditions necessary to make it possible for people to enlighten themselves. Essentially, Kant believes that in order to be an enlightened individual; you must first be an autonomous, freethinking entity.
As I was reading Kant’s essay, I could not help but notice how direct he was with his writing and how correct he was with his analysis and reasoning. Kant answers the question of what Enlightenment is concisely in the first sentence of the essay: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.” Kant argues that the immaturity is self-inflicted not because of people’s lack of understanding, but from the lack of courage to use one’s reason, intellect, and wisdom without the guidance of another. I strongly agree with every one of Kant’s claims because I have seen them at work on a firsthand basis.
I really started taking notice of the phenomenon of people not thinking for themselves in high school. I realized that in all my AP and honors classes people would collaborate and need help with even the most rudimentary work and assignments. This perplexed me because I viewed my classes as the classes for the brightest of the bright and for people who were free thinkers. However, as competition among peers became prevalent during the latter stages of high school because of the college application process, students would receive work from older kids as well as their peers in order to ace classes that they seemed like they had no business even being in. This dependent way of thinking Kant characterized as immature and as inevitably one of the leading pitfalls of society.
How can we expect to put the most intelligent people in charge of the world’s leading corporations when these supposed intelligent people cannot even critically think on their own? How are we supposed to be enriched as people when only a select few individuals do all the thinking? This epidemic affects more than just the people who can think for themselves. It makes each respective society weaker. The Enlightenment was a time of progress with a focus on individualistic principles, the use of reason, and that education could be a catalyst of social change and the demand for political representation. If we as a society continue to be told what to do, cannot complete tasks on our own, and look to others for all the answers, we are only going to revert back in time. We cannot make progress without everyone making an effort to better themselves intellectually through the advancement and gaining of knowledge.