Do We Presently Live in an Enlightened Age?
After reading Kant’s “What is Enlightenment,” I began to wonder whether we have reached an enlightened age in the 200 years since it was written. To be enlightened, people need to be willing to use their own understanding, ask questions about how and why things work, and not be scared to do it. Enlightenment is the breaking away from the self-imposed immaturity of being afraid to use one’s understanding. As Kant said, the motto of enlightenment is to “have courage to use your own understanding!”
So do we have the courage to use our understanding, or even the courage to develop understanding? My answer is no. We live in a society that only looks at the bottom line; one that just wants an answer so they can move on. Anyone doing math homework will ask his or her friend what the answer to the problem is, but rarely will you see someone ask why. People are so often rushing through life that they fail to see why things work and never really understand what they are doing. We commonly do things “because we’re supposed to” and never question why we are supposed to. Once we become accustomed to something we tend to think there is no other way to do it.
The rules and norms of society are holding us back from becoming mature, in Kant’s definition. We are so dependent on everyone else that we would be doomed if left alone. Whether this is good or bad is up for debate, but our dependence on others is undeniable. The modern age we live in pushes us farther from achieving enlightenment and as a result we are becoming more and more immature. People can ask any question on Google and find their answer immediately. You can find an answer for any question on religion, history, school, and health by just typing it in on a search engine. As technology continues to boom, we become continuously more dependent on it. The internet has caused us to look for nothing but answers and led us to stop thinking for ourselves. If you go to Yahoo and look through the articles of today’s news you will find more articles on topics such as where to live, ways to lose weight, and how to decrease your debt than actual news. We seek answers from financial advisers, dieticians, and priests without ever actually understanding it because we just want to know what to do and how to do it, not why we are doing it.
Furthermore, our society is so interdependent that people are afraid to use their own understanding. This may be partly because of the lack of understanding in the first place, but its most likely caused more so by our desire for approval by others. Many people are scared of doing things on their own and making decisions because they are unsure of their actions, and this is the true source of our lack of enlightenment. People often ask for approval before making any decision, whether it is something as small as an edit on an essay or as big as picking a career. Granted, it is sometimes good to get a thumbs-up before proceeding on something, but for the most part people are simply too hesitant to act on their own. But to become enlightened we need to break off the shackles and act on our own and learn from our mistakes: “Now this danger is not actually so great, for after falling a few times they would in the end certainly learn to walk; but an example of this kind makes men timid and usually frightens them out of all further attempts.” We learn from our mistakes, and we can become mature and enlightened by making them and moving forward.
Enlightenment is something that we should all strive for as we try to better ourselves. Unfortunately, in today’s world we are hardly in an age of enlightenment, and definitely far from an enlightened age. I think we have moved backwards since Kant answered to the question of enlightenment. We will continue to move in the wrong direction and when we are so often too lazy to exert ourselves, we will look to Google for guidance.