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On the Origin of Obedience

April 2, 2011

Kant argues that Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.  In the gradual process of Enlightenment in terms of  enjoying a high degree of civil freedom, with the public use of reason, an individual is able to accumulate the “resolve and courage” to use understanding without the outside guidance. However, at the end of his essay, he warns individuals that “argue as much as you want and about what you want, but obey!”

As far as Kant has observed, in this process, since the individual is still immature to some extent and lacks adequate confidence to adopt the independent understanding, individual’s obedience to the laws is still necessary or even required to keep him or her from falling into quandaries when facing unexpected difficulties or challenges. In other words, the resort the individual turns to the traditions in terms of obeying the laws or pertinent regulations will help him or her ward off potential threats, natural or man-made.  Therefore, Kant emphatically claims that the reason that the  individual has to obey the laws in the Enlightenment to gradually get rid of the immaturity is mainly derived from the intentional attempts of finding a niche out of various types of traditional practices. The niche may have surpassed the temporary reality and have embraced the ideal or surrealistic collective thoughts of that certain age.

For Socrates, he has two causal claims to elicit the necessity of obeying the laws and the city. First, he claims that every just man cannot do anything wrong. Second, civil disobedience of the laws, even some unjust to particular citizens, is wrong, unless the laws commanded by the city is a self-contained embodiment of injustice. Therefore, every just man should obey the city and its laws. The essence of his second claim is majorly contained in Plato’s Crito: Socrates considers that an individual’s obedience to the city is an agreement with the city that is derived from his or her tacit consent. His interpretation of tacit consent implies that whenever someone resides in a state, he or she tacitly consents to obey all the laws of that state. Since Socrates lives in Athens for his entire life, he should obey the city.

Socrates’ understanding of obedience hinges on the individual’s moral obligation to the city where he or she lives. Since if the individual is not satisfied with the city, he or she can choose to dwell in another city with few restrictions. Similarly to Kant, he espouses the use of public reason, with which every individual can lead an examined life that is usually considered valuable.

Although the two masters  have differing interpretations on the origin of the civil obedience,  they may both agree that the individual’s lacking the practice of , the civil behavior and the critical thinking that would  lead to the civil maturity, is the key to the origin of obedience.

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