Does Enlightenment Exist in the Real World?
Enlightenment – Kant defines it as “man’s emergence from self-imposed immaturity.” When a person learns to think for his or herself without the guidance of others, Kant believes they have achieved enlightenment. That’s all fine and well in theory.. but does such a thing really exist? Or would the pursuit of enlightenment be a ridiculous waste of time? Somewhere in between? And even if it does exist, how can it possibly be achieved?
Clearly, I base this entire discussion on the assumption that for the most part, humanity is not enlightened. I think that’s pretty clear. Although we like to believe we’re independent, free-thinking individuals, it seems that in reality, we are simply following the crowd. Through the media, modern society assails us with beliefs, values, norms, and expectations. Psychological studies show that people like to believe that they are immune to these influences, while believing that everyone else is susceptible to them. In reality though, everyone is affected to some extent. How is it possible, then, to think for ourselves?
Well, perhaps it just isn’t possible. I think it would be nearly impossible to be completely enlightened, unless a person leaves society and lives entirely alone. However, perhaps partial enlightenment is still plausible. Most people think and learn by following the paths of others. However, if a person seeks to learn through experience rather than from a “teacher,” they are learning and thinking in an enlightened manner.
Is it possible then, that attending the U of M, and this class in particular, is the last thing you should do if you wish to become enlightened? I guess the answer is that it depends what you get out of it. If you attend Polsci 101 and do a great job of memorizing exactly what each thinker believes, then you have not enlightened yourself at all. Ultimately, remembering who thinks what doesn’t matter very much. What does matter, in terms of enlightenment, is developing the ability to think critically and independently about each text and form your own opinion about it. If you learn to question the great political thinkers and are unafraid to think in a way others may not agree with, this class may have helped you take a step toward enlightenment.