What is Enlightment?

Essay by nydesi80College, UndergraduateF, April 2004

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According to Kant Enlightenment is a man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Have courage to use your own understanding. Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large proportion of men, even when nature has long liberated them from alien guidance (naturaliter maiorennes), nevertheless gladly remain immature for life. For the same reasons, it is all too easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so convenient to be immature! If I have a book to have understanding in place of me, a spiritual adviser to have a conscience for me, a doctor to judge my diet for me, and so on, I need not make any efforts at all.

I need not think, so long as I can pay; others will soon enough take the tiresome job over for me. The guardians who have kindly taken upon themselves the work of supervision will soon see to it that by far the largest part of mankind should consider the step forward to maturity not only as difficult but also as highly dangerous. Thus it is difficult for each separate individual to work his way out of the immaturity which has become almost second nature to him. He has even grown fond of it and is really incapable for the time being of using his own understanding, because he was never allowed to make the attempt. Doctrine and formulas, those mechanical instruments for rational use of his natural endowments, are the ball and chain of his permanent immaturity. And if anyone did throw them off, he would still be uncertain about jumping over even the narrowest of trenches, for he would be unaccustomed to

free movement of this kind. Thus only a few, by cultivating their own minds, have succeeded in freeing themselves from immaturity and in continuing boldly on their way. There is more chance of an entire public enlightening itself. This is indeed almost inevitable, if only the public concerned is left in freedom. For there will always be a few who think for themselves, even among those appointed as guardians of the common mass. Such guardians, once they have themselves thrown of the yoke of immaturity, will disseminate the spirit of rational respect for personal value and for the duty of all men to think for themselves.

In Conclusion many things in our experience convince us that the historical even of the enlightenment did not make us mature adults and we have not reached that stage yet. How ever it seems to me that a meaning can be attributed to that critical interrogation on the present and on ourselves which Kant formulated by reflection on the enlightenment.