Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment? (1784)
- Kant is analyzing man’s self-imposed inhibitions to reason independently and act according to free will.
- According to him, these inhibitions limit a great number of people from finding the freedom that comes with independent thought and exercise of free will.
- The failure to pursue an independent course in life is primarily attributed to laziness and the lack of boldness to defy societal conventions in the form of dogmas and formulas.
- He posits that there is a false sense of security that accompanies immaturity or the failure to act in accordance with one’s free will.
- Further, he points out that there will always be individuals who discourage others from the exercise of free will by describing the possible dangers of doing so.
- This quote reminds me of the threats that Olaudah Equiano faced upon gaining his freedom from slavery.
- As a free man, Olaudah Equiano should ordinarily be able to act independently. But some white individuals believe that he should still act as a slave.
- Just as Kant points out, Equiano’s exercise of free will is threatened. As such, it would require boldness on his part to achieve true independence.
- Kant asserts that true freedom can only be achieved by cultivating one’s own mind and having the courage to exercise free will.
Private and Public Reason
- Here, Kant argues that the product of an individual’s reasoning should be used for the benefit and advancement of society at no cost.
- He asserts that private profiteering from an individual’s reasoning can be allowed but only to the extent that it does not hinder social advancement.
- Kant argues for the legitimacy of a monarch in regard to his powers to make decisions on behalf of his subjects.
- He posits that any action on the part of the subjects that is consistent with civil order should be allowed by the monarch.
- Kant points out that an individual ought to expand his knowledge and grow his reasoning with the passage of time.
- He maintains that trying to resist this growth of knowledge and reasoning or trying to keep future generations from it is akin to violating God-given rights.
- Further, he argues that each generation has a responsibility to pass on the benefits of enlightenment to the next one.
Route to Enlightenment
- Kant argues that a revolution, as a means to enlightenment, is severely limited owing to inherent flaws in human nature.
He suggests that a post-revolution human population is not so different from its