What is Enlightenment

Kant writes that the motto of enlightenment is “Have the courage to use your own reason!”.  He also states the main detractors to this statement are mans tendencies towards “laziness and cowardice”.  Man has a tendency to fall back on what is easiest, and trying to find enlightenment is certainly not easy.  Instead it is easier to “have a book which understands for me, a pastor who has a conscience for me, a physician who decides my diet, and so forth”.  Why would man try to do any of those things for himself if he has people to do it for him?  Why would he go out of his way when the answers are presented to him?  With this strategy man will become stuck, will never “release from his self-incurred tutelage” as Kant states.  Kant writes that only requirement for enlightenment is freedom but he also writes “Everywhere there is restriction on freedom.”  When constantly being told what to do by superiors it becomes easy for man to go back to the “laziness and cowardice”.  To reach enlightenment man must break away from the pack and see the truth.

A man who saw the truth was Frederick II, considered a major advocate for enlightenment absolutism.  In his writing he said “The sovereign is the representative of his State.  He and his people for a single body.”  These were his own ideas, writing “That is my idea of the duties of sovereigns” at the end of his “Essay on Forms of Government”.  In that short sentence Frederick II took Kant’s motto on enlightenment and put it in his own words.  He looked past the laziness and cowardice of man and found, what he thought was, the truth.

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